Updates & blog

Holiday home owners who are killing it on Instagram

Instagram presents a fantastic opportunity for vacation rentals.

instagram sun

Launched in 2010, the photo-based social media platform now has more than 600 million users. 300 million of those users are active on Instagram every day.

Some other incredible statistic include:

  • Every day, photos on Instagram receive a collective 4.2 billion likes
  • 95 million photos/videos are shared per day
  • The most popular user on Instagram has more followers than the population of Malaysia, Australia, Sri Lanka, UAE and Switzerland (combined!)

Check out some more of these interesting stats on the websitebuilder.org infographic.

Why should holiday let owners get involved?

Instagram on iOS

Instagram’s format lends itself perfectly to holiday lets. Great property photography is no longer a luxury, it’s a must. And this photography can be shared with people looking for somewhere to stay in the near future. The same goes for photos of the local area (that pub around the corner, the gravel track through the woods where you can walk the dog, etc.).

Instagram allow their users to submerse themselves in a series of different worlds, and your holiday let can be one of them.

Let’s take a look at some holiday let owners who are doing a fantastic job of promoting what they have to offer via Instagram…

The Chickenshed

I love this Instagram account. I haven’t stayed here yet, but I’m desperate to change that soon!

The Chickenshed on instagram

As the name suggests, this used to be a poultry shed. It’s now quite different. The property and the location are stunning. But one thing I really enjoy is how authentic all the updates feel. It really feels like you are there each day.

Take a look at the photos and start following them to see what I mean, but the updates often talk about the weather, how it affects the views, the changeovers between guests, and other things that make you feel involved, rather than just a spectator.

The property has a minimalistic feel, but there is no limitation in the fantastic photos the owners achieve. Each shot is different, and for me it shows that most people massively underuse their most valuable asset when it comes to social media for holiday lets… the holiday let itself!

Follow the_chickenshed on Instagram.

Sawday’s Canopy & Stars

Canopy & Stars provide a hand-picked and inspected collection of incredible places to stay. As a long-time follower on Instagram, one of the things I enjoy most is the variety. There are tree houses, yurts, cabins, and even a couple of iron age forts!

canopyandstars on instagram

They are great at using photography from guests to add a real personal touch to the photos they share. They are currently promoting their ‘best bedview collection’ which is a fantastic selection of images.

Follow canopyandstars on Instagram.

Fforest

Fforest is honestly one of the most incredible places I’ve been. Run by some incredible, lovely people.

Fforest on instagram

It’s so special that I think it’s virtually impossible to carry that message across any medium, but Sian does an unbelievable job on their Instagram account.

It’s no surprise to see they have well over 15,000 followers.

There’s almost no self-promotion. It’s all about what happens day-to-day, slowing down, and enjoying life. I can’t really get enough of the beautiful landscapes and gorgeous moments. Each photo makes me desperate to go back as soon as possible.

Extra respect is also due regarding the genius of their Instagram handle. 👏

Follow coldatnight on Instagram.

Instagram logo

So what should I do?

Here are my tips…

  • Be authentic above all else
  • Don’t feel the need for blatant self promotion, sell what you do in smarter ways
  • Use your most valuable assets (your property, your location, etc.)
  • Inject your personality
 

Email marketing - too powerful to ignore

Email marketing is way too powerful to ignore. You should be doing it right now.

Emailing prospective guests presents a massive opportunity. Not doing it? You should be.

If it is not providing great returns, you make some changes and improvements, because the stats don’t lie when it comes to email marketing.

letters

Emails. The statistics.

  • Email marketing provides a better conversion rate than any other digital marketing channel (and that includes search and social media)
  • Search engines provide an average conversion rate of 2.49%, social media is at about 0.59%, and email marketing sits at a massive 4.24%
  • An email is 6x more likely to provide a click-through than a tweet
  • Compare to Facebook or Twitter, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers
  • Subscribers to your emails are 3x more likely to share your content via social media, compared to other sources

If that’s not enough to convince you, there’s 70 email marketing stats (including the ones above) over on the Campaign Monitor blog.

