Stealing the show

Enticing guests to stay at your holiday let is obviously crucial. Glynis Shaw has advice on how to maximise your bookings

Once you have bought and equipped the property you plan to let out, it’s time to attract guests who will bring in that essential income. In the current market, holidaymakers expect quality, service and value so owners need to be professional and business-like, with a clear strategy for basic marketing, an adequate budget and conscientious follow-through.

Strategy and budget

These days, the internet is where holidaymakers primarily search for rentals in France. It’s easy to pinpoint their preferred area and property features, peruse listings and make contact with owners online. Some listings sites specialise in France, others handle property in many countries, but both should attract international browsers. Check the track record and how well established the site is, the feedback from property owners, the efficiency of search facilities, how it ranks in search engines and the number of visitors.

Look, too, at the overall site content. At French Connections we’ve learned that holidaymakers want to make ferry bookings, follow blogs, read guides to the regions of France, find out what’s on and get ideas for types of holiday. This delivers a total package and prompts visitors to return often and recommend the site.

Look for good attention and support for owners. Will staff help create your presentation to make it most effective? Can you contact them easily? How quickly and effectively are helpline calls or emails answered?

If your budget allows, you may choose more than one listing website to start with – and allow a year to test performance. When setting a marketing budget, allow for hosting of your listing or advertisement over the long term, any photography costs, the cost of phone calls to customers and contingencies for advanced’ marketing like special offers.

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Should you build your own website? Only if it’s really good – as a bad one can actually deter bookings. It’s certainly not essential to start with but can be useful for support marketing, with a click-through link from your host website.

Pricing structure

Research how much rent you could get by searching online and locally for similar properties. Compare realistically kerb appeal (outer appearance), location, accessibility, facilities, local attractions and overall quality. These days, the market is competitive so try to take an objective view – or get a second opinion – rather than set prices too high.

Then work out all your expenses and how many letting weeks you would need in order to achieve your annual target. You might consider the number of weeks for a must-have’ return, a nice to have’ amount and an icing on the cake’ figure, then your aim will be clear.

My tip on pricing is to keep it simple. Holidaymakers do not like being faced with complicated extras, so work out your costs and set a single inclusive price for the week, stating what is covered. Seasonal variations are, of course, expected, with top rates usually charged for the month of August and the Christmas period. If you want to attract long winter lets, you could indicate that the price is negotiable, depending on length of stay.

Creating an online listing

Having chosen the website or sites, create a listing that looks good, reads well and draws in bookings. Host sites provide a template where you can enter a heading and description of your property, photographs, prices for a booking calendar, contact details, local information, travel guide and map, activities and attractions. Your presentation is crucial so work on it in advance, take your time and get any help you need.

Aim to show and tell exactly what a holiday at your place can offer and make it stand out from the rest. Be honest but don’t be afraid to use catchy buzzwords and lyrical phrases to draw the reader in and fire their imagination. Give your page an eye-catching title and your property a name, describe concisely but vividly the facilities, history, atmosphere or special qualities of the property and the full holiday experience.

Good-quality images are vital, especially your single lead-in picture that draws browsers in. Aim for a unique shot that could only be your place and make sure it wows, even in a small size. Follow on with a selection of clear, well-lit and well-composed photographs that show the interior, exterior, local area and events.

We believe that photos are so important that we give owners the facility to display large-format images and up to 30 for each property. Use them to convey your property’s character and unique selling points, remembering that holidaymakers want to see what to expect, imagine themselves already there and feel safe to book without risk of disappointment.

When you think you’ve finished, get objective feedback from someone who knows the property and someone who has never seen it. They might spot important omissions or missed opportunities.

Keep a guest book

Recent surveys have shown that online browsers devour user reviews of holidays and trust them more than any other source of information. This means that your guests’ reviews could clinch future bookings so keep a guest book, a livre d’or, and post genuine reviews in your online listing. Many listing sites offer this facility for owners – and should automatically check with the guest that the feedback is genuine and they approve its publication.

Monitor enquiries

Once your listing has gone live, monitor enquiries and be easy to contact. Holidaymakers rightly expect a reply to email enquiries within 24 hours – and often it’s good business to phone them and chat, using personal contact to clinch the booking. You should also be able to get text alerts and see enquiries in the host site’s owner’s area, in case you’re away or email gets caught in a spam filter.

If your presentation is good quality, your market is clear, your price is right and you conscientiously monitor and reply to enquiries, you can do well in your first year and work to turn those visitors into repeat bookings and recommendations.

Glynis Shaw is joint MD of French Connections holiday rentals and property sales online. www.frenchconnections.co.uk