The Vacation Rental Manager’s Guide to Scaling with Success
Running a vacation rental business can feel like trying to spin plates while playing the piano. Too much going on, lots of moving parts, and a high risk of it all coming crashing down.
If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that growing your business feels impossible to you right now. After all, how can you possibly take on more units, when the current ones are already proving a headache?
The answer? Technology. Specifically, using technology to communicate, automate, and coordinate as many vacation rental operational processes as possible.
You also need to get crystal clear on your ideal guests, understand their journey, stand out from the competition, and work to give guests a fantastic experience every time, so they leave rave reviews.
Combining these tips with technology designed to make your operations super-smooth will set you up for sustainable business growth. You’ll finally see success, and have the time and space to expand to even greater horizons. No more spinning plates while playing piano required (unless that’s your jam).
And with expected growth for vacation rental property managers set to grow 114% this year (up from 112% last year)*, there’s never been a better time to get your business ready for expansion.
Ready to go from vacation rental zero to hero? Here’s how.
|Simplify and streamline guest communications, thrill guests with personalized touches, and set up your vacation rental business to scale with RueBaRue. Book a demo now.|
* Rentals United & Transparent, Global Vacation Rental Report 2022
Step 1: Nail your niche
Choose what you love and know
As a property manager or vacation rental host, it’s always going to be easier (and therefore make your business more successful) if you focus on what you love and know where possible.
- Do you love a particular city and especially want to share it with other like-minded travelers?
- Did you first discover vacation rentals while staying at a mountain cabin for a ski break and want to offer the same memorable experience to other skiers?
- Or do you love high-end design and want to put that front and center of your rental listings to attract other discerning, artistic guests?
If you’re struggling to connect with guests or wondering how to spark enjoyment back into your rental again (for greater success), going back to what you know and love could be a good place to start.
Beyond focusing on what you especially enjoy, honing your niche is key. This means going beyond “vacation rentals in Florida” or “beachside retreats”. Instead, dig deep into who your ideal guest is, and exactly what they’re looking for.
This may be determined by the type of property or your location. Does it attract a certain kind of visitor more than others? Can you tap into that market or capture a more unusual type of guest?
- Families with young kids – Highlight features such as a high chair, unbreakable tableware, safe fencing around your pool, and the family-friendly attractions and dining options nearby.
- Romantic couples – Mention extra touches such as luxury sheets and towels, a beautiful sunset view, a private balcony, cozy local restaurants, and offer a bottle of Champagne on arrival.
- Digital nomads – Post a photo of your property’s super-fast Wi-Fi speed test, make a dedicated and light workspace, install multiple outlets and USB plugs, and provide excellent coffee.
- High-end luxury travelers – Showcase your sleek design, state-of-the-art gadgets and kitchen appliances, your proximity to major airports, and the nearest five-star-reviewed restaurants.
Highlighting the ways that you’ve made your property extra-suitable for your ideal guest means they are more likely to choose your unit over someone else’s.
You can even put this in your listing title, such as “Family-friendly hideaway in the Rocky Mountains”, “romantic retreat in Key West” or “Perfect digital nomad studio in Paris”.
Your guests will feel secure that they aren’t wasting their money on a risky booking that isn’t suitable, and you’ll feel more focused when preparing and marketing your property to that specific group.
Maximize year-round income
If your vacation rentals are in locations that allow year-round bookings, you’ll want to plan for different times of the year when it comes to attracting guests. You can change your listing titles or descriptions periodically to highlight particular amenities or locations depending on the peak season or demand.
- Christmas time – Attract holiday lovers by highlighting your proximity to traditional seasonal markets, and decorate your space with festive touches.
- Music fans – Is your unit located close to an annual music festival or major concert theater? Set your space up to host fans and highlight the easiest transportation options to the venue.
- Conferences and events – Keep updated on popular events in your area and position yourself as the perfect accommodation for attendees, if your rentals lend themselves to short stays.
- Low-season – Prepare for less popular periods by highlighting alternatives. Winter in a beach town? Set up your space for cozy days in. Summer in a ski resort? Highlight the best hiking trails.