The tools to help you succeed

There are now some incredible tools/software out there to help you build and send effective email marketing campaigns.

Bookster comes with a direct integration with Campaign Monitor and I’ve found that it consisently gets great results, thanks to it’s incredible collection of great templates (which provide a quick and easy way to get started), tracking tools, and other more advanced options (like the ability to split test your emails, to help you understand what works best for your subscribers).

Mail Chimp is another very popular option. They offer a free plan (up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month), which puts them in a favourable position for small businesses just starting out. The features aren’t quite as advanced, but are probably more than enough to send very effective emails.

Here’s a good list of other tools (with lots of ratings and reviews).

Growing the list

Even if you’re not ready to start sending emails right now (although you definitely should — read the stats at the top again to see why!), you should certainly be working on growing your subscriber list.

This is the list of people that each email will get sent to. They could be people that have previously booked and stayed with you, or people that have signed up directly (via your website, Facebook page, etc.).

It’s important to note that you do need their permission, and the results will be much better if you include a note on the email to say why they are receiving it.

unsubscribe message Give people the option to easily unsubscribe, and remind them why they are receiving the email (like in this example for an email I sent out recently for Reserve Apartments).

All email tools will come with a way of embedding a simple subscribe form on your website. If you don’t have one yet, you should.

Emails done right

A top tip for producing great emails is to start receiving great emails.

If you receive any regularly just now, think about why you continue to subscribe. What do they offer you that stops you from hitting unsubscribe? What links do you find yourself clicking through on?

Kid friendly and family holiday let specialists Kid & Coe get lots of things right, including their email marketing.

kid and co

Their branding ties in perfectly with the rest of their website, but the content is always excellent too. They understand their audience perfectly, and the content (including wonderful photography of their properties) is always aimed precisely at those reading the emails.

On the footer of their homepage you’ll also see a simple subscribe form.

What to do now?

  1. Subscribe to some great emails (they needn't be in your industry, subscribe to anything you are interested in — the Huckberry email is one of my favourites)
  2. Get a subscribe form or button on your website
  3. Look into which email marketing tool would be best for you
  4. Start designing and building your first email - get it sent out to your subscriber list as quickly as possible (writing the next ones will be easier and faster, and you’ll get better based on the feedback and statistics).
 

Where should I advertise my vacation rental?

Marketing strategy for holiday let owners and managers.

Holiday lets are big business these days. Their popularity amongst savvy travellers means there is greater demand than ever before.

With demand comes competition

You’ll need to take some time to think about where you list your property if you want to get the most from your vacation rentals.

searching for holiday rentals

What would you search for if you were looking for a holiday in the area?

My background is in marketing, but I’ve also spent the last 10 years building a successful holiday let marketing business in Scotland. Combined with ideas gathered from operating my own holiday let, I wanted to share some tips with you about where you should advertise and why.

Why does it matter where I advertise?

  • Marketing your property in the right places will help you get the best possible return on investment (ROI)
  • You’ll be able to present your holiday let to as many targeted guests as possible
  • Marketing across more than just one channel spreads your risk (avoiding issues with low traffic at certain times of the year, unexpected increasing in advertising fees or changes to processes, etc.)
  • Advertising in the right places avoids one possible alternative of advertising everywhere, which could quickly drown you in admin (reading and responding to irrelevant enquiries, keeping availability and property informaiton up-to-date).

Exposure isn’t everything

Some marketing channels may claim to have hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, or huge spends on advertising (internet, TV, newspapers), but even if these claims are true, it may not matter.

You don’t want to reach the maximum number of people. You want to reach the right people. Those who would love your holiday let.

Where should I advertise?

Put yourself in the position of your ideal guest.

What would they search for? Which websites would they use?

