How to Maximize Vacation Rental Occupancy Rates

Jun 20 2023
How to Maximize Vacation Rental Occupancy Rates

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It can be painful to see your property sit empty and potential revenue slip right out of your hands. And low occupancy rates aren’t just bad for your profits: They can damage your reputation with owners, who often turn to occupancy as a go-to metric when assessing your services. 

To prove your value to owners so you can build out your portfolio and scale your operations, it’s clear just how important increasing vacation rental occupancy is. 

So in this article, we outline seven proven strategies for vacation rental growth and list five common mistakes to avoid. All our insights are packed with expert tips and real-life examples so you can start implementing these techniques as soon as you’re done reading.

Maximize your occupancy and reduce workload

7 strategies for improving vacation rental occupancy rates

Follow these seven strategies to get more bookings for your short-term rentals. 

1. Optimize your pricing

“If you implement seasonal pricing, you’re already doing better than half the vacation rental market.” Strong words from Jordan Locke, former revenue manager at Expedia and Vrbo and founder of RevPARTY Consulting vacation rental revenue services. 

And he’s right—having a dynamic pricing strategy rather than fixed rates year-round gives you a big advantage when attracting guests. Adjusting rates for vacation rental seasonality is one important strategy; another is to systematically lower rates as reservation dates approach. But manually adjusting your pricing across multiple properties is no easy feat. 

As Jordan explained to us, “Manually controlling pricing with lots of units is work-intensive, and often you don’t have the time to do it properly. There are so many variables to consider, including target audience, amenities, availability, and fluctuating demand—it’s a lot for a single person to accurately account for all the time.”

That’s why it can be helpful to use a dynamic pricing tool to ensure you’re always setting the right prices. 

Jordan emphasizes that “whatever software you have, it needs to have customizability so you can make it fit your property and guests.” You also want to make sure it works with your PMS. 

Hostfully, for example, integrates with seven dynamic pricing tools: Beyond, DPGO, Nightpricer, PriceLabs, Rented, Turbosuite, and Wheelhouse. Not only that, our user-friendly platform makes it easy to bulk edit pricing across your portfolio.

“Dynamic pricing software usually increases revenue by about 20%, and having a full-time revenue manager or a good revenue management consultant could be another 25% on top of that.”
-Jordan Locke, Founder of RevPARTY Consulting

Hostfully dynamic pricing tool integrations
Hostfully integrates with seven dynamic pricing tools so you can automate rate optimization. Source: Hostfully

2. Implement a last-minute booking strategy

As we mentioned above, lowering your rates can be helpful for attracting last-minute bookings. But your last-minute booking strategy shouldn’t stop there. 

In the words of Bradley den Dulk, founder of vacation rental marketplace getawayGoGo, “Last-minute openings are inevitable. It’s not a matter of if you have them, but what you are doing about them.”

So build a strategy around reliable tactics like: 

  • Setting competitive pricing and creating timely local deals
  • Turning on instant bookings and reducing minimum stay requirements
  • Replying to messages and inquiries quickly (see below on how to do this)
  • Sending special deals to former guests
  • Listing on niche last-minute sites like getawayGoGo and Whimstay

Another helpful tactic is automating communications and operational management tasks. For example, automate replies to last-minute booking requests to increase your chances of a guest booking last minute. 

But that’s not the only way automation can help you increase vacation rental occupancy. Our next strategy shows you how you can implement automation to improve processes, which can also impact occupancy. 

3. Automate key processes and communications

When you automate your internal processes and guest communication, you can take on more bookings without it adding to your workload. 

Automating internal operations

Vacation rental automation allows you to easily accommodate last-minute bookings and changes. For example, scheduling and property care software automatically manages task assignment based on check-in and check-out times pulled from your PMS. 

These tools organize turnovers based on your latest booking information and custom rules, and communicate key information across your cleaning team. The Hostfully PMS integrates with Breezeway, EZCare, Operto Teams, Properly, and Turno (formerly TurnoBnB). 

Pro tip:

All Hostfully customers are entitled to a complimentary Turno account. This gives you access to automated scheduling, quality control checklists, auto payments, and the Turno marketplace, where you can connect with qualified and vetted cleaners. Learn more here.

Automating guest messaging

Automating guest communication tasks makes you more responsive, which helps you attain Superhost status and boost your Airbnb listings to the top of the search results. 

