Mark Simpson runs Boostly, a short stay accommodation training, consultancy firm and website design agency. He focuses on busy VR owners and helps them get ‘heads on beds’ while simultaneously cutting high marketing and commission costs.
Mark is one of those vacation rental veterans that’s seen the creation and evolution of the industry: he’s been in hospitality for over 20 years! You can leverage this experience at Boostly Academy, a money-back guaranteed training course that’ll help you make your properties more profitable or by turning your VR website into a direct booking machine!
Today, Mark sits down with Hostfully to share some of his insights into current and future trends in the vacation rental industry.
What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in the vacation rental industry at this very moment?
We’re going through an exhilarating moment when it comes to technology in this industry. Every problem or challenge a busy VR owner or business faces has a handy, practical, and efficient tool that can help out.
Speaking of technology, I’m seeing the potential of smart devices materializing and loving what’s out there. Smart locks are now commonplace, but that’s just the tip of the icebreaker. We’re so close to seeing smart speakers becoming virtual concierges. Hostfully’s integration of Virtual Concierge Service and its virtual guidebooks is the canary in the coal mine for this new up and coming trend.
What action have you taken in your business recently as a result of emerging trends in our industry?
The big one was integrating virtual reality walkthrough tours into my vacation rental properties’ marketing channels. As a vacation rental consultant, I tested the new trend to see if it was hype or bust. I invested a bit into this by converting hand-drawn floor plans into a proper interactive tour for potential guests. The results were pretty impressive. More bookings and guests left comments indicating how much they liked being able to know what they were renting before booking. If any of your readers are on the fence about virtual reality, I’d recommend going ahead with it and fast. I created more of an idea of how it works here
What is your most significant pain point as a VR professional?
It’s the age-old inability to let things go and let others help me with the crucial tasks of the business. As you grow your vacation rental property portfolio and develop them from the ground up over the years, you get pretty attached to them. But at one point, it’s just not feasible to do it all alone.
Luckily, there’s a lot of fantastic services out there that make running a VR empire so much easier. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking:
- Hostfully’s property management platform (PMP) – makes running the entire operation smoothly and efficiently.
- Properly and Proper – for regular maintenance and cleaning. These platforms ensure your hired help puts in as much effort as you would.
- PriceLab – never miss earning that extra dollar. Dynamic pricing is huge for my business. I can’t spend hours every week researching what festivals, concerts or conferences are coming up and determine what the optimal price is.
As VR professionals, most of us are penny-pinchers: it’s why our business flourished instead of going bust. So spending on software and services isn’t natural for us. But I’m here to tell you that the time these digital platforms frees up is enormous. And time is often the #1 constraint when it comes to your business’ growth.
What is one source of news and ideas that you couldn’t live without?
Without a doubt, Feedly is my go-to. All you have to do is plug in keywords you want to read about and the blogs you like. I use it every day and it keeps me up to date with the current tech updates, social media tips and tricks and also what’s happening with my beloved Liverpool FC.
What new digital tool are you using in your business that has saved you time and money?
In one word: Upwork! It’s a platform that links freelancers to clients. There’s everything a VR company needs: high-performing virtual assistants, graphic designers, website developers, copy editors, and web researchers.
Before I started using Upwork, I had to learn how to do every task myself – and then complete the job. Needed to ‘photoshop’ something out of a listing picture? I had to learn how to use Photoshop.
Research VR rules and regulations in a new area? I’d spend hours navigating municipal bylaw websites. Outsourcing and taking myself out of the business was a big boost for growth. It’s what’s allowed me to grow my business as much as I have over the past year.
What did you wish you knew about the VR business when you first started?
The importance of keeping good cleaners. In the last 5 years, the cleanliness requirements of VRs has been elevated to, or surpassed, that of hotels. Guests aren’t surprised when a rental is clean – it’s now an expectation.
What I’ve found on the issue of cleaners is the importance of paying them more than the area average. You get three things when you do this:
- You usually get better service.
- You can be more stringent on the cleanliness standard without being concerned the cleaners will drop you as a client.
- You’ll get a better response time from your cleaners. Guest arrived early and wants access earlier than expected? If your cleaners see you as a valued client, they’ll get to the task right away.
What is your favourite VR event?
I like the Book Direct Symposium. It’s a great way to connect with VR professionals that are like-minded and want to be independent of the major rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO. The next event is going to be in February 2020
What does the guest experience mean to you in our digital world?
The guest experience is everything. But if you really want to make an impression you need a consistent experience. From the split-second they look at the property online, to that moment they open the door to the rental, it all has to flow. This is where branding, great photography, and how you write your listing description comes in. Pick a theme, narrow down on your niche audience, and build around that. It’s how you’ll get those reviews and return visitors.
If you had to pick a market outside of your current area of operations to expand to, where would that be?
Website design. Every serious VR professional needs to build independent websites that allow booking. You’d be surprised how many people use Google and Bing to look for vacation rentals. When you just stick to Airbnb and VRBO, you’re limiting the number of views your properties get, and that means fewer bookings.
Building and maintaining a great-looking website isn’t as complicated as it once was. Services like SquareSpace and Wix make it a breeze. If you can drag and drop in MS Word, you can build a great website in under an afternoon. I encourage VR property owners to try it out. It’s free, and if you like the results, you can start paying.