This could be done using a little imagination, or by carrying out some simple user testing. Speaking to guests is always the best way to understand where they searched, what they were looking for, which websites they could remember visiting, and why they chose to book your property.

This investigative work will yield some great results, and can be comined with your own testing (searching Google for ‘holiday lets in Paris’ or ‘cottage rentals in Yorkshire’).

Be wary of companies that call you, as they probably won’t bring in as many bookings as they promise you. However, it might be smart to register an interest with any companies you find through your own research. If you don’t sign up with them immediately, they will likely contact you with offers or reduced rates or upgraded promotional packages.

Research and review

Initial research is important, but reviews are equally important (and often forgotten).

I would suggest an annual review that involves:

  • collecting guest feedback and investigating further
  • making a concerted effort to speak with guests (in person is always best)
  • carrying out your own research by using Google as a potential guest.

Off you go…

The best time to get started is now. It’s peak booking season for many holiday lets, so there’s certainly no time like the present!


Check out Bookster's Channel Manager for syncing with 3rd party websites

 

Booking.com and Bookster

Use Bookster to sync your vacation rental with Booking.com.

Booking.com logo

You can now use the Bookster Channel Manager to sync:

  • Pricing
  • Availability
  • Bookings

Who are Booking.com?

In the unlikely event that you have not heard of them, the Bookster Channel Manager now connects to the largest accommodation website on the planet.

What Booking.com say about themselves:

Established in 1996 and part of the Priceline Group, owns and operates Booking.com™, the world leader in booking accommodation online. Each day, over 1,200,000 room nights are reserved on Booking.com. The Booking.com website and apps attract visitors from both the leisure and business sectors worldwide.

Joining the Channel Manager

bookster feature icons channel manager

So long as you have a paid Bookster account, sync a property up with Booking.com or any of our other great Channels within Bookster:

Join the channel manager in Bookster screen grab

A massive time saving

Pricing: Bookster will update the prices on Booking.com when you make changes in Bookster.

Availability: eliminate double bookings - Bookster will block off dates on Booking.com whenever availabiliy is updated within Bookster AND update availability when you get a booking via Booking.com.

Bookings: no more copy and paste - Bookster will pull all the booking details into Bookster and even try to take a payment for you.

 

5 start up tips to getting noticed in search

NOTE: this is a basic guide for holiday rental businesses starting up.

Now, if I knew the answer to coming top of search results at all times I would have retired to my own private island some time ago.

Having said that, there are some simple steps that can help ensure search engines at least know your vacation rental website exists.

holiday sea views

Your vacation rental can have the best views, but you need to get the word out to get bookings.

This is not a detailed look at how to promote your holiday property website, simply a run down of the basics.

Firstly, it is important to understand that this is your responsibility to be proactive and if you do nothing... nobody will visit your website so you can expect no bookings.

  1. What is in a domain name?

    If you have yet to pick a domain name for your holiday rental business... you can increase your chances of being found by selecting one that might reflect what people are searching for. For example "holidayapartmentsflorence.com" might work better than "staywithussometimesoon.com".

    Bear in mind people rarely type in a domain to their browser and more commonly type in a phrase to a search engine, so the domain being relevant is what will help you appear in search.

  2. Links shminks

    Search engines pay attention to who is linking to your website - so get it out there.

    From your government tourism organisation, Facebook, forums to property listing websites it is important that you get your link out on to the internet.

    It is not really about people clicking on those links and making bookings with you (although that can be nice), it is more about being pushed higher up the search engine listings because your website is deemed important enough.

  3. Words

    I always think it is a little odd that the term "keywords" has caught on when really it is just about words.

    Basically, people use words to search and if they show up on your website, search engines are more likely to give them your website as an option for them to click on.

    Point is - think about the words you are using. Example "nice town in our area" vs "Perugia is in our region of Umbria".

    OK, it is a bit more complicated than that, but the gist is make sure you are writing about things on your website are related to your holiday home(s).

