In a recent article for Rental Scale-Up, consultant Thibault Masson considered 15 things vacation rental owners and managers can do now to increase low-season bookings.
Packed with practical advice and his strategic fine-tuning, Masson’s tips to maximize rental revenues are an excellent resource for ALL hospitality businesses. They are super helpful, resource-light and, as the summer season comes to an end, are activities that hotels and resorts with upcoming low seasons should implement.
1 Determine when YOUR low season starts and what it means to your business
Everyone knows what high season is – when you are overrun with bookings. The off-season is when you have no bookings at all, and no one is asking to stay.
The low season is harder to define. It’s when you are receiving some bookings for your resort or hotel, but your occupancy remains low. Importantly, it is when your guests don’t want to pay high-season rates and typically stay for a shorter time.
Masson explains that there will be a “sweet spot” during this period called the shoulder season. This is defined as “the travel season between peak and off-peak when fares tend to be relatively low”. The shoulder season tends to happen in spring and fall, and if marketed correctly and help your resort or hotel make money.
For example, in the US, the low season typically starts after Labor Day weekend. The demand pattern at this time changes from busy weekends to no interest from guests to stay during the week. However, there might also be times of high demand during this period – perhaps a festival or event is happening at that time.
Not sure when your low season is? Then check out local market trends, average occupancy rate and average daily rate through:
And look out for popular events near your resort or hotel during the low season that will increase demand and price accordingly.
2 Determine who your ideal low season guest is
Your marketing team will already have in mind who your ideal guest is for the high season. But are they the best fit for low season vacations as well?
To find out, look back at your data and determine who stayed with you, how long they stayed, how many guests were on the booking, what size accommodations did they use, could you upsell them any services, and how did they find you?
Once you know the answers, you can define your ideal low season guest and the offer and market to them.
Masson suggests that you will know what kind of people to feature on your account if you use Instagram for your marketing, enjoying a low-season activity.
3 Adapt and change your product where you can
Lower your prices.
Yes, you will have to lower your rates in the low season. However, by knowing the demand pattern in your location, you only need to reduce your prices when the demand drops. Remember, weekends at this time may still be in high demand, so keep your prices higher.
Check out the competition.
So much information is available about your competitors if you look. Check out sites like VRBO, Airbnb and Booking and find out what others are doing.
- How much do they lower their prices compared with the high season?
- Do they reduce their prices at weekends and weekdays?
- How do their prices fluctuate across the season?
4 Lower your minimum stay
There might be some reluctance to do this among vacation ownership resorts that work on a fixed seven-night rotation. However, lowering your minimum stay during the low season will appeal to those looking for long weekend vacations if that’s suitable for your location.
Choosing to reward longer stays with discounted rates for weekly and monthly stays is also a good option.
5 Encourage weekday stays
If weekdays bookings are your primary concern, why not consider running a special offer? For example, you could offer three nights at your property for the price of two.
Masson explains that in this way, you avoid discounting your price too much and damaging your brand – keep the nightly price the same but give away one night for those who book three during the week.
6 Change to occupancy-based rates
This is one way to lower your price without lowering your value.
For example, advertise a price based on a standard occupancy and then specify the cost for each additional guest up to your maximum occupancy.
7 Create packages
Another way to avoid lowering your prices is to increase your rental value during the low season. Offering more for the same price could be as simple as providing a free meal in your restaurant or one near you (negotiate a discount with your local restaurant to lower your costs). Or including parking free of charge.
Resorts and hotels often have many facilities, so packaging these with your accommodation should be achievable without reducing your nightly rate.
8 Add a hot tub – or something like it!
If you want to target a specific market, adapt your product to make it more attractive during the low season.
If that’s the couples’ market, then adding access to a hot tub on their terrace, chilled wine in the fridge, cocktails on arrival and chocolates and flowers on arrival might just set you apart. Indeed, a 2014 TripAdvisor study lists hot tubs as one of the top five luxury amenities that attract travelers.
9 Contact previous guests
OK, this is obvious, but how many independent resorts and hotels collect and then email their previous guests with news and offers regularly? Indeed, this might only be once a year when the management fee invoices are sent for many vacation ownership resorts.
Contacting your previous guests (and owners) with an offer that is right for them is faster, less costly and more efficient than promoting to new people.
10 Ask for referrals
While you’re contacting previous guests, don’t forget to ask them to think about their friends who would enjoy a vacation at your property.
And if a booking comes from it, send them something as a thank you. It doesn’t need to be expensive. A box of chocolates goes a long way!
11 Contact previous non-bookers
The next group to focus on is those who recently enquired about your property but did not book. That might be because you did not have availability, or they had to change their plans.
It might not have worked out that time, but with your low season pricing, new packages in place and added value, they might be open to staying with you this time.
Masson adds that you can even up your game and undertake some Facebook remarketing for your property to target past contacts and site visitors.
12 Update your listings
If you use an OTA to promote your accommodations, keep your listing updated to attract low season guests.
- Update your calendar so potential guests can see that you’re open and what your rates are
- Add new images to show how lovely your resort and hotel is during the low season.
- Feature any special offers in the headline
- Mention local events in the copy
- Talk about activities that are suitable for that time of year
13 Find niche rental websites
If you don’t want to pay the high commission of the large OTA but don’t want to rely on direct bookings alone, look into niche rental websites.
The low season is a perfect time to try new channels such as PetsWelcome for those who want to travel with their dog. Or, if you’re in a gay-friendly location, add your property to sites like MisterBnB or Booking.com’s Travel Proud program.
14 Write about yourself
Of course, you’ll want to update your websites and social media with your low season rates, offers and packages.
But why not go further and write blog posts giving ideas and inspiration to potential guests?
Masson suggests “7 things that you can only do in XXX in the fall” or “Top 3 reasons to visit XXX in the low season”.
15 Contact local events
Keeping up to date with events in your local area is a great way to keep your guests informed and motivated to visit. But it also opens up another opportunity. Connect with the organizers of these events, and they might promote your accommodations in their marketing.
Maybe go a step further and put together a package just for those attending the event? It might just fill up a few units during the low season.