Step 2: Understand your guest’s journey
Understanding your target audience is also about getting clear on their guest journey, what appeals to them, what makes them book (or not), and how to continually improve based on their real-life stays.
Price it right
Your rental business will struggle if you fail to find the right balance between making a good income, pricing your units competitively for the area and type, and positioning yourself in the market to attract your ideal guests.
Too low, and you risk attracting time wasters who won’t respect the booking or your property, and you’ll struggle to make a profit. Too high, and you may struggle to attract enough bookings, show up in OTA searches, or may attract guests who are seeking something more higher-end than you are offering.
Consider your competitors’ pricing, and use pricing tools where possible (such as Airbnb’s smart pricing, or dynamic pricing platforms like Wheelhouse) to find the best setting for you, and ensure your units appeal to your perfect guest.
Get in front of your ideal guests
There’s no point positioning yourself as the perfect digital nomad space (or whatever your chosen niche) if your listings are on an OTA that digital nomads don’t use. Make sure that your rentals have the best chance of success by getting in front of your ideal potential guests.
This might mean choosing the best OTAs (for example, are your ideal guests more likely to use Booking.com, Vrbo, Homeaway, or Airbnb?), or niching even further to specialist sites such as Canopy and Stars (glamping sites) or Nomad Stays (digital nomad-friendly rentals).
You can also choose OTAs that specialize in your local area, rather than relying on a global platform. Similarly, developing your own direct booking website and optimizing it for keywords your ideal guests might search for will also get your space in front of the right people.
Schedule messages at the right time
Scheduling messages to guests at each stage of their journey not only makes it easier for you to welcome them and give them a great stay, but it also shows guests that you understand their journey.
This makes your rental operation appear more professional and attentive, and helps to deliver a memorable experience that guests will mention in reviews.
Using software like RueBaRue means you can pre-write messages and schedule them at the exact right times, such as:
- Booking confirmation and thanks
- Pre-check-in reminder and information
- Check-in details and helpful extras
- Mid-stay check-up with request for feedback or questions
- Check-out reminder
- Post-check-out thanks
- Review requests and invitation to stay again.
These help your rentals to run like clockwork, pre-empt guest questions before they arise (saving you time on answering the same queries over and over), and gives the guest a smooth stay from booking to check-out and beyond.
As one RueBaRue user said: “Sending out automated informative texts is critical for exceptional customer service. Guests love RueBaRue and I think it helps us stand out as the luxury boutique property management company that we are.”
Gather feedback and tweak accordingly
Establishing good communication with the guest through scheduled messaging also helps you to improve your service, for a virtuous circle that boosts success.
RueBaRue offers a Guest Surveys feature, which enables you to easily ask them what they do and don’t like, so they can give helpful feedback, and constructive criticism (without the awkwardness of an in-person interaction or text conversation).
This makes the guest feel listened to and builds your rapport with them, while also giving them a chance to share their stay experience.
It also enables you to continually improve your rentals for added success. For example, if several guests mention they were too cold, you might consider improving the heating system or adding thicker blankets. If a few guests say the shower was difficult to use, consider adding step-by-step instructions to your guestbook.
Common questions that arise can help to improve your systems, as you can preempt them by answering them in your listings, scheduled texts, and guidebooks. This will improve guest satisfaction and save you time too.
RueBaRue’s Guest Review feature also invites guests to leave five-star reviews on Google, which helps to push up your rating and increase your rentals’ visibility, boosting booking further.
One user even said that “acquiring more Google 5-star reviews” was “the most impactful way that RueBaRue has benefited our company”.
|Reduce guest communication by up to 70% with RueBaRue’s automated guest messaging and personalized digital guidebooks. Ready to save time and please guests? Book a demo.|
Step 3: Make operations super-smooth
Running successful vacation rentals today means leveraging technology to reduce manual admin and make operations as streamlined as possible. This makes coordinating each part of your rental business much easier, saves time and effort, and gives guests a consistently excellent and easy stay.
