I am honoured to have been invited to be a judge for the 2013 Self Catering Web Awards on behalf of Rental Tonic. I would encourage all UK holiday rental owners and agents to get involved when it next opens for entries.
The reason I am so excited is that I see this as a huge opportunity for owners and agents to learn from each other, to see what works and discover what really makes a “winning website” so that we can all improve the experience we give to our customers.
Apart from the fact I find the whole world of websites and internet marketing fascinating (yes, I am a closet nerd!), I see on a daily basis how a good website can make a huge difference between a property with healthy bookings, and one that just gets ignored.
Working with the big tour operators taught me a lot about what makes a good website for travel companies, and since then I have immersed myself in learning all I can about websites, blogging, booking systems, customer experience, and how to spread the word about your holiday home online.
For me it’s pretty simple. Anyone renting out a holiday home is effectively running a small business, and would you really open a business in 2013 without a website?
I could wax lyrical all day on this topic, but for now here are my 3 top reasons for claiming your own piece of internet real estate for your self catering business:
1) A website is the best possible way of presenting your property to your target audience. In contrast with a faceless holiday listing site, it allows owners to give some “personality” to their holiday home so that potential guests can learn about, and engage with their offering.
Savvy owners will have a clear a profile of their “ideal customer” and use their website to speak directly to those potential guests in words and images that they can relate to. A website also allows owners to give so much more information than would otherwise be available, allowing them to really “wow” their visitors and seal the deal.
2) Your website is under your control. Many owners stick to the usual listing sites or agents, then if they don´t get any bookings one season they just cancel and try somewhere else. But what happens to the online presence for your property then? The page just disappears so there is no place for people to come back to and take another look.
Listing sites certainly have a part to play in your holiday rental marketing, but they can be trial and error to begin with. What works for one property might not perform for the next, or there may be a downshift one season as more competition appears in your area meaning it is no longer cost effective to renew those listings. This is why it is important to bring those visitors to your own website, where you can give them a reason to leave their details or to keep coming back for more (and if the listing portal doesnt allow you to add a link to your site, then find one that does!)
3) If you set up your website and listings properly, you can even generate bookings in your sleep! (especially useful if like me you tend to get people making enquiries at midnight!)
People want to do things on-demand these days, on their time frame, not yours. So by insalling the right kind of software you can allow interested visitors to make a reservation there and then, without time consuming emails back and forth to check availability and such like whilst they go off and book elsewhere.
This can be quite scary for independent owners to contemplate so think of it this way; firstly, you will hopefully have done such a good job on setting up your website to appeal to your ideal guest, that it is pretty clear who your property is for. In other words a stag party is not likely to be looking at your baby friendly cottage full of cots and stair gates!
Secondly, your website can contain a FAQs page which will do away with having to answer the same questions over and over. So by the time people decide to make the reservation, they will be completely happy with what you are offering and what they will be getting. Of course you can still allow potential guests to contact you directly with any queries they may have prior to booking.
Furthermore, you can still have the last say over whether to accept the booking or not. If you direct all visitors to your website as the hub of your business then an overbooking is practically impossible. Some booking systems will sync all of your calendars when a booking is made, and you can even deal more efficiently with niggly admin things like sending out arrival instructions or T&Cs by allowing your guests to download them straight from your website once they have booked (and while they are there, why not direct them to like your social media profiles too!)
4) And finally, having a website gives structure and purpose to any social media marketing you are trying.
Consider the advantage you will have if your Twitter followers land on a nicely presented and user friendly web page, versus a bland listing page on Owners Direct? Or if behind that Facebook photo album, your visitors land on a smooth slideshow of professional and captivating images of your villa, that makes then just want to book there and then?
You can also take advantage of linking your website and social media by landing your fans directly on an opt-in page, and in that way building your email marketing list too.
Add an interesting blog about your area, local events and special offers, and you can quickly become a trusted authority in your destination and someone that potential guests would love to book with again and again!
So if you have a website for your self catering business then do take a look at the Self Catering Web Awards 2013 competition, and come and tell us about it on Twitter @rentaltonic or leave us a comment on Facebook
I will be posting more on this topic and putting together some thoughts on my favourite websites once the competition closes, so do sign up for our newsletter so you can keep up to date.