Hear from the Experts: Louise Brace on Why Guest Experience Matters

In this series of posts, we’re speaking to vacation rental experts about what really drives bookings, how to provide the highest level of guest experience, and the issues they believe will transform the vacation rental industry.

Vreasy are ambassadors for the guest experience. Our managers build their businesses around offering more to their guests; but what is true for us, is not necessarily true for everyone.

We wanted to take a step a back and speak to an expert, here in Spain about what the ‘Guest Experience’ means to her business and how it affects every booking. So, we got in touch with  vacation rental marketing strategist, copywriter and guest experience coach Louise Brace about why she believes the guest experience is going to force every manager to change the way they do business.

lou_pic_whiteboard-blank-1Rental Tonic vacation rental experts

Before, property managers were focused completely on distribution. They failed to prioritise the guest experience and service. It was just about finding and placing guests.

After attending industry events such as VRMA and the VRWS in Barcelona, it has been impossible to ignore that getting bookings is no longer the challenge that concerns property managers. Almost everyone we talked to is concerned with giving their guests an experience that makes their brand memorable. There is a wave of managers all trying to be the best – we want to discover how they do it.

Louise gave us some great insights into how she sees the industry changing and examples of how she stays ahead of the curve. Read on to hear why she decided to prioritise the guest experience and how she is succeeding.

Why should managers care about the guest experience?

The competitiveness and the figures of how many people are choosing vacation rentals are forcing people to sit up and pay attention.

Property managers were once focused completely on distribution. They failed to prioritize the guest experience and service. It was just about finding and placing guests.

Property managers that have started to offer a complete package, with a concierge style offering, are definitely getting the lion’s share of bookings now, especially in the luxury market. Plus, there are so many great tools out there to connect and share with guests, the task has become totally streamlined. There is no reason why any property manager shouldn’t be taking their business to the next level.

doing more for the guest experience

For example, we conducted a case study into a property management company that wanted to attract business travellers, but they weren’t creating a business environment. They needed to compete with hotels, who offer WiFi, printers, free robes, free toiletry pack, free airport pickup. It was a no brainer to introduce these features into their business when they looked at the costs vs. extra bookings.

What can property managers do to build a more memorable business?

It should be a natural progression from acquiring a guest to retaining them.

They should be considering a recurring life cycle for every guest they place. Up-selling their experience during the holiday, connecting with the guest post-stay – thanking them, asking them to participate in a post-stay survey on their experience, reaching out for reviews and offering them incentives to rebook, and staying in touch on a regular basis.

It should be a natural progression from acquiring a guest to retaining them. And property managers can really only do that by understanding who their guests are, mining information from communication and creating guest profiles to deliver personalised information through their recurring life cycle. A mix of the way you communicate with guests, pre, during, and post stay and offering owners a recurring life cycle of guests will bring you guests that cost less to acquire and fuller calendars.

Do you think the strongest brands will ‘take over’ key areas?

I’m a strong believer that local brands, portals and owners who really love and sell their destination and the whole experience through written, visual and shared content will take a bigger and well deserved share of the bookings in the not too distant future.

So, what is the new standard for the top-tier property managers?

The volume of people booking means that there will be people that manage to get full calendars without doing anything. What will happen is that these people will have to work hard and spend money to fill these calendars year after year.

Difficult one, because I am not sure it exists yet. The volume of people booking means that there will be people that manage to get full calendars without doing anything. What will happen is that these people will have to work hard and spend money to fill these calendars year after year. Whereas, if you are working with a set of guests and personalising your communication and their experience, you’re not going to have to spend so much money on advertising on HomeAway, SEO, or SEM.

You can do less; your work is less but you’re still getting bookings from people you know love your property.

Do you think portals such as Airbnb are starting to favour professional hosts?

Airbnb was really the instigator of the term ‘professional host’; they flipped the concept.  They stopped talking about accommodation and started making it about the host. And to an extent I agree with this principle.

Airbnb professional hosts

These days travellers, guests, and certainly those staying in a holiday home or apartment, are looking for a more authentic experience. They want to feel a connection with the destination and the culture, and the host offers that first connection. How the property manager bonds with them from first communication, what they are offered, will make a big difference. It will take some regions and destinations longer to catch up with the super professional hosts in major cities.

Are professional standards too high for part-time owners to get bookings?

Part-time owners can create amazing businesses too, but if they are looking for a quick buck and not interested in working to make their business stand out, then I think they are going to be sorely disappointed.

The volume of properties is increasing, but so too is the number of travellers choosing VR and Airbnb accommodation. Part-time owners can create amazing businesses too, but if they are looking for a quick buck and not interested in working to make their business stand out, then I think they are going to be sorely disappointed.

Professional standards can also be looked at from the viewpoint of owners who choose to register their properties. In Spain, and in many other regions of the world, we are seeing our professional and qualitative standards regulated by regional tourism boards. I believe that this will also play a big part moving forward as to who gets more bookings. Guests will look for accommodation that holds an official quality standard and licence and choose that over an unlicensed option.

Having said that, there are travellers for every type of accommodation. There will always be travellers motivated only by price, rather than by quality, professionalism or experience. But then would you really want those travellers in your home?

When will homeowners choose a professional property manager over a DIY approach?

They do already don’t they? Certainly that’s the case here in the Malaga province. Not that I think those professional property managers are yet offering the total experience that we are discussing. Well, I know of one that is – there is a very bright future for those property managers that get it just right.

Will the increased bookings and higher nightly rates justify the commission paid to managers?

I think it will yes. And I think brands do matter. It’s interesting to watch how the hotel chains are moving into that style of ecosystem. They are already creating their branded VR propositions and targeting their products to specific guest types: luxury, authentic seekers, etc.

A traveller knows the level of quality they are getting from a brand. Often a VR can feel like an unknown entity.

But is it not also possible for owners to create their own brands? To increase bookings and charge higher nightly rates through hard work and persistence? And not have to pay the commission of managers? I am teaching owners to do that right now. Many want to take back control of their business and make it successful and profitable.

Will we then see a professional gap between these managers and the ‘small’ property managers?

I think we have a long way to go to get to that point. Certainly in terms of property managers. But I do know some managers that see the future and are working to get it just right. They are small now, with 10-20 properties, and perhaps that’s why they do what they do best, offering a more personalised guest experience. They offer the total package, because it’s manageable.

As much as I dislike admitting it, we can learn a lot from the hotel industry. I DO learn a lot from the hotel industry right now. We need to take as much of their good and positive traits and learn how we can use them to improve our guest experience.  After all, it seems they are learning from our industry.

The TakeAways:

  • The standards required to just get bookings have increased
  • The customer has become more selective and powerful
  • Managers offering a complete service will get the lion’s share of bookings
  • Portals are gearing themselves towards professional managers
  • New managers will look to professional managers rather than creating new listings
  • The companies with the best branding and recognition will acquire these inventories

Louise Brace is a professional writer and consultant. You can read more of her insights on the vacation rental industry on her site, RentalTonic here. You can follow her on Twitter here. We suggest you do both!

 

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