  4. Update often

    Search engines love new stuff… make sure you regularly review your property descriptions and photo description etc. Make updates and ensuring that all you have to offer is included.

  5. Get technical

    If you are feeling brave, there are a number of slightly more technical things that you can do to...

    Webmaster Tools

    Google, Bing and many other search engines have an area for viewing how your website is performing - get access and add your website.

    Add a Sitemap

    If you your website supports it, or you can be bothered to figure out how to create one a sitemap file can be used to let Google know when you have updated pages.

    Every Bookster website come with one: e.g. demo.booksterhq.com/sitemap.xml.

    Example sitemap.xml file

    <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9" xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance" xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9 http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9/sitemap.xsd">
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/</loc>
      </url>
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/contact</loc>
      </url>
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/guest-area</loc>
      </url>
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/properties</loc>
      </url>
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/view/115680-house-by-the-river</loc>
        <lastmod>2016-10-12</lastmod>
      </url>
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/view/115653-house-in-the-valley</loc>
        <lastmod>2016-10-10</lastmod>
      </url>
      <url>
        <loc>http://demo.booksterhq.com/view/115616-house-on-the-hill</loc>
        <lastmod>2016-10-06</lastmod>
      </url>
    </urlset>

    TIP: you can use Google Analytics to authenticate your website ownership in Webmaster Tools so sometimes it is better to set that up first.

 

Your own domain

Setting up your Bookster website on your own domain.

Of course hosting, maintenance and ensuring that your website is live 24/7/365 is all included when it comes to your Bookster website.

The final touch is to set it up and running on your own domain - it is your website after all.

In Bookster you can set that up yourself!

Own domain - the basic steps

  • Create a Bookster website
  • Register a domain
  • Update the DNS settings for your domain

Examples

Setting up and getting help in Bookster

set up own domain

set up own domain

 

A better guest experience

Giving the guest control - make payments and update party details.

We have a clear philosophy to capturing bookings and communicating with Guests:

  1. Make it as simple as possible for a guest to book; then
  2. direct to Guest area to review their booking whenever they need to.

Booking information - all in one place

Answer all those little questions, without speaking to a guest.

Guests can view:

  • Arrival / departure times
  • Directions, location map etc.
  • Property details

Jump into the Guest area yourself directly from within Bookster to view what you Guest views:

Jump to the Guest area from a booking

Guest control

Allow Guests to update their booking.

As well as viewing information about their stay, they can:

  • Make a balance payment
  • Make a damage deposit payment
  • Update party details (names, ages etc.)
guest area showing progress
 

Zapier and Bookster

Use the automation tool Zapier with Bookster.

Bookster has an API that can talk to Zapier and carry out some pretty cool tasks with other web applications.

In Zapier's own words:

"Connect Your Apps and Automate Workflows"

"Easy automation for busy people. Zapier moves info between your web apps automatically, so you can focus on your most important work."

Example: SMS booking alert

Create a "Zap" to send an SMS text message when a booking comes in.

  1. Sign up to Zapier

    Visit zapier.com and create an account.

  2. Find your Bookster API key

    In order to give Zapier permission to view your bookings, you will need you Bookster API key.

    Bookster -> "account" -> API Key

    Copy it and keep it somewhere safe for future use.

  3. Check for new bookings and send an SMS.

    From within Zapier:

    1. Create a Zap
    2. Look for "Webhooks by Zapier" screengrab of Webhooks by Zapier
    3. Select "Retrieve Poll" with settings:
      URL
      https://secure.booksterhq.com/system/api/v1/booking/bookings.json
      Key
      data
      Deduplication Key
      id
      Basic Auth
      x|my-api-key-that-i-got-from-bookster
      Zapier poll settings screen capture
      Note: remember to add the x| before your API key.
    4. Finally, for the next action, look for "SMS by Zapier" and follow the instructions from there!

A full list of Zapier Apps

 

3 ways to use Email Marketing to super charge your bookings

Harness your email lists to boost your bookings.

