In Part 1 of this blog topic we looked at what you need to put in place if you want to move away from an agency. In Part 2, we talk to owner Katie Bessant, who understands exactly what that involves. Katie used to work in the marketing team at one of the biggest holiday letting agents in the UK. She now has her own holiday accommodation, The Chic Salcombe Bolthole and also runs The Holiday Hive which helps helps holiday cottage owners improve their digital presence and online visibility, to generate more bookings.
Katie knows intimately what it’s like belonging to an agency and here she explains how this compares to running your holiday accommodation yourself.
Most of the things will take a little bit of time to set up. But once they’re configured, you don’t have to do much to keep it running and it’s fairly hands-off!
Running your holiday accommodation
You can choose to be as hands-on or hands-off as you like when running your property. If you live onsite, you’ll probably be fairly hands-on. But there are things you can do to save time. The two main operational tasks to think about when choosing to leave your agency are changeovers and guest communications.
Changeovers and maintenance
I personally choose to do the changeovers and maintenance myself, as I live right next door to my property. But if you choose to use a cleaner, they can easily be given a login to your Property Management Software (PMS) and copied into communications. Just like your existing agency will do.
The key to good guest communications is anticipating their needs ahead of time. That way they have no reason to contact you.
From my experience of working at one of the UK’s largest holiday cottage letting agencies, 99% of the phone calls from guests were requesting information that should have been readily available in the welcome instructions and property manual.
You can also automate a lot of the email and text communications, whilst still keeping it personalised, which can save a lot of time!
Marketing your holiday accommodation
Of course, once you have set up all your systems (covered in Part 1), you need to generate bookings! Ideally, over time you want to generate more direct bookings. That way both you and your guests can save on commissions from online travel agent websites.
1. Update your listings on OTA websites
When you move away from your agency, depending on your contract, you may lose your listing on the OTA (Online Travel Agent) websites. Regardless, you will probably want to update these anyway with your new information and fresh listing description.
2. Create awareness of your property
The first step is to create awareness through regularly posting on social media channels. You will also need to ensure that your direct booking website is discoverable online. Do this by creating a Google Business Profile; if you have a blog on your website, post regularly and practice other SEO strategies such as being active on Pinterest.
3. Email marketing
Once you have started to generate a following on social media, you can begin to push them onto your email list so that you can send them regular newsletters. A recent study showed that people now need 27 touchpoints to purchase something online. So this extra touch point away from social media is a great strategy! Plus, if anything ever happens to Instagram or Facebook, you have your followers email addresses to still be able to market to them.
4. Encourage repeat bookers
If guests do book through an online travel agent website, you typically won’t receive their email address. So, when they arrive at your property, you want to try and get their email address. Whether that’s asking them in person, leaving an opt-in form or a special note in your property asking them to subscribe to your newsletter or running a competition.
When you have their email address you will be able to market to them directly through email marketing. As long as they had a good experience during their stay, they should be red hot leads and keen to book their next holiday with you!
This may all sound completely overwhelming, but once you have the systems in place and have planned out your marketing for the year, everything should run smoothly and effortlessly.
Katie Bessant, Social Media Coach at The Holiday Hive and Owner of The Chic Salcombe Bolthole
This is all sound advice from Katie. We have also worked with other owners who made the decision to move away from the holiday letting agency they had previously relied on.
Richard owns Malvern Hills Lodge along with his wife Lois. Here he explains what made them decide to go it alone:
“Our little booking agent was bought up and consumed by one of the mega behemoths of the booking agency world. So we were now lumped in with 21,000 other properties! I’m no genius – by any stretch – but we could well foresee that our bookings would quietly bomb on this new platform. Purely down to the fact we are nowhere near as visible as we used to be! … Jo and the team from ACT have delivered us, what I think is a great little website. Which portrays our property in the light we wish it to be seen in and more importantly allows us to operate independently of a booking agent! … We’re really pleased with it and I hope the guys from ACT are proud of it too. A special mention has to be given to Melissa – I never spoke with her, but she had a large part in piecing it all together and helping refine the website into what we have today.”
Since their standalone website went live in June 2022, they have gone from strength to strength. They decided not to leave the agency until they had honoured all of their existing bookings. However, in the 6 months following launch only 10% of their bookings came via the agency (there’s been zero bookings from them since).
Between 1 July 2022 and 30 Jun 2023, a quarter of their bookings came direct from their own website, 34% via their social media pages (Instagram, Facebook and TikTok), 20% via their listing on membership booking websites (CoolStays and ToWander) and 16% from Word Of Mouth recommendations or repeat bookings. So that’s effectively 95% direct bookings.
And it gets even better. In 2023, pretty much 100% of their bookings have been direct or repeat bookings. What a result!
Richard is not alone. There are thousands of owners across the UK who are taking control of their own holiday accommodation business. If you’re thinking about joining them, please book a call. We can chat about how we can help you to get started.