“Last-minute openings are inevitable. It is not a matter of if you have them, but what you are doing about them.”
That’s according to Bradley den Dulk, founder of vacation rental marketplace GetawayGoGo*, a last-minute, book-direct, vacation rental marketplace that maximizes property manager reservations and cost savings for travelers and managers.
Want maximum revenue and full occupancy? Last-minute bookings give you exactly that. Instead of wasted inventory and lost income, you get paying guests who appreciate your quick thinking and leave great reviews.
And that’s why we’ve asked Bradley for his expert tips. In this piece, we:
- Consider the latest industry insights on the last-minute booking market and why it’s so crucial for your business.
- List nine expert tips on how to attract last-minute vacation rental bookings to boost occupancy and drive revenue.
We also look at how using vacation rental automation software makes it easier to streamline your booking processes and ensure your properties are ready to give guests a great welcome.
Industry insights into the last-minute booking market
Last-minute bookings are more common than you might think
Last-minute bookings are defined as those made within 14 days of arrival. And while they may feel like an afterthought and less common than typical stays, in fact, they made up 41-60% of vacation rental bookings in 2022.
For many properties, last-minute bookings will make up a significant proportion of their nights sold. So, having a successful strategy to attract last-minute bookers, process their payments, and give them a stress-free stay, is essential to most successful vacation rental businesses.
Urban areas receive more last-minute bookings
The Last Minute Trends Report shows that properties in urban areas receive the most last-minute bookings as a proportion of their total number of bookings, at 46%. The next most common area is in rural destinations, at 40%. Beach, lake, and ski destinations receive proportionally the lowest quantity of last-minute stays, at 35%.
So, in beach or ski areas, you may want to focus on more advance booking promotions, so you have fewer empty dates that need filling with last-minute stays.
That said, these are big numbers across the board, and, especially in urban areas, you can definitely expect a significant proportion of your guests to come within 14 days of their check-in date.
Many last-minute bookings are made within 7 days of check-in
The report also found that an average of 35.8% of last-minute bookings are made within just seven days of arrival.
This means that for a significant proportion of your stays, you’ll only have a few days—or in some cases, maybe even just a few hours—to ensure your properties are ready, and that guests have all the information they need for a successful stay.
That’s where digital technology such as Hostfully comes in. You can use the platform to automate key processes from scheduling cleaners, to sending guests check-in details and access information, to giving them local insights, no matter when they book.
As Bradley says: “Property managers need to make it easy for customers to book at the last minute. This means making your booking process as streamlined as possible and ensuring your properties are ready to welcome your guests at short notice.”
Millennials are most likely to book last-minute
Millennials (aged around 27 to 40) are also the most likely group to book a last-minute stay in a vacation rental, compared to Generation X or generations older than this, says Bradley.
“They have the resources to travel, and they’re comfortable with technology,” he explains. “They’re not nervous about using the technology, they can just pick up the phone and find where they want to go. They don’t have anxiety about not planning ahead.”
So it follows, if your short-term rental property is in an urban area, a last-minute booking strategy that targets Millennial travelers could have a significant impact on your occupancy rates.
Clearly, implementing carefully structured strategies and processes for last-minute bookings can increase revenue, improve the guest experience, and enhance your ability to scale your business. So with that in mind, here are Bradley’s top nine tips to attract more last-minute bookings.
Tip 1: Price competitively
Competitive pricing is crucial to attracting last-minute bookings. “Marketing is all about price and promotion,” says Bradley. “So if price isn’t addressed, especially with this unique last-minute window, then the marketing mix is broken.”
To sell otherwise expired inventory, you need to bring pricing further and further down until you reach your lowest possible nightly rate. At this point, you have the best chance of shifting your available dates while the selling price still remains better than having an unsold unit.
Dynamic pricing tools can play an essential role in implementing this successfully. For example, Hostfully integrates with PriceLabs, Wheelhouse, Beyond Pricing, DPGO, and Nightpricer, which optimize your pricing all year round, taking into account your customized settings, which include minimum rates.
Tip 2: Create timely local deals
A great way to attract last-minute guests is to capitalize on local events and offer deals that pair well with them. Tailor your suggestions to your local area, property style, and ideal guests.
- Offer a discount for visitors who already have tickets to a famous sports event.
- Throw in a complimentary bike or golf cart rental for the local golf course or in-season bike trails.
- Partner with a local restaurant to offer couples a dinner-and-stay on Valentine’s Day.
- If you live in a university town or close to a popular college, offer a special deal for parents with teenagers visiting an open day
- Suggest a cozy ‘last chance’ mountain getaway for the last few weekends of the year’s ski season.
Make these offers and dates clear in your listings to catch the eye of guests who are hurriedly searching for a place to stay.
Tip 3: Turn on instant bookings
If your booking platform allows it, turn on instant booking. Airbnb has Instant Book as an option, and it’s standard on Booking.com.
This lets guests check your availability and complete a booking without you having to message them back or manually accept their reservation, which saves time on both sides and erases the risk of you missing a booking request.
Instant booking comes with pros and cons, though. For example, while Airbnb lets you set guest requirements to help prevent major issues, you won’t have the same opportunity to manually vet a guest.
However, you can use automated technology, like Hostfully’s integration with Autohost, Safely, or SUPERHOG to verify guests and detect potential issues that could place your property, staff, or business at risk.
