It is often said, it is more expensive to attract a new customer than to keep a current customer. This saying applies to vacation home rentals, today more than ever. Once you have a renter, it is far better to direct your marketing efforts directly to them and have them return to your home than to try to get new renters through other channels, at a higher cost. Consider the recent increase in fees under the VRBO platform and strive to get 30% of your reservations directly through repeat vacationers and their referrals.
Who is your typical renter? It is important to understand who your typical renter is. Is your typical renter a family, married couples, unrelated singles? Develop a demographic profile, using past rental records, of who your vacation rental home appeals to the most. This is your target market. Then use this information to create an even more appealing package for them.
Most Popular Amenities
The first amenities Outer Banks vacation home owners consider are pools and hot tubs. They are very important in this market and many other markets in the US. Tripping.com looked at 10 cities to determine the value per night added for each amenity. The results appear below. (Note: kitchen denotes a private kitchen in comparison to hotel stays without a kitchen.)
$ Value Add
Does this mean you should buy a hot tub or install a swimming pool? Not necessarily. Besides the cost to purchase and install a pool or a hot tub the recurring cost for weekly maintenance is significant. Consider other touches that will make your home stand out to your typical renter. Perhaps a fun theme and attention to every other detail. The lower cost for these improvements will increase your ROI and lower your recurring costs.
Many people vacation in the Outer Banks to be able to enjoy being outdoors. As you can see from above, outdoor spaces can add more to your per night rate than even a pool. Taking some time and effort to add landscaping and a comfortable area to sit and enjoy is a great addition and a way to set your vacation home apart from many others. A secluded spot with a hammock may become a guest’s favorite spot to sip lemonade and read a book. A porch with comfortable cushioned furniture can turn it into a guest’s favorite sunset viewing location.
Amenities to Consider
Cable TV and Wi-Fi – The typical renter considers one or both of these to be impossible to live without. Advertising wi-fi or cable and having the system down can cause issues with guest who demand a partial refund. Guests can frequently have unreasonable demands to restore service even when there is an area wide outage.
Silicon Travel is one local alternative to ensure quick response to wi-fi and internet issues. Many vacation home owners are also opting out of providing cable and providing Netflix instead.
Gaming consoles can go a long way to entertain kids on rainy beach days. Unfortunately, these items are also prone to breakage or challenge guest to get the system working. Even when providing clear written instructions, some guest have a difficult time using the system. One has to decide if it is worth the trouble.
Pet Friendly Policy
For many people, their pets are part of the family. Leaving the pet behind will cause worry and concern. Plus, so many happy memories are made when the family dog is included too. Being able to vacation with “Fido” is a huge deciding factor for many people on what home to rent for their vacation.
Most pet lovers have no problem with a $200 pet cleaning fee for the privilege of bringing their beloved pet. Especially considering what a pet sitter or kennel for the week will cost. From experience, most pets are well behaved and do not cause any damage. However, should there be any damage, coverage under the security deposit or damage waiver should cover the cost.
The other side of the pet policy is you will turn away guests who may have allergies and prefer a non-pet friendly rental.
Once again, consider the typical renter for your house to decide if a change in policy will increase your potential rentals.
Many Outer Banks vacation homes include gas fireplaces. It is quite a nice aesthetic; gazing at the ocean view while cuddling up around a cozy fire. Guests who rent in the shoulder season or the holidays will typically request a home with a fireplace. Consider your typical renter to determine if this is an amenity that will bring you more income or just increase your expenses.
If your home does have a gas fireplace, consider limiting its use to the proper season. Without this limit, one can find guest who blast the A/C while leaving the fireplace running in the middle of July. No need to increase your utility expense unnecessarily.
Washer and Dryer
I’m afraid most people consider having a washer and dryer a necessity over vacation. Perhaps not everyone will use them, but once again consider your typical guest and choose accordingly. Also, keep in mind, the Outer Banks does not have many laundromats or facilities to conveniently clean clothes. The inconvenience of doing laundry outside the vacation home is enough reason to make sure your rental has a washer and dryer for those guest whom might need it.
Vacationers on the Outer Banks expect to have a grill. Who can blame them; it is a summer ritual and how can it be vacation without at least one meal on the grill? One can debate the merits of gas or charcoal. I don’t intend to. Unfortunately, even if you advertise a charcoal grill, a guest will have read it as gas and be disappointed. Some owners include both. While owners are not expected to provide charcoal; some guest feel differently about the issue. Some owners install “park” grills that are mounted in the ground and last multiple seasons. Unfortunately, if the prior guest did not clean the grill grate, your current guest is likely to complain. If a gas grill is provided, then typically gas is also included. This can be an issue when a guest does not realize there is no propane until late in the evening when most offices are closed. So, while I would argue a grill is a necessity; it is not a simple choice.
How you equip your house can make a huge difference to your guests. This is where knowing your target market is necessary. Equip your house to appeal to your target market. If your house appeals to singles who like to cook; then make sure you have more than just the essentials and provide top of the line cooking equipment. Create a theme around cooking and even include a family recipe (with local seafood, of course) in your “Welcome” package. Pots and pans from Walmart will not cut it. Make sure the grill area is appealing with key grilling utensils at hand. A wine cooler with a welcome bottle of wine is a nice touch for a guest in this target market.
