COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the world and for vacation rental managers, it’s particularly rough. As bookings plunge and cancellations soar, it’s hard to avoid catastrophizing. But what about shifting your focus to domestic travelers instead of international ones? By catering to those local visitors keen for something to look forward to right now, or looking for somewhere to social distance, vacation rental managers can safeguard their businesses during these trying times.
Domestic travel: on the rise
Domestic travel means staying in your home country (or area) and instead heading to another city or region for vacation. In times of upheaval – like the COVID-19 pandemic – we’ve heard reports from vacation rental managers that domestic travel is on the rise. What used to be known as a ‘staycation’ may be the new normal until we find a way to beat the virus.
Oddly enough, even before Coronavirus, domestic travel was on the rise. In the US, for example, domestic trips increased by 1.7% in 2019. That might not seem like much, but consider that 1.7% is on a total of 2.3 billion. Now compare that to 79 million international visits to the US in the same year, and there’s a clear incentive to target domestic travelers. But what about vacation rental owners and managers outside the US? It’s a similar pattern elsewhere too. In the UK, 70% of people are planning on taking a staycation this year (and that stat was before the pandemic.)
Slow living (and why it matters)
Normal vacationers often have tight-packed schedules, ticking off various attractions in a mad rush to see everything before going home. Staycationers and domestic travelers are looking for something else. They want to unwind, rejuvenate and destress.
In the current pandemic, they may want to travel domestically for two reasons:
- Find a place to get away from the weeks of anxiety and uncertainty, and/or;
- Escape city centers, self-isolate and attempt to stay healthy in a quiet environment.
The difference between staycationers and normal vacationers is where short term rental owners and managers can tweak their marketing and listings. As we’ll see below, once we understand the needs of a domestic traveler, attracting them becomes a lot simpler.
Domestic travelers want the perfect place to slow down
As a vacation rental owner or manager, you can brand your properties to domestic travelers as a relaxing retreat and the ideal spot to unwind. On your direct booking site and vacation rental listings, use the following themes:
- Mention that you use high-quality bed linen
- Emphasize the sleep quality guests will achieve
- Note how the property is away from the hustle and bustle. If you operate in a city center, spin it to your advantage. Mention how the experience is invigorating outside, but that your property is an oasis amidst the chaos
- Include terms like: unwind, relax, rejuvenate, refill your batteries. Depending on your properties, you can also use: escape the crowds and reconnect with nature.
As for photo selection, you’ll want to hit the following visuals:
- A large bath-tub, hot tub, or sauna
- A stack of books with a peaceful background
- The kitchen, and especially closeups of any amenities unique to it. Remember that guests will spend their time at the rental, and a well-equipped kitchen is essential for cooking and spending quality time with family members
- The surrounding area and nature
- Any blankets, slippers, housecoats, stacks of towels you normally have in your vacation rental. You want to highlight all the items guests associate with comfort and relaxation
- Amenities like the television and living area
- Music systems and board games
- Luxury toiletries or the welcome package you leave for guests
Tell potential staycationers their experience will be memorable
Consider the things you can do (or already do) to make your guest’s stay extra special. These are the complimentary items and attention to detail that make your property stand out. For example:
- Welcome hampers including things like teas, chocolates, or wine
- Novels for them to enjoy during their holiday
- Recipe books for cooking inspiration
- Candles, or firewood you leave for guests
Properties are all unique, but they all have something unique about them. Write down those little things you do as a host or managers to make it so. Now spin it and mention them in your listing or website. Notice how the examples above are highly visual, which also makes for great staged photos.
Emphasis your perks
To help convince people to book a few nights or a week away from home (or in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, a month or two), highlight the perks of your property that they might not get to experience in their own house.
- Fast Wi-Fi – especially if they are planning to work remotely
- Smart devices such as voice-activated virtual assistants
- Gym equipment inside the home
- Kitchen gadgets such as blenders and espresso machines
- Retro additions such as vinyl players
Strive to seduce millennials
Not only are millennials the age group most likely to spend money on vacations, but they’re also the demographic least at risk from Coronavirus. Many of them are already remote workers, so more likely to have disposable income during this economic downturn. Suffice to say, they’re likely to be the first to travel once restrictions are relaxed.