Using guest communication tools like RueBaRue can make communicating with guests much simpler, and help you to chat with more guests more quickly (enabling you to scale your business more easily too).
You can pre-write and schedule messages, and communicate more immediately and quickly via text (as opposed to sending updates to overflowing email inboxes). You can also include key information in guidebooks and local area guides, and ask for feedback via surveys.
This reduces guest frustrations and means they don’t have to interrupt their stay to contact you, while also saving you serious time in manually communicating with every guest, or answering repetitive questions over and over. This means you now have the time to welcome more guests in more units.
Texting guests key information helps build rapport with them too, as they have everything they need in the palm of their hand via their smartphone. This makes communication friendly and convenient.
As one RueBaRue user, whose company manages more than 20 properties in South Orange County, CA, commented: “We’ve found RueBaRue to be the most accurate and efficient way to communicate with our guests before and during their stay. RueBaRue makes us look more professional than our competition and has given me back my time so that I can focus on our guests.”
Coordinate tasks efficiently
Many vacation rental managers may struggle to scale efficiently due to the logistics of managing behind-the-scenes tasks, such as cleaning and maintenance.
Failure to manage cleaning effectively risks nightmare scenarios such as guests arriving to a dirty rental, and failure to keep your units properly maintained risks more costly repairs (and bad reviews or worse) later on.
Broken appliances, dirty spaces, and a lack of attention to detail will be the first thing guests mention in their reviews. Complicated, unpredictable, and unreliable cleaning services can pile on the stress for managers and make scaling to even more units feel like a pipe dream.
That’s why turning to software solutions that help coordinate staff and tasks is highly recommended for property managers looking to improve and scale.
Automate where possible
A major key to streamlining operations is to automate as much as possible, using dedicated software to help.
This makes managing your rentals much easier, saves you time, and enables you to roll out more processes across more units, without more stress.
As one RueBaRue user said: “This one software has saved us hours.”
RueBaRue’s features are designed to save you serious time by automating key processes such as instant text replies and automated messages, and sending guest surveys and review requests automatically after guests check out.
Tools that enable you to create digital guestbooks and local area guides also offer a type of automation, in the sense that they let you give key information to guests in advance, offering every visitor super-helpful tips without requiring any extra work from you.
RueBaRue also integrates with major PMSs such as Hostaway and Guesty, so you can send personalized messages and guidebooks to each guest automatically.
Extra features designed to help boost revenue, such as RueBaRue’s Extended Stay tool, also help you to improve operations without a ton of extra work. If your calendar allows, you can automatically offer guests the option to start their stay early or extend it.
This fills up awkward gaps in your calendar, drives extra revenue and occupancy rates, and gives guests a chance to extend their vacation at a discounted price, boosting satisfaction and good reviews.
|“Easy to use and customize. The functionality to make each guide unique is so easy.” – RueBaRue user. Want to make guidebooks that delight your guests and save you serious time on answering repetitive questions? Book a demo.|
Step 4: Deliver stunning guest stays
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communicating with guests before, during, and after their stay is key.
Of course, you don’t want to bombard your guests with texts or intrusive messaging, but sending just enough messages to ensure they feel taken care of helps reassure them that they’ve booked a professional rental, whose host they can trust to keep them safe and happy.
This includes scheduling confirmation and information messages (as explained above) and checking in with them periodically to ask if they have any issues or questions, and inviting them to leave feedback.
It also means sending confirmation and access details in advance, sending clear and friendly instructions, making sure they’re aware of any house rules, and thanking them after their stay.
Technology makes this even more possible.
Here’s how one general manager and RueBaRue user backed this up: “Our reviews about service have gone through the roof of people saying how easy the check-in process is, and how everything they need is at their fingertips. We have 80 vacation homes and are now working on personalizing each one even more.”
Offer digital guestbooks
Offering digital guidebooks, via a tool like RueBaRue, is a key way to improve guest communication and stays without requiring extra time or work. You can include everything from check-in instructions to house rules, to a step-by-step guide on how to use the coffee machine.
