VRMA National Show Takeaway – Opt In, Opt Out and Opt-Choice for Travel Insurance

Posted on Categories GuestStream News, New Feature, Vacation Rental Platform

How to guide guest booking behavior to increase revenue.

When referring to the value or “ROI” of tradeshow attendance or similar educational expenses, it is often said, “If you can take away one thing that will help make you more successful, it was worth it”.   I believe that to be true but in the context of a vendor/supplier, I am looking for a takeaway or takeaways that will benefit our customers.  That can be information, a new product, or in this case, a new feature that we can add to our Vacation Rental Platform (VRP).

VRMA Conference
Karen – Sunset Properties and Joe – our fearless leader at Gueststream

At the recent VRMA National Conference in Phoenix AZ last week, I sat down with Karen from Sunset Properties to discuss a new feature for her website.  Property Managers understand that selling travel insurance can be a very lucrative compliment to their booking process.  As new rules and guidelines emerge, the way to present travel insurance on your website can get a little confusing.  Following is a brief outline of the components and how to best set up your booking process to better integrate travel insurance.  Using this process will absolutely increase the average price of your online bookings.  Opt-In – this is a common term that simply means that a guest has the choice to participate or not.  It can also be used to define the default state of your booking process- meaning that the default setting is “out” and the guest needs to change it to “in” to participate.   This configuration should never (unless required) be used as it has the lowest conversion rate.

Opt-Out – in this case, the default setting is “in” and the guest would need to change it to “out” in order to not participate.  From a conversion standpoint, this configuration is better than Opt-In but also the most controversial.

Opt-Choice – this means that neither in nor out are selected and the guest is forced to choose.  This is becoming more popular as it can be universally considered a “neutral” approach to offering travel insurance.  With a few supporting actions, this is the best option and has the highest conversion rates.

To further complicate this, some states prefer that you do not use the Opt-Out configuration while most states have no stated position.  The states that prefer to not use the Opt-Out option are WA, CA, MO, FL, NJ, ME, MN, and TN. The dilemma then is that you need to set your default to either Opt-In or Opt-Choice but those are not the best choices for a PM that wants to maximize online revenue.  What’s the solution?

This brings us back to Karen’s new feature request. This feature is pretty simple but very powerful and works like this:

1. OPT-CHOICE While a guest is in the process of checking availability by entering check in/out dates, they also quickly and easily choose their State from a dropdown or auto-fill menu.  If the State is not one on the short list of those opposed to Opt-Out, the default is immediately set to Opt-Out or, insurance included.  This feature made perfect sense to me but before we set out to build it I thought I would do a little research to verify that this would be the most effective strategy.   I contacted Laird Sager, President of Red Sky Travel Insurance.  Larid, through both research and observation has concluded that the best “Opt” option is Opt-Choice but with an additional feature and follow-up.  First, the guest’s choice of in or out must be a mandatory part of the booking process.  If they chose out, your website should display a pop up that will in effect “freeze” the process.  According to Sager, it is this “freezing” of the process that will give your potential guest time to consider (or reconsider) the choice as opposed to simply and quickly declining the coverage as a matter of course.  Many readers may have seen this technique deployed at some of the large OTA’s and the message reads something like, “Are you sure you want to decline coverage….” And may include a brief example of the negative impact of such a decision.   While the Opt-Choice is the best of the three default configurations, adding this pop up will increase your conversion rate even further.  Sager added that a follow up call from your sales staff will further increase that conversion.  If staffing and budget allow, a follow up phone call makes a lot of sense.  Further benefit to this approach is that it will give Property Managers peace of mind when someone that did not purchase insurance requests a refund.  With good reason, PM’s can ask the guest, “what more could I have done?”   Follow as many or all of the following 3 steps to maximize your travel insurance sales within your booking process:  Use “Opt-Choice” as your default configuration for including Travel Insurance on your website

2. PROVIDE POP-UP Use a pop-up message to “freeze” the process and help guide your guest

3. FOLLOW-UP Follow up with a phone call to close the deal

This simple approach is a great example of attention to detail. The name of the game in online marketing is not doing one big thing right but doing all the little things that add up big.

Thanks to Karen at Sunset Properties for showing us this concept and to Laird for his insights and guidance.  Look for this feature in our next Vacation Rental Platform version update.

If you attended the VRMA Show in Phoenix and have a great “takeaway” to share or new feature that you would like to see on our VRP please let us know! We are constantly reinventing the Property Management Software connectivity and value/feature proposition and welcome your feedback and input.

If you would like to learn more about our new Travel Insurance feature or how Gueststream can help you with your website technology and marketing needs click here.