The great thing is, marketing a vacation rental for domestic travelers isn’t mutually exclusive to attracting millennials. It’s a win-win every host or manager should strive for.
If you’re looking for one easy way to attract this younger generation, there are two important notes you need to hit. The first is great photography – millennials need to get a feel for the property before they commit. The second is trending decor choices like pot plants, neon signs, and gallery walls. The goal here is to make your home more ‘Instagrammable’ (which goes hand in hand with great photography). Note that 90.4% of millennials are active social media users. So if your guests share photos of your home with friends, they’re doing your marketing for you.
Adjust your prices
Domestic travelers typically want to spend less than international ones and with Coronavirus triggering an economic downturn, many will have less disposable income. That means your vacation rentals are more likely to attract domestic travelers if you can offer a good deal. Keeping your prices competitive puts you in a better place to fill cancellations and vacancies.
Pricing tools like Wheelhouse, Beyond Pricing and Pricelabs can help automate your pricing and create a customized strategy for your particular property goals.
Adjust your marketing
With the pandemic still at large, hygiene is a priority. Make sure your marketing emphasizes that you thoroughly disinfect your property, going into detail about the cleaning process to reassure guests. Consider implementing automated check-in to ensure visitors experience minimum contact with other people.
The downtime afforded by the pandemic also gives vacation rental owners and managers a chance to rethink their marketing strategy. The wave of Airbnb and Vrbo cancelations has shown that overly relying on booking platforms could be a liability. Now may be the time to look into Facebook and Google ads to target domestic travelers.
Change your minimum stay
Reconsider your minimum stay to take advantage of domestic travelers who are only able to get away for a few days. While normally you might have a policy of 7 days minimum, more short-term guests now is preferable to no guests at all.
Share local secrets
Staycations are about exploring places that are less obvious. Travelers want off-the-beaten-path attractions with their own unique charm. They might already be familiar with a destination and instead are more interested in the unexpected and unusual sights.
In big cities, each area has a different vibe and feel. Point out the distinct local culture of your neighbourhood. Any recommendations that let guests into local secrets and introduce them to hidden gems are a win.
Suggest things to do in the area that comply with social distancing etiquette. What about the best spot in the city to watch the sunset, or the best scenic walks? Hostfully’s Digital Guidebooks are a great way to share your recommendations in a simple and intuitive format, adding that all-important personal touch to the guest experience.
Consider teaming up with nearby food businesses, promoting their products with take-out menus or home delivery flyers, or offering their products as welcome treats.
Not only is it great to support small businesses at this time of economic difficulty – winning you brownie points with guests – but in return, these businesses might also promote your vacation rental. The added benefit to spending time to find allies, even in these difficult times, is that those bonds will last after the pandemic ends. That mom and pop grocery store you helped stay afloat will remember you, which might come in handy in a year or two.
Make your policies more open
Consider loosening some of your policies so as to attract as many people as possible. Think about allowing pets or child-proofing your property. If it’s a last-minute deal, people might not have time to think about babysitters or boarding kennels. On that last point, many dog hotels are closed for the pandemic, so domestic travelers need pet-friendly properties.
Making your property kid and pet-friendly means:
- Ensuring your home is safe. Hide ornaments. Invest in corner guards for sharp-edged tables and provide some baby gates (during the pandemic, you can still find some at stores like Walmart). A few toys wouldn’t go amiss either.
- Equipping your property for pets with additions like treats, a dog bed, and water and food bowls. By allowing pets, you not only encourage more bookings – but you can also charge a pet cleaning fee, boosting profits.
Right now, it’s imperative to comply with government regulations. But when these restrictions are relaxed and we’re finally allowed out, people will be desperate for a holiday. Traveling abroad may be impossible for a while but vacation rental owners and managers should get ready now to cater to domestic travelers seeking a vacation closer to home.