You can even schedule the guidebook to be sent in advance and include helpful tips such as “what to bring”, or local recommendations for the area to help guests plan their trip and get excited about their stay.
One RueBaRue user said their guests were thrilled with digital local guides, saying: “We’ve been told it’s incredibly handy during a guest stay when they’re out and about and are looking for a good restaurant or the closest beach.”
Install “cool factor” amenities
Your vacation rentals will stand out from competitors if you install a few talking-point amenities. This might include smart devices such as a smartphone-controlled air conditioner, or connecting your lights to an Amazon Echo Dot, so guests can say “Alexa, turn on the bedroom lights” or “play 80s tunes”.
This is another opportunity to niche down even further to your chosen ideal guest.
- Digital nomads – Install a cool coffee machine with an in-built grinder for excellent espresso
- Eco-tourists – Include environmentally-friendly shampoo, soap, and dish soap
- Families with kids – Install a games console with a range of games for rainy days
- Winter-time travelers – Provide a bedside ‘daylight wake up’ lamp to ease guests into the day
- Hiking country – Leave dedicated equipment such as light water bottles or extra backpacks
- Romantic couples – Put a roll-top bath at the bottom of the bed or install a luxury hot tub outside
Invest in unique experiences, or talking point decor
Unique experiences are a major buzzword in the vacation rentals space right now, as the Airbnb 2022 Summer Release showed. Its CEO Brian Chesky stated that the rollout was aiming to make “it easy to discover millions of unique homes you never knew existed”.
Similarly, Airbnb even has two separate services (Plus and Luxe) for particularly well-designed, stunning rentals that include distinctive decor and furniture, or conversation-starting features.
A quick look at Airbnb’s new 55 Categories, also created as part of its latest release, shows the variety of amenities and features that can help a property boost its ‘unique’ factor.
These include a huge variety, such as:
- Amazing pools
- Grand pianos
- Creative spaces
- Chef’s kitchens
- Amazing views
But you don’t have to list your units on Airbnb to surf the ‘unique wave’: simply taking inspiration is enough.
Anything that makes your vacation rental stand out from the standard, neutral, three-bedroom box will help draw your ideal guest and provide talking points that they’ll mention in reviews. Be sure to highlight any unique features or cool amenities in your listings to make them stand out even more.
Personalize their stay
A great way to wow guests is by taking that little bit of extra time to personalize their stay. This means showing them that they’re more than just another booking. And, with the time and effort you will save on automating processes, you can take care to offer those memorable touches.
- Linking your communications with your PMS to automatically personalize messages with their names and stay details
- Leaving welcome notes with their names and nods to their journey (such as hoping they had a good journey from New York, or wishing them happy birthday if they are traveling to celebrate)
- Leaving treats such as vegan snacks or gluten-free cookies for vegans and coeliacs
- Offering a recommendation for your favorite romantic restaurant for an anniversary couple
- Switching out welcome Champagne for a non-alcoholic alternative if a guest doesn’t drink
- Leaving an extra heater or thick blanket during a particularly cold winter (or fan in summer)
- Offering them a book recommendation based on a conversation you had before they arrived
Depending on the size of your rental business and your location, some of these ideas will be more practical than others. But even a small nod towards tailoring their stay goes a long way to making the guest feel cared for personally and makes their experience extra special and meaningful.
One RueBaRue user wrote: “The ability to communicate with our guests via text and collect important information from surveys to help personalize their experience… has done wonders for our customer relationships. With this, we will be able to grow our hospitality by leaps and bounds.”
Offer great extras
Offering great extras is another way to make your guests feel truly taken care of. These might include a welcome hamper, a personalized guide to the city (with your own favorite recommendations), or local snacks made by nearby artisans.
Offering extras helps your rental to stand out from the more generic alternatives, and again makes your guests’ stay feel even more unique.
You could even go further and collaborate with local businesses, by offering your guests a special menu deal or free drink on arrival to a nearby restaurant, discount coupons to a major must-see attraction, or a money-off voucher for your favorite store selling local products.