Leverage your data using best technologies and tools

Posted on Categories GuestStream News

3-Part Series:

  1. Build a Foundation for Leverage
  2. Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data
  3. Leverage your data using best technologies and tools

Part 3

If you’ve read parts one and two of this series you understand the importance of leverage, and how to best position your data to achieve the most leverage for your business.  This installment will cover some of the most popular tools you can use to make the most of that leverage.  These tools can be viewed in one of two (or both) broad categories – productivity and revenue generating.  While there are many tools available, we will explore the most popular and most effective at the time of this writing.  These are: Inquiry Responders, Smartphone Apps, your Website and a bonus tool for Yielding Rates.

Inquiry Responders – Inquiry responders reply-97622_1280are both a productivity tool as well as a revenue source.  Responders receive incoming form/email requests from sources like VRBO, Flipkey, Homeaway.com or your website etc…  The inquiry is for a specific unit with specific dates.  The responder is able to access your unit and availability data and automatically respond with a price quote and a book now button.  If the unit is not available, the automated response can include alternate units with prices and the ability to book them as well.  This is a very powerful tool that uses extreme leverage to deliver the following advantages:

  • Eliminate the need to manually respond to dozens or hundreds of inquiries
  • Your guest receives a response in seconds versus hours or, in many cases, days
  • Call to action – “book now”

There are many other benefits to using responders but the most important is the dramatic increase in online revenue that you will achieve using this tool.

Click Here for more information on Inquiry Responders

Smartphone Apps – Smartphone Apps fall under the iphone-476237_1920productivity category.  That is not to say that they cannot also generate some revenue using advertising, coupons and other techniques but that is not their core purpose.  Smartphone Apps access your PMS data to provide guests with useful and timely information about their unit and vacation.  That data is also supplemented with complimentary information and recommendations.  Smartphone Apps deliver the following benefits to PM’s and Guests.

  • Provide guests with specific unit information, directions, access and notes
  • Provide guests with local recommendations and directions. Including restaurants, grocery, liquor, activities, events, or other tourist activities.
  • Reduce costs of printing promotional material or tourist information
  • Better interaction/communication with guests via support features and push notification

Click Here to learn more about Smartphone Apps

online-marketing-1246457_1920Your website – as discussed in previous installments of this series, your website is your lowest cost distribution channel.  It is also the most powerful leverage tool that you have from both a productivity AND revenue standpoint.  While we take many of these benefits for granted, it is important to review them occasionally.

  • Provide extensive information about your company and local area attractions
  • Generate leads and phone calls
  • Book units
  • Provide Invaluable statistical data

Click Here to request a proposal for a website

Google Analytics (GA) – The last bullet above warrants further discussion.  Statistical tracking nowadays almost always means GA.  Every website should have GA installed andwhile most do, it is probably the most under-utilized tool in the PM”s tech toolkit.  GA is not technically leveraging your PMS data directly but it does indirectly and by extension.  The ability to know which units are viewed, booked and how much revenue they generate is very much related to your PMS data.  Guests that visit your website from a directory, subscription site and Channel Partner website are also an extension of your PMS Data.  All this information should be studied and acted upon in a well-rounded data leverage plan.

Click Here for more information about how GA relates to your overall website marketing strategy

arrows-1412059_1920Yield Management – The basic tenant of Yield Management is rooted in Economics 101 – Supply and Demand.  All PM’s have inventory in wonderful places where people want to go.   Sometimes, more people want to go there and sometimes less.  This demand means that the product is constantly changing.  If you factor in, competition, “time-decay”, acts-of-nature etc.…  Yielding rates becomes extremely complicated and well beyond the scope of what a seasonal rate chart can address.  Yield Management software and crunch all this data for you and constantly adjust your rates so that you are achieving the highest possible profit margin for both your business and your owners.

Click Here for more information about Yield Management of your rates

 

If you are using the techniques in this series, you should be taking advantage of all of the tools in this installment.  These tools are easy to deploy, inexpensive and will save  you time, open new revenue streams, or both!  Now that you have a better understanding for leverage, your PMS connectivity and the best tools,   you can use the following link to our Technology Audit Calculator.  This will give you an idea of how your technology costs stack up.

Audit Tool

 

Gueststream will be attending the Annual VRMA Conference in Phoenix AZ this week.  This is an excellent opportunity to stop by our booth and say hello.  We look forward meeting you and helping you with your website technology needs.  See you there!

 

Joe Pawlak is the founder of Gueststream, Inc. He has worked in the technology sector of the hospitality/lodging industry since 1999. Joe has built a team of top specialists who offer industry leading website; design, development, marketing and software products. Joe has a degree in Commercial Recreation and Tourism from the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University and lives in Denver, CO.

Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data

Posted on Categories GuestStream News

3-Part Series:

  1. Build a Foundation for Leverage
  2. Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data
  3. Leverage your data using best technologies and tools

Part 2VF01

From an operational standpoint, all businesses use the same two criteria to measure profit – Revenue and Expenses.    If you want to increase profits, you need to increase revenue, decrease expenses, or both.  There are always ways to increase revenue.  Sell more products!  Although not easy, there are a million ways to do that.  This article is going to focus on the expense side of the equation, specifically related to your website data connection.  The costs and options that you need to address when choosing a method to connect your Property Management Software to your website are something that many Property Managers pay very little attention to.  Mistakes made when choosing a data connection provider or service can prove to be very expensive.

 

Application Programming Interface (API)- how your data moves.

cloud-computing-concept [Converted]In simple terms, an API is a set of instructions that help a developer connect a website to a Property Management Software.  API’s are typically provided by the PMS Company as a way to provide initial developer support as well as reduce ongoing technical support overhead.  API’s give property managers an incredible amount of flexibility in what they can do with their PMS data.  This flexibility allows PM’s to deploy additional tools and features that extend well beyond those needed for website unit management and online booking.  It is critical that your PMS provider has an API.  It is the only way to ensure that you have options available to you that extend beyond what your management software provider can offer.  If there is no API, you are at the mercy of your PMS provider.  If you work with a PMS provider that has a “closed system” and no API you are likely already familiar with this limitation.  The conversation usually goes like this:

 

You:  I found a great new tool that I want to use and I need to provide data access to company XYZ to set that up.

PMS Provider:     we do not allow third party access to YOUR data

You:  then how can I take advantage of this new technology product?

PMS Provider:  We will have to build a similar product for you.

You:  Great!  When can you have that built?

PMS Provider:  Soon

In software development, “soon” can mean 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years, or, in some cases, never!  This type of “data lockdown” is unacceptable and should be avoided at all costs.  The attractiveness of initial cost savings with “closed systems” often proves to be much more expensive in lost opportunities or having to switch to an “open system” down the road.

Assuming that you found a PMS with an API, now you need to connect your website to your PMS using that API.   You basically have three options;   DIY, “Package” or Plugin. web-design-and-development

  1. DIY (do it yourself)

You hire a developer and present them with the API documentation from your PMS.  This type of custom development requires an advanced skillset and can be very expensive.  One frequently seen pitfall is tasking your website designer with the API development component of the project.  Designing websites and development of API’s are two very different skill sets so that rarely works out well.  Some PMS companies “vet” Programmers to see if they feel they are qualified to complete the project.  This is in reaction to many failed attempts that result in countless hours of technical support headaches.  This option should be considered for very large Property Management Companies that have qualified professional in-house developers with API experience.  Even then, the PMS provider may or may not work with them.

  1. Package

The Vacation Rental vendor marketplace has more than a few options for website development.  Most vendors have an existing system that can connect a website to a PMS.  The advantage to this option is experience and expertise. These vendors have done this before, specialize in PMS connectivity and have existing relationships with PMS providers.  They already have a product that you need and do not have to start from scratch.  This is a huge advantage but also comes with a significant pitfall to avoid.  Most of these website developers will only provide the PMS connectivity to PM’s that also purchase a website design as well.  In this sense you are forced to purchase a “package” that includes a new website AND PMS connectivity.  In short, you can’t have the connection without the new website design and you can’t connect a new website to your PMS unless you use that company’s connection.  This is a very good situation for the vendor because they can charge very high prices.  Of course you can shop this around but historically speaking, the other vendors have the exact same business model.  All or nothing!   This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is most often very expensive!  This option may be appropriate for very large Property Management Companies that do not have a local developer that they prefer to work with and who like the simplicity of a “package”.  I.E., more eggs in one basket.

  1. Plugins

Plugins are typically associated with WordPress but the concept can be applied to all website content manage systems including Drupal, Joomla etc. Plugins provide extreme flexibility in that they “extend” the features of a wordpress-logo-stacked-rgbwebsite very quickly and easily.  Using WordPress, you would search the WordPress directory for a plugin, download it and enable it.  There are thousands of plugins available for things like contact forms, event calendars, security, and in this case, PMS connectivity.  Using plugins gives PM’s significant advantages and essentially eliminates the disadvantages and pitfalls of the above options.  Plugins offer the following advantages:

  • You can use any designer or developer
  • Not trapped into a high-priced package
  • PMS API Connectivity is built in
  • Quick technology deployment
  • Low initial and ongoing costs

Plugins for PMS connectivity are fairly new but a simple Google search for “VRP Connector” will get you started.   Using this method for PMS connectivity can save hundreds of hours in development time and tens of thousands of dollars in initial and ongoing costs. vrpconnector-300x77

From an expense standpoint, the options are in descending order with option 1 being the most expensive option 3 being the least.  Because these decisions deploy technologies that can have a lifespan of 5-10 years, the right decision at the beginning of a project can have long lasting implications – negatively or positively.

