French holiday homes: Attention seeker

Marketing is more important now than ever. Glynis Shaw offers some tips on how to make your property stand out...

Fewer euros to the pound, media shock stories, financial institutions in uncharted territory – there’s no denying that the travel industry is facing challenges this year. But with every challenge comes opportunities. Lately I’ve been pleased to discover that, like me, those who love France and have been active in this market for many years are determined to hold their nerve and think positively. We may not be able to change the bigger forces at work but we can take well-considered – even innovative – action wherever possible.

If you are committed to letting a holiday home or g�tes or are offering B&B in France, then your fundamental need is to sell as many weeks of the season as possible and get a return. Holidaymakers are not all looking for rock bottom prices – but they do want the best deal and value for their money, so you need to make sure you’re competitive.

Do some internet searches and compare your own prices with similar properties. Be realistic about comparing like with like in terms of kerbside appeal, popularity of location and quality of facilities. Then use this information to set your price at the same level or perhaps even a bit lower than similar destinations on offer. Another point to remember is that it is not necessary to raise your price each year.

Get creative

However, when it comes to promoting your property, now is the time to wise up and get creative. Firstly, remember that if you introduce an offer or incentive, it should be relevant and sufficiently attractive to grab people’s attention. For instance, offering a bottle of wine is simply not enough. It’s perceived as quite a cheap item, especially in France, and many owners routinely leave a couple of bottles of the local vin de pays for arriving guests. So the challenge is to be more inventive and relevant to holidaymakers’ concerns.

Among the promotions we’re seeing this season are prices set in sterling, all-inclusive prices (cleaning, electricity etc) and fixed exchange rates, which also create certainty and confidence. Discounts of as much as 25% are in evidence and tend to be offered in return for early booking or for weeks outside peak holiday times – but some are straightforward discounts that include July and August. Incentives include free airport transfers combined with free bike hire or a case of champagne.

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Peter and Wendy Chapman are a good example of proactive property ownership. At Le Bignon, their manor house near Angers in Maine-et-Loire, they offer three individually designed chambre d'h�te rooms along with self-catering accommodation in a separate wing. This year they are promoting a fixed euro exchange rate of €1.3, giving savings of up to �290 per week. “Lots of people enquiring are mentioning the offer,” says Wendy. “It gives them peace of mind and they seem to appreciate that we are doing something positive in the current market.”

Ian Roberts, enterprising owner of Au Palouque, a former farmhouse in the village of Caixon in the Hautes-Pyr�n�es, quotes prices in sterling and has been offering a discount of 20% for early bookings on published peak season prices. This brings the cost down to just �88 per person per week, assuming full occupancy of eight, which robustly belies any perception of France as expensive this year.

If you plan to post a special offer, check whether the host website for your property listing is offering any deal, perhaps linked to other features. For instance, in our special offers section, there is no charge for owners who display more than eight photographs in their advertisement. Once you are listed in dedicated special offers pages, then your profile is immediately raised in the rankings, so it’s as good as buying extra advertising.

Get the word out

On the subject of advertising, a challenging market is the time to think expansively. Naturally, you may be looking at ways to cut outgoings – but advertising and marketing is one area where you really can’t afford to do this. In the past, we have seen businesses responding negatively in economic downturns but this time there seems to be a much greater understanding of the importance of continuing to be noticed, especially online.

It is essential to be businesslike – to think and plan carefully and to spend your advertising budget wisely. Bear in mind that with the advent of widespread – almost total – internet use in this market, advertising is actually much cheaper today than it was 10 years ago, when the main means of getting noticed was a printed brochure. What’s more, you don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket. Most rental properties can be advertised on at least two specialist host sites for less than the equivalent of one week’s rent.

An important aim of advertising is to reach your target market – so it’s good to consider who your clients are, how you can best respond to them and how you can reach new markets. We believe that there is great potential for expansion into mainland European markets and have launched a French-language site to attract holidaymakers from within France. Property owners can benefit from the fact that most French people holiday in their own country and they are not affected by exchange rates.

You might also widen your reach with the type of visitor you attract. If you have been geared up mainly for families with children, then try aiming for couples or groups outside school holiday times – perhaps with the added attraction of local sports or activities. It’s always good to make contact with previous clients and encourage recommendations – but you still need to advertise to replenish the supply of new business.

Along with advertising, it’s essential to take care of the fundamental booking process. For instance, if people like your property and try to make contact, are you geared up to respond quickly at all times? This is crucially important as holidaymakers expect a response within 24 hours or will be inclined to give up and look elsewhere. So do monitor email enquiries and make sure you are available on the phone number listed. If you’re going to be away, list your mobile number or get somebody else to handle enquiries for you. Most host websites even offer SMS alerts to owners when an enquiry comes in. In a challenging market, there really is no excuse for losing business by simply failing to respond to potential bookings.

House doctor

Another important way in which you can be proactive is to review and update how you present your property. Honesty is, of course, crucial but you can still catch the eye with lyrical phrases and buzzwords for your headings. If it doesn’t already have one, why not give your house a poetic French name to make it more individual and appealing? The importance of good quality digital photographs cannot be over emphasised and the latest way to show your property’s character and unique selling points is by using video. If you already have footage, then display it now. If not, you might consider taking some as soon as the weather and conditions are suitable.

You don’t want to overwhelm potential guests with too much detail, but it really does pay to sell them the complete holiday experience at your property. Take time to identify your strengths and unique selling points’ and thoroughly research what’s available in your locality, then give holidaymakers this information in advance. At Le Bignon, Wendy and Peter Chapman offer their guests a set-price dinner and display a sample menu in their online listing. “We may not be the cheapest but we do go for quality, service and attention to detail. Many guests eat in the first night because they’ve seen the menu online and then end up dining with us every night – and they really appreciate details like our heated swimming pool, baby listening devices, individual room d�cor and Egyptian cotton sheets.”

The Chapmans also arrange golf at the many courses in their area and give full details of what’s on offer, while in his listing for Au Palouque, Ian Roberts offers comprehensive suggestions for local activities in the mountainous region. By mentioning skiing and snow sports in winter months and ways to enjoy the natural landscape in summer, he sets the scene for a year-round market – but goes even further in giving brief details of historical sites, wildlife and nature, sports and outdoor activities, gourmet dining, wine tasting and cultural events such as the local jazz festival.

Finally, remember that prospective guests don’t have to take only your word for it. If you have glowing testimonials in your guest book then post some in your listing. Such comments are usually lively and immediate, so they grab attention. Personal recommendation by independent visitors who have had a great holiday is a compelling and powerful tool in meeting the challenge of this year’s market.

By Glynis Shawwww.frenchconnections.co.uk