Offering extras such as early check-in, late check-out, or even extra nights, will also increase guest satisfaction, boost revenue, and provide a guest experience they won’t forget in a hurry.
|“Our guests LOVE RueBaRue, and I like the ability to actually show hospitality to our guests by communicating with them so easily.” – RueBaRue user. Give your guests the same convenience and care today. Book a demo.|
Step 5: Scale your business
Implementing steps 1-4 will mean you’ll almost certainly have a more efficient business, better guest communication, seamless turnaround operations, and a thriving bottom line. At that stage, you may be ready to scale and grow.
Create a business plan
With your business on the cusp of expanding, creating a solid business plan that clearly states your current operations and outlines your vision for the next stage will become key.
This means keeping a closer eye on your existing data and insights, knowing where your revenue comes from, and where you want to improve.
You might set a goal to create reports on different areas of your business. For example:
- Which vacation rental listings perform best and worst
- Which OTAs perform best and worst
- The proportion of OTA bookings vs direct bookings
- Your average revenue (per stay, per night, per month)
- Your predicted revenue after expansion
- How many initial inquiries convert into bookings
- The number of bookings that come directly from social media platforms
- The number of bookings that come from your own vacation rental website
- Your number of repeat bookings
- Revenue that comes from extended stays or other extras
- Popular (and less-popular) amenities
- The actions you plan to take to improve return on investment (ROI) or unit nightly rate
These are just some examples of metrics you can track to help compile a report for your current operations, and a business plan for predicted growth as you scale.
Social media marketing strategies
There’s no question that a thriving Instagram or TikTok page is a digital marketing strategy that can raise awareness of your rentals and build a solid brand. In fact, a vacation rental study found that 87% of US travelers would be more likely to book due to increased availability of online information.
Most platforms work best with video now, including Reels for Instagram. You might offer behind-the-scenes looks at your favorite rentals, show a video of you prepping a welcome hamper for some guests, or explaining how your cool in-home smart devices work (to name just a few ideas).
The key is to choose a platform where your ideal guest (or their demographic) is most likely to hang out.
Younger people may be on TikTok, journalists or media types on Twitter, homemakers, and parents on Pinterest, business travelers on LinkedIn, creative or Millennial guests on Instagram, gamers on Reddit, or adventurous retirees on Facebook.
Find out where your ideal guest hangs out, join groups in your niche to understand their concerns and questions, and make consistent content that will appeal just to them.
Build a direct booking strategy
No successful vacation rental manager today should be without a direct booking strategy.
Encouraging guests to rebook via you (rather than an OTA) or building a successful SEO (search engine optimization) content vacation rental marketing strategy to get people booking through you initially, means you can sidestep OTA fees.
It also puts you, rather than an OTA algorithm, in charge of your own business (so you’re not at the mercy of Airbnb’s every whim). It also means you can build a good rapport with guests and encourage loyal rebooking time and time again.
Building a direct booking strategy means having your own website, which is attractive and mobile-friendly, and which showcases your rentals in their best light and answers common guest questions to remove any obstacles to booking.
It should also show calendar availability and take payment securely, as well as display positive recent reviews to build customer trust.
You can also encourage direct bookings by collecting guest email addresses when they stay, and creating a regular email marketing strategy to keep your rentals top of their minds.This can include updating them on news or sending regular discounts and other incentives to rebook (such as birthday offers or anniversary specials).
Offering guests incentives to book direct (such as a bottle of Champagne on arrival if they book through you) can also push up direct reservations.
Connect with the local community
The bigger your business grows, the more a part of the local community you’ll become, and this is a great opportunity to establish yourself further and make deeper connections.
Reach out to other businesses for partnerships. Ideas might include:
- Partnering with local restaurants or bars to offer your guests 10% off or a free cocktail on arrival
- Providing roasted beans from a favorite nearby coffee shop
- Using soap or honey from a local beekeeper
- Displaying artwork by a famous artist from the area
- Helping to organize a regional local business event
- Working with your district beach cleaning group to help the surrounding environment
- Offering to host events or workshops in your units during the low season
Trying out some ideas will not only offer more opportunities to please your guests, but will also increase your chances of receiving word-of-mouth bookings, as more people start to hear about you, and you strengthen your links with the local community.