But whether you’re listing on Airbnb, Booking.com, or your direct booking website, automating guest messaging can improve booking rates, as travelers expect a prompt response when they enquire about your property. 

Another main benefit of automating guest communication is better reviews and ratings. That’s because you can automate review requests, helping you bring in more 5-star ratings and glowing reviews. This helps bump up your OTA rankings and gives you testimonials to share on your website. 

Hostfully lets you automate up to 70% of guest messaging tasks with custom templates and triggers, which can be sent out via SMS, email, or booking platform.

Hostfully custom automated messaging templates
Automate booking confirmation, check-in, and review request messages with Hostfully’s customizable templates. Source: Hostfully

4. Focus on the guest experience 

Nothing can replace giving guests a stellar stay: A great experience means referrals, repeat guests, and positive reviews. So while it’s important to focus on strategies like optimizing pricing, last-minute bookings, and automating processes, the guest experience should always come first. 

So, go above and beyond to give your guests a memorable stay, from a personalized welcome basket upon arrival to a mid-stay message to see how they are and if they have any issues. 

As we mentioned above, automating guest communication can help you be more responsive, ensuring guests always get the attention they need from the time they check in until they leave their review.

And be sure to let potential guests know about the exceptional service you provide. Market your rentals properly by using quality imagery and storytelling in your listings, highlighting your personalized services and amenities. 

Another way to showcase the type of experience you provide guests is to publish positive guest feedback collected from reviews on your website. And, yes, you should definitely have a direct booking website, which we discuss next.

Airbnb listing with quality imagery
Source: Airbnb
Descriptive Airbnb listing
Imagery and storytelling like this listing uses will no doubt help draw in guests. Source: Airbnb

5. Build a direct booking strategy

If you don’t have a direct booking website, you’re missing out on a commission-free booking channel. Plus, your own website helps guests recognize your brand and makes you more marketable to new homeowners. 

Boostly coach Liam Carolan points out that “done right, a vacation rental website says ‘we’re always on hand and you can message us anytime.’ That increases trust in your company.”

And because there are no commissions with bookings from your own site, you can price more competitively. 

Liam emphasizes that “when people see you’re better-priced than Airbnb, that’s the magic formula for them to book direct and for you to grow a base of returning customers.” 

Here are a few tips for building your direct booking website: 

  • Use an out-of-the-box website template: For example, with Hostfully you can create your own direct booking website in minutes. Alternatively, you can add a booking widget to an existing website.
  • Work with a vacation rental website builder: Website building services like Boostly, Hudson Creative Studio, InterCoastal Net Designs, and LODGEA create custom sites for an advanced direct booking strategy.
  • Make sure your site integrates with your PMS: Just because you have a website doesn’t mean the job is done. You need to make sure your site connects to your PMS to avoid double bookings. For example, the Hostfully direct booking widget lets guests book directly on your website and blocks off the dates that are already booked in your PMS. 

Building out a direct booking strategy pays itself off in the long run. Because when guests book on your website, it’s much easier to capture their email addresses so you can add them to a mailing list. This allows you to send out targeted remarketing emails, reminding them to book the same time next year or offering referral incentives.

Hostfully direct booking site
Hostfully’s out-of-the-box website auto-populates information from your PMS and makes it easy for guests to book direct. Source: Hostfully

6. List your properties across a range of channels

While it’s important to your branding and profitability to have a direct booking site, you need to diversify your channel distribution to maximize bookings. 

Terry Whyte of Anna Maria Island Beach Rentals emphasizes “you need to have a presence globally, especially with the market saturation—Expedia, Booking.com, Hopper, and HomeToGo are all channels you should be looking at, for example.”

Without the right tool though, listing on multiple channels can quickly become hard to maintain, taking time out of your day you could otherwise be dedicating to improving the guest experience. And worst of all, inefficient and disorganized processes can result in double bookings. 

So be sure to use a channel manager to organize and sync all your booking calendars. 

Hostfully’s channel manager, for example, is baked into its PMS solution and integrates with over 17 major OTAs and niche booking sites. The tool automatically syncs all your calendars and eliminates the risk of double bookings. But that’s not all it does. 

The best channel managers also let you: 

  • Adjust nightly rates across OTAs
  • Bulk edit property listings
  • Easily manage master-sub properties
  • Centrally coordinate your list of amenities
  • View and manage all your bookings from one central dashboard 

Check out our case study to learn how you can implement multichannel distribution with 0% double bookings.