If your target market is families with young children; make sure you have everything needed to appeal to this market. Packing for vacation is hard enough. Knowing the house you are staying in is equipped so you don’t have to lug everything is priceless. If you do advertise and include equipment; remember to maintain it in good repair. Consider including a crib, pack and play, stroller and the like for small children at a minimum. Games (with all the pieces intact), puzzles (with all the pieces) and story books are great classic fun for rainy days and evenings.
Make sure your guests have all the conveniences of home. Even a hotel includes an iron/ironing board. Including a blow dryer is also a nice touch. The kitchen must include appliances like a coffee maker, toaster, and ice maker. Many guest complain there is not large size pots, enough glasses, or adequate utensils. Stock your vacation rental home with all the things you use at home; especially when you have guests or a large crowd. Also, consider including items you use less often, like a slow cooker or “crock pot”.
Most guest tend to take care of things that appear to be maintained. Do your best to inspect after every rental and maintain the condition of your rental home and the amenities provided for guests. Keep in mind, there is always that one group in 100; that will not be responsible. These are the guest who will use your beautiful comforter for the kids to sit on at the beach, or let them bring kitchen spoons to play in the sand. Keep any sentimental or valuable item that you can’t risk in your owners lock up.
The variety of recreation equipment that can be provided is endless. Some owners have elaborate game rooms with pool tables, ping pong and the like, some include technically sophisticated media rooms, or a rooftop telescope for gazing at the night stars. These items are great if they are what appeals to your target market. If they are not spot on, they will be under appreciated and subject to more repair and maintenance due to your guest not understanding their proper use. Include only the items that will appeal to your target market.
Many owners keep beach toys (buckets, shovels and novelties) for small children, pool floats or games. These are a nice addition, as a surprise, for your guest enjoyment. It is best not to advertise or picture these items in your advertising because a guest may insist the items be available. These items suffer more wear and tear or are subject to being lost before the end of the season.
Other equipment like bicycles, surf boards, kayaks are very popular but are difficult to make work for every situation. Including the right size bicycles, with proper safety equipment and the needed training wheels, baskets or trailers is difficult with limited storage. Further complicating this scenario is keeping the bikes well maintained to ensure safety and satisfaction of your guests.
The same holds true for beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers. It is great to have these items available for guest to use; but as an added surprise benefit. If you advertise these items then you are expected to have them available for guest. Repair or replacement of these types of items can be difficult in season. Unfortunately, these items do not hold up well through the entire season.
The Outer Banks is a mature vacation rental market. Just about any item a guest may want is available through equipment rental companies. For some guests, it is not a big deal to rent a gas grill, baby crib or bicycles or any item not provided at your home. Other guests, will continue searching until the rental includes all anticipated needs.
I have been on the reservation side; there is no end to what is sometimes requested and it is impossible to anticipate what every guest may desire. In addition, advertising an amenity is a guarantee to make it available to the guest. An easy way around this is if you want to include amenities that may require additional maintenance or appeal to wide variety of guests, consider a voucher for an equipment rental company who will pick up delivery. This way your guest can select what they may want for an outstanding Outer Banks vacation.
Secure Repeat Guests Early
Once your guest checks out of your vacation home, send a follow-up email where the guest can rent the same week next year at a discounted rate. This offer should expire in one week. The discount should be from 5 to 10% of your advertised rate. This provides a sense of urgency to secure the rental for next year while the pleasant memories of vacation are still fresh. At the same time, since the offer expires in 1 week, you will not be turning away a new potential rental who is planning for next year.
Consider sending a holiday email to prior guests with a similar offer to reach them when they may be facing the cold and snow and dreaming of their next beach vacation. Periodically following up with your prior guest will increase repeat guests.
Should you have any vacancies in season due to a cancellation, consider sending an offer to your prior guest advertising it as a special with a discount. After all, these guest know what your home has to offer and it would not be too impulsive to decide to take an unplanned vacation.
Increasingly vacationers rely on reviews to make decisions about where to go and where to stay on vacation. This is probably the single most important element and it does not cost you anything to encourage your satisfied guests to provide reviews. Guest books no longer are only in the foyer of the home but are online and open for all the world to see.
The best time to remind guests to provide a review is after they check out. You can include the reminder with your follow-up email and discount for same week next year. Include a link in your email so they find it simple and easy to write a quick review. The more positive reviews your vacation home has the easier it is to rent!
It is the little things that mean a lot. The personal touch can go a long way in securing rentals for your vacation home. Some owners create “Welcome” packages or “Gift Baskets” with a personalized item to remind guests of their stay in the home. This is ideal if it is something the guest will use throughout the year. Other owners, provide luxury items for the guest to enjoy during their stay in the guest basket like coffee or wine.
Most Outer Banks vacation homes do not provide a starter kit. Simply providing a roll of toilet paper, trash bags, paper towels, soap, laundry, dish soap and shampoo can go a long way in making your guest at home until they can go grocery shopping. A location guide and restaurant recommendation will be a great help for guest to get their bearings.
Use your creativity to think of a thoughtful gift or package to welcome your guest. It does not have to be expensive. It could even be an inexpensive picture frame with glue and instruction for the kids to collect shells and place their favorite vacation picture inside. This would likely turn into a keepsake for years to come. Like my mother always said, it is the thought that counts. And you want the guest to continue to think of your vacation home as their home away from home.
Let Xpert Home Services Host your vacation home and continue to make your guest feel at home. We have a 24/7 contact for emergencies and can custom tailor a package for you and your vacation home.