Email marketing is available to all paid Bookster accounts.

Bookster automatically creates lists of previous guests so you can market directly to your customers.

  1. Reviews

    Ask guests for feedback

    Use "Automations" within Email Marketing to send an email requesting that your guest posts a review after their stay.

    email-marketing-automations

    Use Trip Advisor or Google to collect reviews of your properties and service.

    Why does this work?

    Your good work will be rewarded with positive reviews and that will drive bookings.


  2. Good times

    "Remember your great trip to York?"

    Again, use "Automations" to send a template email to guests once every year after they last booked with you reminding of the great times they had when they stayed with you before.

    email marketing anniversary screen grab
    Why does this work?

    If they did not have a good time, they will most likely ignore your email or unsubscribe so not to worry.


  3. Our blog!

    Keep a Blog, tell everyone about it automatically

    Within Email Marketing you can set up an Automation that will check an RSS or Atom feed for new posts.

    email marketing blog automation screen grab
    Why does this work?

    Keep your followers updated with the goings on in your area or improvements to your holiday homes and they are more likely to visit. Simple.

 

New website theme

New Bookster Website theme available now: "Chelsea"

Apply this awesome new theme to your Bookster Website today.

Chelsea Bookster website template

There is a brand new website theme available for your Bookster Website.

Chelsea theme demo

  • Modern
  • SEO friendly
  • Mobile ready
  • Own domain
  • Cross property availability searching
  • Filtered searching
 

Visit Scotland

New marketing Channel: Visit Scotland

Visit Scotland (visitscotland.com) is available as a Channel within Bookster.

Visit Scotland logo

Full syncing

Hook up your Visit Scotland listing and your holiday rental will appear within availability searches on Visit Scotland, giving Bookster properties higher visibility.

Bookster will sync up:

  • Availability
  • Pricing
  • Bookings

VisitScotland and Bookster

Select Visit Scotland within Bookster:

Channel drop down

Select Visit Scotland within Bookster

 

Percentage Extras

Define a charge based on the value of the booking

Bookster allows you to define options and charges for your guests. These can be optional or mandatory, charged or free.

One of these options is now to create an additional charge based on a percentage value of the booking.

screen grab of percentage extras within Bookster

 

Conversion rate tools for holiday let websites

If guests are able to navigate your holiday let website with ease, and find everything they need, they will be much more likely to book with you.

So how do you ensure your website is working as hard as possible for you?

Here are a selection of top tools we recommend to people looking to improve their website.

UserTesting.com

Optimizely

A great place to start is to watch strangers use your website. UserTesting.com allows you to purchase videos of people using your site, whilst describing what they see and understand.

We recommend starting with just three videos, as you’ll likely have a long list of changes to make after those three. Make the changes, and come back at a later date for another three videos.

UserTesting.com also offer a great service called Peek, which allows you to see and hear a five minute video of someone using your website for free.

Optimizely

Optimizely

Sometimes it can be difficult to know what you should change and what you should keep the same. It’s also tough to know if changes will improve conversion rate, or destroy it.

Split testing is the easiest way to test out and verify and changes you are making. From basic changes like colours and images used on your website, to more advanced layout and copy changes.

Optimizely is a split (or A/B) testing solution that’s very easy to use. Run a couple of tests and see which ones provide the best conversion rate.

If you use Bookster to power your website, Optimizely is fully integrated and so it will be very easy to set up.

Qualaroo

Qualaroo

I’ve used this at Reserve for as long as I can remember. The genius of it is in the simplicity.

Qualaroo is a non-intrusive pop-up that appears in the corner of a web page and asks a simple question (which you can define, or just choose from one of the templates provided). You can choose when the pop-up appears (after viewing 5 pages, being on the site for 10 minutes, etc.).

It gets a great response rate, isn’t too annoying for other users, and provides a real mine of useful feedback.

Google Analytics

GA

Every website should have some form of analytics set up. To tell you where your site visitors are coming from, what they are doing on your site, and why they leave.