7. Develop a marketing and advertising strategy

Relying on OTAs and your direct booking site isn’t enough to maximize bookings, even with an email marketing strategy in place. Here are a number of tactics you can use to market your vacation homes. 

  • Local SEO: Implementing search engine optimization (SEO) tactics helps ensure your website shows up at the top of the Google results page when people search for a vacation rental in your area. To help with local SEO, be sure to optimize your Google My Business listing and consider creating a blog for your direct booking website.
  • Paid search: Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing lets you immediately boost your website to the top of the Google search results page. This helps direct potential guests away from the big OTAs like Vrbo and Booking.com and directly to your website. Just know that mismanagement of PPC ads can be costly, so seek professional assistance if you’re new to this tactic.
  • Social media: With so many ways to build an online presence, you can’t neglect social media. Even if you don’t have time to create TikToks, be sure to have at least a few social media profiles, like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, to showcase your properties and build your brand.
  • Google Vacation Rentals: Getting your properties to show up on Google Vacation Rentals (GVR) helps boost your visibility and brings more guests to your website. To do so, use a connectivity partner like Hostfully that’s integrated with Google.
  • Newsletter: Once you have guests’ emails, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. So get creative and send out a regular newsletter, perhaps monthly, highlighting local festivals and seasonal activities in the area, as well as special deals.
  • Local partnerships: Networking with other local businesses and vacation rental operators can help you fill your booking calendar. When a local partner is fully booked, they can refer guests over to you, and vice versa. 

For more tips, see our guide on marketing your vacation rental

Google Vacation Rentals in Bali
Guests aren’t just looking for properties on Airbnb anymore—be sure your listings are optimized to appear on Google Vacation Rentals. Source: Google Vacation Rentals

5 common mistakes to avoid 

The tips above can help you bring in more bookings, but it’s also important to know what may be hindering your occupancy rates. So here are the common mistakes that could be negatively impacting occupancy at your vacation rentals and what you can do to avoid them. 

Overpricing or fixed rates

Even if you have a 5-star rating and hundreds of reviews, setting your rates too high will deter guests from booking with you. So while you want to maximize revenue, you need to avoid overpricing. 

But what’s overpriced at one point in the year could be a low rate during peak season, which is why you should also avoid having fixed rates. So be sure to constantly revise and optimize your rates to fit seasonality and demand. 

Pro tip: With Hostfully’s bulk editing tool, you can apply automated discounts to your Airbnb properties based on how early in advance a booking is made, including early-bird and last-minute offers. You can also adjust rates based on the length of stay. 

Running mismanaged operations

Having chaotic operations and disorganized processes ultimately impacts the guest experience, with missed cleans and delayed maintenance repairs putting a damper on their stay. Plus, mismanaged operations makes it hard to retain good staff. 

Vacation rental staffing challenges can be addressed by using a tool that lets you sync your cleaning calendar with your bookings, use checklists to ensure quality cleaning every time, and communicate with your staff when they’re in the field. 

Failing to implement guest feedback

Some of the best pieces of advice come directly from your guests, and you’re discarding valuable tips when you fail to consider their suggestions. 

So when a guest tells you it would be nice if you provided extra towels or should be clearer about where to find the lockbox, take that feedback to heart and make the necessary changes to your property. 

Relying on one booking channel

It’s virtually impossible to maximize occupancy if you’re dependent on Airbnb users alone. That’s why we recommend diversifying your listings across various booking channels. 

And remember, we’re not just talking about OTAs—a direct booking site increases occupancy at your vacation rental, especially to maximize repeat bookings and last-minute deals for previous guests. 

Neglecting to track and analyze

Even when you think things are going well, there are always ways to improve. So if you don’t dive into the “why” behind your performance, you forgo opportunities to tighten up your processes and increase occupancy. 

Track and analyze these vacation rental KPIs to get a better understanding of how you can get more eyes on your listings and website, receive higher ratings from guests, and bring in more bookings. 

Maximize your bookings without any extra work

From optimizing your rates to finding ways to get more direct bookings, there’s plenty you can do to maximize occupancy at your properties. But you may be asking yourself, doesn’t more bookings mean more work?

That doesn’t have to be the case. Using specialized tools like Hostfully’s PMS, channel manager, and automation solutions makes maxing out your bookings manageable, sustainable, and scalable. 

That way, you can focus on what really makes a difference: Giving guests the best possible experience, earning great reviews, more referrals, and regular repeat bookings. 

Maximize your occupancy and reduce workload