Tip 4: Reply to messages and inquiries quickly
“Automating communication is like using a nail gun instead of a manual hammer. What you can do with the power of a PMS…it’s completely different.”
Bradley den Dulk, founder of last-minute vacation rental marketplace GetawayGoGo
Automated responses to requests and messages will net you more last-minute bookings, reduce your workload, and improve the guest journey.
This is because fast response times are a factor in how high your listings appear in online travel agency (OTA) search rankings. Also, guests looking for a last-minute deal are more likely to complete a booking if they quickly receive a response to any inquiry.
But this doesn’t mean you have to be attached to your phone or laptop all day. With Hostfully’s automated guest messaging solutions, which include templates with dynamic variables for personalization, complex triggers, custom message flows, and a unified inbox, you can reduce guest messaging by 70%.
Tip 5: Turn off, reduce, or automate minimum length of stays
As you can see in the chart above, last-minute stays are on average two days shorter than bookings made more than 15 days ahead of check-in.
So, if you want to attract more last-minute bookings, you should update your OTA’s minimum-length stay feature, accordingly.
“You can build a minimum-nights policy into your dynamic pricing tool,” explains Bradley. “If you normally have a five-night minimum, but then somewhere there’s an opening that’s a little shorter than that, the minimum night length can be automatically reduced to two or three nights, or whatever you prefer, to fill that gap.”
|PRO TIP: Set up your systems for last-minute stays
To accommodate one or two-night stays, you need to ensure your operations are set up to receive last-minute turnovers. Setting up automations via a platform like Hostfully, which integrates with cleaning scheduling tools like Turno, Operto Teams, and Breezeway, makes this much easier and helps you avoid common vacation rental staffing challenges.
The software will sync with your property management system and automatically book a clean with your cleaner as soon as a last-minute booking comes in.
Tip 6: List on niche last-minute sites
“Using a niche last-minute booking site versus a larger one is the same as expanding your fishing net,” says Bradley.
“Instead of having one line in a big pond and staying in the same spot waiting for a bite, expand your reach. Fishermen with 10 poles go home with the biggest catch,” he says.
Of course, you can list manually in as many OTAs and marketplaces (or ponds!) as you like, but it saves you time and stress if you use a property management platform that integrates with leading last-minute channels.
Hostfully integrates with the last-minute listing sites Whimstay and getawayGoGo, so you never have a double booking and can ensure all your latest availability, pricing, and listing descriptions are accurate.
Tip 7: Send deals to past happy guests
Last-minute guests typically want to find a low-risk property they can trust. This makes past guests, who already know and like your property, prime candidates for last-minute stays.
Setting up an email schedule to encourage repeat guests for your vacation rental is a great way to remind them of your property and tempt them with a spontaneous trip.
Seasonal special offers like those we suggested above (such as seasonal bundles or discounts for local events) also work well for emails to past guests, as do timed deals for Mother’s Day or pre-Christmas.
To make this outreach a reality, though, you’ll first need a way to gather that contact information, which OTAs often make tough to do.
Our recommendations include:
- Ask guests to complete a pre-arrival form
- Implement WiFi marketing
- Send a survey to guests following their stay
You can see more ideas on how to build a mailing list in our recent article on the topic.
Tip 8: Update your listings
It sounds obvious, but it’s easily overlooked: You need to make your last-minute availability super-clear on your listings, whenever you have last-minute dates open.
This means that if you lower your rates to attract last-minute bookings, clearly advertise that on your listings. Otherwise, a major discount or deal could go unnoticed in people’s search results.
For example, three or four days out, change the listing title so it reads “March 25-28th Special” ahead of your usual description, or “‘Festival Name’ May 12th: Stay nearby”, or even “Last-Minute Deal: 20% off”.
You can also update your photos with relevant details and seasonal snapshots to attract potential guests at a specific time.
For example, include a map of how close your property is to a nearby festival, or close-up photos of the amenities you provide for couples if they stay on Valentine’s Day (for example, a welcome bottle of Champagne.)
This will make your property stand out instantly to anyone scrolling through OTA search results for a specific event or deal, and show them your property is exactly what they’re looking for.
Tip 9: Create a streamlined buying experience
Guests who book last-minute want ease and simplicity, so you need to make their booking experience as smooth as possible. Here’s how to do it with a direct booking website:
- Use our expert insights to decide between a custom build and out-of-the-box solution.
- Ensure your availability is up-to-date and synched across platforms with a channel manager.
- Answer common questions within your listings so guests don’t have to message you or question if your property is right for them.
- Optimize your website to work on mobile, so guests can book quickly, on the go.
- Minimize steps between checking availability, booking, and taking payment.
How to attract last-minute vacation rental bookings? Attract, simplify, automate
Last-minute bookings may seem like a logistical nightmare, but they drive occupancy and revenue. In some areas, they may even make up the majority of your stays, which is why it makes so much sense to have a distinct process for attracting and successfully managing them.
Bradley insists: “The main priorities are competitive pricing, well-timed deals, super-fast guest communication, tailored listings, and an easy buying experience,” he said. “This helps guests to confirm their stay instantly.”
And using a property management platform like Hostfully is critical to integrating your solutions—for channel management, automated messaging, guest screening, payment processing, and operations.
So you can attract guests with ease, and deliver a five-star experience every time—whether your guests book two months or two days before check-in.