Vacation Rental Marketing & Distribution
In Hungary, never clink your glasses when saying Cheers! In Russia, there is always a toast, so hold onto your drink until after the first one is made. In Germany, make and keep eye contact while toasting. In Ireland, if you buy one for yourself, buy one for everyone else; it will always come back to you by the end of the night.
For vacation rental marketing professionals, tending to Booking.com may as well be a Sake toast in Japan, while listing on Airbnb is more akin to an Italian Salute with wine. Understanding the customs and languages of each channel and how to maintain distribution can be mindboggling. Then, there’s the task of figuring out how to integrate distribution into an already complex marketing scheme.
Distribution should be included as part of a robust marketing plan. While distribution is clearly about increasing sales, availability on channels is as much a marketing strategy as anything else. Distribution should occupy a section of the annual marketing plan in the same way that the website, social media, public relations, and advertising hold their own space because there is branding to be maintained and a presence to be achieved.
Though we encourage targeted distribution, to get the right guest for the right property or unit, the truth is that when guests are searching online they are haphazard. At least at this moment in time, travelers zig and zag across devices and websites before making a decision. Few travelers—just 29% of hotel loyalty members—are members of an OTA loyalty program. OTAs are akin to the second-tier of the search funnel (the first being the search engine itself), and travelers aren’t truly tied to one OTA or another, at least when it comes to searching.
The following diagram of an actual purchase path shows that the traveler visited four different OTAs before making a purchase, which included 34 sometimes random stops. OTAs receive a 47.2% share of visits among vacation package bookers. Presence is essential.
The level of presence required to compete on a path to purchase of this nature, however, requires automated distribution to a variety of third parties. It is not enough to choose two OTAs, post photos, and promotions, and walk away. There are well over 20 key third-party channels, and they each want a round for themselves. They are clamoring for your full attention promising rankings in return for it. Rankings are do-or-die when a traveler is crossing over this many websites. Travelers are skimming the surface of a giant lake, and the only way to get on the radar is to be at the top.
Content syndication (the automated delivery of images and text updates), promotion syndication, and automated rate adjustments should be among the top line items under distribution in a vacation rental marketing strategy. You should be consistently evaluating and optimizing your distribution strategy. Just as you would review your website analytics for traffic and referrals, or optimize a Pay-Per-Click campaign, evaluating to determine your placement and overall exposure. Ensure your placement is as high as possible to increase the number of eyes on your product.
Typically, when we talk about distribution, we talk about the big four: GDS, Website, Voice, and OTA. In addition, however, PMCs should ensure distribution and channel management has a place among these essential vacation rental marketing tactics:
- Online (website, SEO, PPC, email)
- Distribution (content & images, promotions, reviews)
- Social Media (blogging, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, viral promotions)
- Public Relations (online and offline)
- Advertising (online and offline)
When buying a round for the pub, be sure to include as many relevant channels as possible. Review the results. Down the road after you have a solid distribution marketing plan in place, determine if it’s possible to shift market share from higher cost avenues to lower cost avenues. Take advantage of your “ownership” of the guest once they walk through the doors because capturing guest data, no matter the channel, is a must. Understanding that data will help shift your revenue to the highest profit channels. In the meantime, know that in order to shift market share, you must reach the share that will only find you through exposure across multiple touch points—and that includes OTAs.
Cheers! Prost! Salud! The round you purchase will come back to you at the end of the night.
 Majority of travelers don’t care about OTA loyalty programs. Hotel Marketing. December 2013.
 Schaal, Dennis. Travelers visit 38 sites before booking a vacation, study says. Skift. August 2013.