Making your French rental a success
Setting up your own holiday rental in France? Damian Sheridan runs through five essential steps to help make it a success
Operating a leading holiday rental business is a dream for many second homeowners around France. Whether it’s a gîte, apartment, villa or townhouse, the basic principles are the same. A disciplined, determined and patient approach is essential.
Here are five steps to running your holiday let that are often overlooked.
What is your unique selling point?
If you don’t know what your unique selling point is, your prospective guests never will. Consult a few of the leading holiday rentals listings websites and compare a dozen or so of your local competitors. What could set your place apart? Have you got a private pool? Can you offer free wifi? Will you accept pets? Do you provide local produce? Is yours an ‘Adults Only’ location?
You may have an apartment in a block which is identical in shape and size to all around but your interior design, inclusions, customer service and creative marketing could be markedly different to your neighbour. Increasingly inventive ways of reeling in guests include paying for motorway toll fees or providing children’s welcome packs.
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It’s all well and good pursuing as many bookings as possible but identifying your ideal target market at an early stage will help streamline your business. Your group size will clearly be determined by how many people can comfortably sleep in the property. Your lack of linguistic skills may mean you have to focus your efforts on the UK and Irish market or those who can speak English. Beyond that, if you’re not sure of whom your ideal client is, try focusing on what guests you’d rather not stay in your holiday home. Stag or hen groups? Smokers? Families? Those travelling with pets? This process of elimination should help you concentrate on two or three sub-groups.
Then locate all of the local amenities within a 20 mile radius (e.g. golf courses, beaches, skiing gondola, mountains, nature reserves and waterparks) and consider the type of holiday-maker that would be attracted to the area.
Concentrating on a niche market (or even better, a niche within a niche) can produce rich dividends. For example, you might want to develop a holistic retreat for couples with pets. Or maybe you would want to promote your home as a historical base for literary buffs. It can really work!
Your marketing strategy can then focus upon your target group by including pertinent key words and phrases like ‘Quiet Retreat’, ‘Great Nightlife’, ‘Golfer’s Paradise’, ‘Beachfront Family Holiday’ ‘Walkers’ Haven’ and so on. Experimenting with these words and phrases can lead to remarkable results.
So you have your property ready for guests. Next, how are you going to tell the world about your holiday home? Holiday ‘booking portals’ are the driving force behind many owners and managers. Sites like Airbnb, FlipKey, HomeAway and HouseTrip receive millions of visitors each year looking to book independent accommodation according to their bespoke requirements. Each model can work very differently between annual subscriptions, free listings, pay-per-booking or even pay-per-enquiry. Travellers can usually refine searches by property type, number of rooms, location, number of guests, facilities and much more besides. The easiest way of choosing which site to list on is to use key phrases in the major search engines and see which show up in that all-important first page.
Professional photography (and not just some nice photos taken on your iPhone) is essential alongside taking time over your property descriptions.
How much should you spend on your marketing? Recommended figures can vary widely and the advent of the instant booking (for commission) has meant that annual subscriptions to booking portals are certainly on the wane. However you should still be looking at spending the equivalent of at least one peak period week for your year’s marketing. As well as booking portal listings many owners and property managers now also use pay-per-click search engine campaigns and customised videos with a narrator to bolster their business.
While advertising your home on these listing sites, it’s worth remembering that you are really just piggy-backing another business. They are great for short-to-medium exposure but in the long-run it’s now essential to own and maintain your own website. It not only gives you a blank canvas to show off your home without restriction but will give your guests further reassurance that your place does indeed exist and that you are credible and trustworthy. Several listings sites will allow you to link to your website and many discerning travellers will now expect to see a separate website for further photos and information as part of their holiday research.
Having your own website also allows you to link and promote it from social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Furthermore, it gives you a large space to add your own local highlights/recommendations, travel details, guest testimonials, owner biography, videos, a blog, promotions and discounts.
Wouldn’t you prefer to receive the majority of your enquiries via your own site and not have to update numerous availability calendars or pay commission and subscriptions? Adding lots of content (using three or four carefully researched key words and phrases), describing all pages and images and getting lots of other relevant websites to link to yours will all go a long way towards optimising your website and subsequently resulting in a high organic search engine position.
There are several companies offering cheap and user-friendly holiday rental website creation for a faction of the cost of one listing your property on some of the best known booking portals.
There will be issues along the way and any successful holiday homeowner must be fully prepared for problems before they occur. Deal with them methodically and systematically and accept that ‘things will happen’. Missing keys. Volcanic ash clouds. Airline strikes. Duplicate bookings. Breakdowns. Negative guest reviews. Damage. Even theft.
The way you deal with the situation will dictate how your guest reacts. Understanding and sympathy are essential. The last thing your guest will want to hear, especially upon arrival after a long trip, is that you’re not particularly empathetic or equipped to deal with a problem. Compensation or refunds are tough to bear at the time but can surprisingly still result in repeat business from an understanding guest.
Renting your holiday home can be a wonderfully rewarding experience both financially and socially. However it’s not an easy ride. These are just a few areas to be aware of – there are many more! But don’t be put off. Nearly every successful holiday rental owner/manager started off with an idea. It’s your determination that will see you through.
Damian Sheridan is the owner of NeedMoreRentals.com – an information centre for holiday home owners and rental property managers.