How to advertise your holiday cottage
PUBLISHED: 16:35 08 September 2014 | UPDATED: 17:16 21 May 2015
Devon-based My Holiday Cottage Marketing offers advice on the best ways to promote your holiday cottage business.
Once a year it’s important to decide whether the way you get bookings for your holiday cottage gives best value for money. Is there a better way to save you more money, more time and get more bookings?
Which kind of approach best suits your needs: doing it yourself or using an agency? This article will help you to choose the best way to manage the advertising and booking of your holiday cottage, and the essential questions you should be asking to help compare services on offer.
Usually the first question we get asked is: “Will I get more bookings?” In our case, for 95% of the time we can truthfully say “Yes, and at less cost”. For owners currently managing marketing and bookings themselves the second question is “Will you save me time?” Again, our answer most assuredly is “Yes”. But as well as getting more bookings and your social life back, does your choice of agency deliver such value for money within a happy relationship – or is there a fair bit of teeth gnashing involved? It may be the workload you have to endure, or the way you are treated by your agency.
Let’s look at the options. Traditionally holiday property owners have two choices when it comes to attracting and managing bookings: to do it all yourself or hand everything over to an agency to do it all for you.
If you want an element of control over the way your property is let, have plenty of free time, are internet savvy, love the paperwork and answering the phone at any time in order to keep every penny you earn from rental income (less your expenditure on adverts) then do it yourself.
If you want to hand responsibility for the management of all your marketing and booking to an agency (who will know where to advertise), then, as long as you are happy paying commission rates, booking fees and complying with their terms, this option will work best for you.
The Concierge Agency
Alternatively, there is a third choice that gives you the benefit of all the services provided by an agency but still allowing you to have ownership of the way it is let. This is a concierge agency and is rather like employing a member of staff to work for you. They work more to your terms and conditions on a personal basis, giving you a bigger say in how you let and market your property. They know where to advertise, still do all the legwork and provide much more information about your guests.
Concierge agencies will also invest time regularly visiting and getting to know your property so as to answer all the questions a guest may ask before booking. This level of personal service offered comes in handy such as turning out to clean and prepare a cottage for a last minute booking when cleaners were not available. They still charge commission rates. However, these are generally very competitive as they have lower overheads: carefully placed advertising online promote your website which is given an online booking facility. The owner at Parkgate Cottages in North Devon moved to concierge agency My Holiday Cottage Marketing last year and says, “In addition to a more personal and attentive service, I pay 30% less in commission charges - that’s a huge saving.”
If you are new to the market, use an agency (concierge or traditional) while you learn the ropes for a year or two before deciding to go it alone. Having a concierge agency to hold your hand and be there for you when required is a great way to acquire knowledge while making fewer potentially expensive mistakes. It allows you the opportunity to build a database of guests so that if you decide to operate independently, you won’t be starting from cold.
The knowledge and expertise required to market and manage a holiday property has grown significantly over the past few years. The increasing sophistication of the Internet means that the knowledge required have spiralled and advertising can prove an expensive challenge. On top of that is the constant need to update booking calendars, keep proper records to avoiding double bookings and ensure guests pay in full and on time. Just be prepared to give up a fair amount of your time on a daily, nightly and weekend basis balancing marketing, paperwork and enquiries, as well as ‘get out of bed’ phone calls from guests assuming you offer a 24-hour service.
If you want to manage everything yourself - be prepared for a steep learning curve, fewer bookings in your first years – and hours slaving over a computer.
If this is too daunting, or you are hard pressed for time and decide to use an agency – traditional or concierge - then here are some questions to ask to ensure you get maximum bookings at least cost. The price for getting your weekends and evenings back need not be a high one! Here are some essential questions to ask.
What is their commission rate? These can vary, ranging from 12 to 30%. Ask if there are any added extras such as booking fees, or the payment of credit card charges. Can they offer last minute or repeat booking discount incentives? Concierge agencies can revise prices in accordance with demand for bookings part way through the year. Agencies producing printed catalogues may not be able to offer this.
Guest booking information
What information does an agency supply about your guests and how far in advance do you get full details? Will you get enough information to be able to send past guests a Christmas card or will they withhold details to prevent you from accepting a return visit as an owner’s booking ie cutting them out of their commission?
Test their websites
How easily can you find a cottage like yours and what’s the level of competition? If you’re in Salcombe and an agency has fifty similar Salcombe cottages, then check they have a very popular site to ensure you will still be found.
These days, an online booking facility is essential. Currently our clients get over 50% of their bookings online. These will work 24/7 and cut out enquiries. Good booking software, one that can be used for marketing and accounting purposes, can be expensive. An agency will offer such a function, but it could be just as easy to add online booking software to your own website. At My Holiday Cottage Marketing for example, we give all our clients a free online booking facility to put on their websites.
What information does an agency provide? Ideally it is good to receive full guest information including contact details, special guest requirements, whether they are repeat bookings, guest reviews and feedback. Will you receive a year-end financial report to keep your accountant happy?
Is advice on setting competitive prices provided? Note what similar cottages are charging on their site and how well they are booked. If things are going well, can you revise your prices up or down airline-style midway through the year or are they fixed? Can you offer last minute discounts?
Who takes the photos?
Great photos get great bookings. Average ones get less. The example below shows the same feature, one taken by the owner, the other by our professional photographer. If you’re using an agent, ask how they do their photoshoots. Only the best will do for your cottage!
Most guests ask questions before they book – you need to know they’ll be answered without you having to be involved. What does an agency do to get to know your property properly to avoid it being mis-sold?
A good agency should provide help with selecting the right facilities and contents for your cottage through to updates in changes to the law, tax and other compliance requirements affecting holiday properties.
Bespoke booking terms and conditions
Does the agency also have its own terms and conditions contract for guests? If so, will they amend it to accommodate your requirements? Alternatively, can you continue to use yours?
Can you still promote your cottage through your own website? It’s worth knowing this, as enquiries from your own website are generally more likely to convert to a booking than one from a site advertising multiple cottages.
In the event of a crisis, who gets out of bed to find a plumber, electrician etc.? What back up does an agency offer especially if you are not around? A pipe may burst, guests may lock themselves out or fuses blow. Ask how such scenarios are dealt with.
When will you get your money? A good agency will pay within 7-14 days of having received income from a guest. The days of agencies withholding payment to an owner until after the guests have departed are long gone!
Rick Bond and Harry Roberts are directors of Devon-based My Holiday Cottage Marketing, offering concierge-style services for holiday cottage owners.
T: 0845 680 5431