As a vacation rental property manager, your website is the digital “front door” to your business. Making changes to it is no small task, so we’ve asked industry professionals what their recommendations are for having the best possible vacation rental website in 2020.
Their answers probably won’t come as a shock, but how strongly they suggest you make these changes might be a surprise. Overall, when we asked them about today’s standards for a vacation rental website, they all agreed on having strong visuals, but they also shared a few thoughts around branding and communication.
Without further ado, let’s jump in.
Tip #1: Use only high-quality photos
According to our experts, the #1 website breaker is poor photography. Vanessa Humes from ICND exposes this head-on. “Poorly done photography will make your company look amateur, cheap, and unprofessional.”
Consumers react more favorably to professional, high-quality imagery. They make may an assumptions about the overall rental experience based on the quality of what they see online. Successful photography includes professional shooting and processing that produces eye-catching imagery with sharp detail and straight vertical lines, great lighting, correct color, and smart staging.
Tim Schutts’ definition of good photography expands even further. “I believe it is best to capture not only the rental imagery in great detail, but the area as well,” he says. “People don’t go on vacation to just stay in their room.”
But don’t forget how these photos are being viewed. Images should be optimized for websites and the mobile searching experience. According to vroomres, 42% of travelers use their smartphones to research and book their vacations.
“Invest in good pictures and videos, but learn to optimize them for your website,” Humes advises. “Large images will make your site load slow, small images blown-up become pixelated and don’t look great.”
Ask your web provider for the exact photo file specifications needed to make your website look and perform at its best (TruPlace clients, we can help you with this!)
Matt Bare with Q4 Launch echoes the need for quality across all visuals. “We’re in the business of selling space,” he explains. “The visuals of that space are all guests have to go on when making a big purchase decision. To say the quality of those visuals is of paramount importance is an understatement. It’s really all they have to go on to assure them that their hard-earned PTO and money is going to result in a great experience!” he adds.
“Visual marketing is the most important element when setting expectations and marketing the brand, and visuals are the most efficient way to communicate product standards,” according to Drew Hines with RealTech Webmasters. “Online attention spans are notoriously short, but visuals are one of the best ways to not only capture a user’s attention but more importantly, keep it.”
In today’s hyper-competitive environment, which, according to Skift, includes more than 100,000 property management companies operating worldwide, high-quality, professional photography is non-negotiable. It inspires guests’ vacations and trust in you, it demonstrates to owners your commitment to the success of their properties, and it elevates the professional property manager above the 57% of rent-by-owners that don’t use professional photography (Evolve Vacation Rental Network).
“Don’t underrate the power of high-quality pictures and videos,” says Ken Wilson of Bizcor. “Most vacation rental managers have an inventory where most properties are unique, making the photos the best tool to share the personality of that property. The effect is even more if you can provide a 3D or floor plan virtual tour,” he adds.
Tour Credit: Vacation Homes of Hilton Head
Videos and tours have become not only expected but requisite to delivering an engaging online user experience.
“In today’s vacation rental market, it takes more than beautiful photography to attract guests to your brand and listings,” explains Peter Scott with BlueTent. “Property tours and/or videos are an essential part of the search experience and are a must for your direct-booking website. Want to raise the bar?” he continues. “Throw in video clips highlighting your team, neighborhoods, and happy customers.”
Wilson also stresses consistency. “Make sure your photo quality is consistent across all properties! If you have great photos for some homes but not others, it compromises your overall brand and trust from the guest.”
Tour Credit: Atlantic Realty Outer Banks
Which brings us to their second recommendation.
Tip #2: Drive More Bookings Through Consistent Branding
Major hotel brands and venture capitalists are continuing to pour investments into vacation rentals. As Skift’s Travel Megatrends 2020: Short-Term Rental Winners Emerge points out, more unique offerings like yurts and houseboats are becoming increasingly popular and overall gross bookings of short-term rentals rose 7% in 2019. Peter Scott of Bluetent notes that modern travelers are discerning and have more accommodation options than ever before.
But for author Wouter Geerts, it’s not about categorization: “It’s about meeting expectations, whether that is on a couch in a New York apartment, a chain hotel room, or a Sonder-branded luxury penthouse.”
Scott’s advice: “Your direct-booking website needs to stand out from all the rest. Give travelers the confidence to click your ‘book now’ button by providing compelling content (including visuals), a detailed search experience, and secure booking.”
A big part of guest confidence is in successful branding. “Guests want to connect with local experts and one of the most effective ways to drive this connection is through a strong brand,” Hines underscores. “There are certain features and functionality standard to a good booking experience: easy search with filters, flexible dates, booking abandonment, etc.”
In fact, increased OTA independence isn’t the only benefit vacation rental managers get with strong branding. Companies in Lucidpress’s 2018 State of Brand Consistency study reported an average of 33% increase in revenue when their brands were consistent across all platforms.
Schutts reminds property managers to sell the experience, too. “It is not just about the lodging. I recently booked a condo in Vail, Colorado. We were across the highway, so proximity to the bus stop was key. The rental I ended up booking sold me because it was a 30-second walk to the bus stop, and they provided the bus route schedule for me. Something like that made a difference.”
Clearly, thinking through the end user’s experience is important, and it’s probably why we have our final suggestion around this topic.
Tip #3: Offer Ease of Use for an Amazing Website that Converts
All our experts agreed: ease of use should be a major focus. Make it all come together by investing in an integrated plan. “A lot of people think ‘I just need a new website,’ or ‘I just need some search engine optimization.’,” says Bare. “In reality, it all works together, and the more integrated it is, the better your results will be.”
“Ease of use first and foremost,” Schutts says. “Look at the apps that Airbnb and Expedia have provided travelers. Make it easy to use and friendly for mobile,” he advises.
But as surprisingly simple as the ease-of-use concept is, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to execute. According to UX Planet, there are four principles to successful travel apps like Airbnb’s, all of which property managers can deploy throughout their digital experience. They include transparency, minimalism, search engine optimization and speed (load times).
Hines concurs. A fast, simple user experience that gets users onto property pages with as little hassle as possible removes friction from the experience. “Websites that prioritize the user experience of mobile users on property pages and the checkout process will win in 2020.”
Wilson stresses consistency. “Showing true rental rates all the way through the booking flow helps the guest avoid surprises in checkout with hidden fees, and lessen the shock value when the final total is displayed.”
One certainty exists as we move into a new decade in the vacation rental industry: to remain competitive and prosper property managers must find ways to distinguish their brand. The property website and marketing visuals are foundational. Everything else grows from there.
For a free website visuals analysis or to learn more about how to leverage your property visuals to grow your brand, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.