Delegate and outsource
Even the best property manager can’t be in three places at once. A larger business may mean you’ll need to hire more staff, or at least manage a larger housekeeping team to coordinate extra turnarounds and check-ins.
Delegating and outsourcing operations is a necessary step to take as your business expands, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to spend thousands on hiring a whole new team. You can keep your operations lean and efficient by delegating and outsourcing as much as you can to technology.
Using a platform such as RueBaRue to coordinate guest communication and save major time on texting and checking in, means you’ll free up time and effort to manage your growing business, focus on new properties, and continue to offer excellent experiences to your increased number of guests.
Market to property owners
Depending on your business model, as a property manager your plans for expansion will very likely mean signing on more owners who want you to market their investment properties as rentals.
To attract owners with properties that will appeal to your ideal guests, you’ll need to prepare a presentation or document that effectively sells your business and your expertise as a manager.
It must show them that you can market their vacation property more efficiently than they could if they acted alone, reassure them that you’re the manager for the job, and prove that you can generate consistent revenue, monthly income, and ROI.
Your presentation will likely include:
- How you offer more value than simple DIY pages listing sites like Airbnb
- Previous results for similar properties
- Predicted (or promised) income per month
- Examples of similar listings and how they stand out from competitors
- The technology stack you use and how, such as RueBaRue for guest messaging
- How you please guests and ensure a great stay
- What your services cover in terms of marketing, cleaning, and maintenance (and what they don’t)
- Fees and pricing strategy
Creating a tried-and-tested process to get ideal owners on your books (or find investors who will help you grow) will offer you a consistent source of extra revenue and enable your business to scale sustainably (all the while using technology such as RueBaRue to bring in more revenue without requiring extra stress or time).
A vacation rental strategy for scalable success
With a few tweaks and clear intentions, it’s possible to build a winning vacation rental strategy that will take your business from strength to strength. Your current rentals will thrive and you’ll be poised for even greater growth.
From getting clear on your target niche and ideal guest, to understanding their journey and booking process, making your operations as smooth as possible, and delivering excellent stays consistently, you can set your business up to scale.
At each stage, leveraging the power of vacation rental specialist technology like RueBaRue can help you save time, answer guest questions, offer better service, and boost revenue—for consistent improvements and time-saving strategies that can help you boost direct bookings and scale faster.
With technology on your side, watch your vacation rental business go from stress to success, and turn your dreams of scaling into reality.
|Simplify and streamline guest communications, thrill guests with personalized touches, and set up your vacation rental business for scale with RueBaRue. Book a demo now.|
Frequently asked questions about vacation rental strategy
Can a vacation rental be profitable?
A vacation rental should be profitable, and hosts or managers can take a number of key steps to ensure it. These include getting super-clear on your niche and ideal guest, maximizing income, understanding your guest’s journey, coordinating tasks efficiently, and delivering stunning guest stays. At each stage, technology such as guest communication tool RueBaRue can help, so that your profitable rental business can soon expand to greater heights.
What is a good profit margin for vacation rentals?
A good profit margin for vacation rentals will vary considerably depending on your overheads, investments, type of home, and area. However, a report from vacation rental industry website Hospitality Net estimated that the gross operating profit for vacation rentals tends to be 68 to 72%.
This can be increased further by outsourcing operations to digital tools as much as possible, to automate and streamline operations. For example, rather than paying someone to meet a guest or reply to messages, you can schedule messages to be sent automatically, and send all the access information to guests ahead of time.
How much does it cost to operate a vacation rental?
It can cost a lot less than you might think to operate a vacation rental when you use dedicated technology to automate and schedule as much as possible. Rather than hiring extra staff, you can outsource and delegate key operations such as guest check-in, communication, and turnarounds via tools such as RueBaRue.
This can save you time, stress, and money, as your rentals become more efficient and can operate with less staff. It can also boost your direct bookings and extend stays easily, so you can sidestep OTA fees and fill spare calendar nights for even more revenue.