Google Analytics is certainly one of the best free solutions available (and it competes rather well with many paid solutions too).

Analytics will tell you everything and anything that you could possibly want to know, and that’s part of the problem. There’s often information overload when looking at the data provided by Analytics, so it’s often best to look at a few reports only, or to access Analytics with a view to finding answers to specific questions (how many people visit our contact page, what page do most people last visit on our site, etc.).

Many of the tools listed here provide qualitative research (videos, feedback, etc.). Analytics can provide a healthy dose of quantitative research.

Email

Beyond simple but, as a result, many people don’t do it.

People that have just booked with you can be a great source of information. They will almost certainly respond to your emails, and they’ll often be happy to spare the time to provide valuable feedback.

Ask them why they booked with you. What other sites they looked at. What they didn’t like about other websites they used.

The downside here is that you’ll only get to speak to those that have already booked, but there’s so much useful feedback to be gathered that it’s certainly still worth doing.

 

Why conversion rate matters

Not all websites are created equal. Some look better than others. But what’s really important is how well they work.

screengrab of analytics

What is conversion rate? Imagine a shop…

On a nice sunny Saturday, 100 people come into the shop throughout the day. As you would expect, not everyone buys something. But 5 people do. The shop’s conversion rate would be 5%, because 5 out of 100 people bought something.

Read more...
 

Internship in Edinburgh

I’m Justine Willebrouck, 18 years old, a french student in International Commerce, and I’m in Edinburgh for 2 months; indeed I have to do an internship abroad to validate my first year of studies.

When I was in France, at the beginning of the year, I had to find a company (anywhere as long as it wasn’t in France). So I was searching on internet and sending by email a lot of CV and cover letters. It was really hard to find somewhere from my classroom and I to find one. I am delighted to be here in Edinburgh at Bookster!

Read more...
 

New Channel

New Edinburgh marketing channel available in Bookster.

Property managers can now request to list on Edinburgh Self Catering.

edinburgh self catering logo

Channel Manager

The Channel provides live two way syncing:

  • Rates
  • Availability
  • Bookings
  • Photos and property details
Read more...
 

New! Channel Manager

Bookster Channel Manager: more bookings for your holiday rentals.

Full integration

  • Photos, property details etc.
  • Availability and rates
  • Bookings directly into the console
  • Fully synced = zero double bookings

Available now - to get started, we have provided support for publishing your properties on the following Channels:

Read more...
 

New! Awesome holiday rental websites

New! Instantly create your holiday rental website.

Now you can set up your own amazing self catering website set up from within Bookster.

laptop graphic with book now button

Set up a holiday rental website

Designed for vacation rentals

  • Hamptons

    Optimised for conversion

    Designs that maximise converting visitors into guests.

  • Hamptons

    Simplistic beauty

    Show off your holiday rentals with the website they deserve.

Read more...
 

Live arrivals in your calendar

View guest arrivals and departures in your own calendar.

How great would it be if you could have all your holiday rental arrivals and departures in your favourite calendar app? With Bookster you can.

google-calendar-ios-bookster Arrivals and departures in the native Google Calendar App on iOS

When you are out and about, meeting guests or dealing with maintenance issues, sometimes it is nicer to use a calendar App native to your phone or tablet.

Live and real time* - when you get a new booking, the arrival and departure details will pop right into your calendar!

Read more...
 

Using the API to pull out bookings

API access into Bookster.

Pulling out bookings

The RESTful API allows you to programatically pull out your bookings.

Getting started:

  1. Log in to Bookster
  2. Click on "More -> API" to view the documentation

You can get your personal API key by clicking on "account".

 

Viewing API documentation in Bookster

This is a bit limited... what about doing other stuff?

We are rolling out our API in small chunks so keep your eye out for more to come!

If you are looking for a programatic interface to update availability, Bookster also provides some iCal importing and exporting facilities.

 
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