So far we have covered the concept of leveraging your data, and understanding your data connection.  In the next installment, we are going to add productivity tools to help you maximize leverage and revenue using the PMS connection.  We will also include a Technology Audit Calculator that will help you visualize your website technology costs and how they compare and add up over the lifetime of use.

 

Joe Pawlak is the founder of Gueststream, Inc.   He has worked in the technology sector of the hospitality/lodging industry since 1999. Joe has built a team of top specialists who offer industry leading website; design, development, marketing and software products. Joe has a degree in Commercial Recreation and Tourism from the College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University and lives in Denver, CO.

 

 

Technology Leverage Audit – How to get the most out of your Property Management Software Data

Posted on Categories GuestStream News

A 3-Part Series:

  1. Build a Foundation for Leverage
  2. Understand your PMS data connectivity – Control, Position and Leverage your Data
  3. Deploy Leverage your data using best technologies and tools

Part 1

Recent use of the word “leverage” is both ubiquitous and ambiguous.  This is likely due to its application to a multitude of markets and circumstances.  For example:

artwork-16923_1920Leverage
[lev-er-ij]   

Dictionary.com Definition – General

  1. the action of a lever, a rigid bar that pivots about one point and that is used to move an object at a second point by a force applied at a third
  2. the use of a small initial investment, credit, or borrowed funds to gain a very high return in relation to one’s investment, to control a much larger investment, or to reduce one’s own liability for any loss.

 

definition-390785_1920Vacation Rental Definition – Our definition

The use of existing data and data delivery systems to “repackage” and “resell” information.  The greatest effect is achieved with a model that repeats indefinitely 

Fortunately for Property Manager’s, the application of leverage is just as ubiquitous as the use of the word. Examples of the use of leverage in the vacation rental market are many and you are probably using some of them now.   The most obvious example is a website that uses your data to generate online bookings or generate leads.  VRBO.com and Homeaway.com are excellent examples.  From a scalability standpoint, these resources have very little “investment” in your data – most often you pay them! –They are able to “repackage” and “resell” your data over and over again – Leverage!  Can you think of other companies and products that use this technique with your data?


There are many other products that do this same thing and more popping up all the time.  Attend one of the big tradeshows this fall and you are sure to see some brand new products that have found a cool way to use your data to a mutual benefit.  All of this is classic in the sense that companies are finding new ways in new markets to leverage the same data.  What IS surprising is how many Property Managers do not use this technique to their advantage.

I recently had reason to travel to a small town in my home state of Colorado.  Of course I went online to find a home to rent.  I found a property management company that had some great units and I found one that I wanted to book.  To my dismay, there was no way to book the unit online and it took a full four days to finalize the booking!  I later found out that this company did allow online bookings on other websites.  This situation brought to light many problems with this PM’s approach to inventory management but for the purpose of this article, they were definitely not using the concept of data leverage!


As with most things in life you want to lay the groundwork or foundation on which to build.  Leverage is no different.  internet-1181586_1280The concept and example above brings us to the most basic (and first) starting point to start taking advantage of these principals – your own website!

Most PM’s know they need an online presence and their own website. Why?  Your own website is the lowest cost distribution channel you will ever have, period!  You should always attempt to drive as many online bookings through your own website as possible.  This is where you have commission-free and fee-free bookings with the highest margins of profit.  Yes, I have heard the argument that “some people only use VRBO”.  That is great and a great reason why you should also have VRBO listings to help generate additional leads.  I often counter with, “some people use VRBO to initiate their research but then look for the same unit on a local level”, or “sure, but not EVERYBODY only uses VRBO, what about all the others”?  Since this is the first part of a series and the main topic is leverage, we will not delve too deeply into maximizing your own website’s effectiveness.

Here are a few of the most important things that should be considered minimums:

  • Great Design – make sure your website is professionally designed. Does it look as good as or better than the listing sites that your guests are using to initiate their research?
  • Marketing – Spend some money on marketing. SEO, SEM, PPC, Email, Local etc…  If you don’t lay a marketing foundation on which you can build, you will be too reliant on listing services that do spend the money
  • Software Tools – Use a professional and cost-effective technology to connect your property management software data to your website. There are only a few good systems in existence so it is critical you do your homework
  • Ease of booking – this goes hand-in-hand with your connectivity. Good, accurate data combined with a fast and intuitive booking process will generate more bookings and revenue

download-1002802_1920Leverage is a great technique to use in any endeavor.  Whether you are trying to get a boulder over the crest of a hill, trade the stock market or maximize your vacation rental data, leverage can help you succeed.  As you are now well aware, an entire technology market in the Vacation Rental industry has recently emerged.  There are many companies leveraging your data for you (and them) and many more will be popping up in the future.  If entire businesses can exist and profit on the use of your data than you should also give the concept the attention that it deserves.

 

The next installment of this series will cover Property Management Software connectivity options, costs and opportunities.