Guest Communication: How to improve, drive, and leverage it to your advantage.

So, you’ve hopped on the vacation-rental train in the hopes of cashing-in on this exciting and potentially lucrative venture. You might believe that given the wonderful platforms at your disposal — Airbnb, Homeaway, Booking.com — it’ll be smooth sailing and that soon customers will be beating a path to your door.
 
 You’d be surprised!

Instead, what tends to happen is that you’ll find yourself deeply entrenched in managing multiple communication channels between e-mails, text messages, and phone calls. The problem compounds when customers arrive from international destinations and lack access to a cellular data network through their mobile devices. This can instigate a complete communications breakdown given that many platforms forbid the exchange of phone numbers through their sites.

This not only takes time that you could spend growing your business, but also the time you could spend tending to your customers and ensuring you deliver a better guest experience. And, as we know, delivering a five-star experience means better reviews, more guests, and a bigger paycheck.
 
 
As a former Hotelier and current Vacation Rental Manager, I understand the difference between simply selling a room, and selling an experience. The customer experience begins far before they reach your home, resort, or hotel — it begins from the second the customer clicks on your listing.

Your customers have likely arrived on your listing through their favorite platform after having filtered for price and location. Next, they will be drawn toward listings with high quality pictures. And, once they have short-listed their options the determining factor will most likely be the quality of your reviews.

“You’re only as good as your last performance”

This realization prompted me to create systems and processes geared toward managing my guest communication to ensure my reviews remained high across all platforms and increase bookings.

This is obvious to most, however, what we didn’t anticipate was the degree to which our actions would impact our top-line revenue. We began by creating an automated thank you message to be sent to the customers that booked with us through the platforms in which we thanked them for their business, and used the opportunity to offer them additional services. These include:

● Groceries pre-arrival

● Tours and activities

● Concierge services

● Spa / Massage bookings

● Mid-stay cleaning

● Airport transfer

● Personal chef experience

● Early check-in/Late check-out

Then we transferred all the details onto our PMS (Property Management System) and tied each special request to its respective booking. This simple measure was responsible for increasing the average revenue per customer by 8% with many customers choosing at least one of the additional services and few of them selecting several.

Once our customers arrived, we proceeded to collect their details and check them in. During their stay, I make a point of engaging with my customers and introducing myself in order to assure them that they can reach out to anyone on our team to help make their stay more comfortable. We frequently find that customers approach our team and request we arrange one of the aforementioned additional services sent to them previously in the message.

Lastly, after our customers have checked-out we’ll send them a “thank you” e-mail asking them to please provide their feedback.

What we have found is that these small attempts at reaching out pre-arrival, during their stay, and post-departure, have led to tremendous opportunities to create relationships with our customers, listen to their needs, and most importantly, deliver on them.

Five-star reviews on all platforms, as well as Tripadvisor and others, have continued to attract customers to our business. That said, word-of-mouth has undoubtedly been the greatest contributor to our top-line revenue increase and relieved our reliance on OTA (Online Travel Agency) payments.

I wish I had tracked how much of an impact existing customer word-of-mouth has had but one thing is clear: direct bookings from new customers that have heard of us through their friends, colleagues, and family, is driving our increased Y-O-Y occupancy percentage — proof that a little investment on improving communication has gone a long way.

And, I thought we had it all figured out, until we came across a wonderful solution that made our lives even easier.

Digital guidebooks in the form of a unique URL which we can send our customers via e-mail, text message, have been a real game-changer in our business. Customers can choose to view the guidebook URL link on their desktops, mobile devices, or even print them. These guidebooks have been developed by a young silicon-valley startup named Hostfully, and offer our customers a wealth of information including:

● Detailed directions to our location

● A map of our property

● A list of all of our additional services

● Our contact information

● A list of our recommended restaurants and activities to do nearby

● The wifi password

● Safety box instructions

● Check-in/Check-out protocol

I encourage all my fellow Vacation Rental Managers and Hotel Managers to try them out. If you’d like to gain more information you can check them out here and find out how they can increase your guest experience.

Special thanks to Mafalda Ramalho da Fonseca, Rodney Chan, Carlo Rattazzi & Ben Smith for all their awesome support in producing this article.