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Vacation rental marketing guy Alan Egan  By Alan Egan

The evolution of the vacation rental marketplace

Chlorinating the vacation rental genepool…

vacation rental marketing evolution 1

In 1859 Charles Darwin published his book On The Origin Of Species which famously focused on evolutionary theory. Just this week the book has been voted the most influential academic book in history.

What’s that got to do with the vacation rental business?  I hear you ask!

Well today I would like to take a look at the evolution of vacation rental marketing.

First off I should mention that, as you know, marketing isn’t always easy.
It isn’t like mathematics – it’s not cast in stone.

Marketing evolves.
imagesAnd as we know evolution can be, and generally is, a slow process.

What makes things harder for us as marketeers is the fact that marketing and technology don’t sit well together.

The trouble is technology advances quickly, so what worked in a marketing environment yesterday doesn’t work within the new technology world of today and tomorrow.

vacation rental marketing evolution 2

As an example, up until the 1940’s and 50’s radio had pretty much dominated media for some time but then technology bought television to the people and we had a whole new medium.

Being a new media the marketers of the time hadn’t had any time to evolve to this new visual world so they actually did little more than play their radio adverts on the television.
They just added some pretty basic visuals (see the ‘classic’ examples below).

This was of course the wrong marketing material playing on the wrong medium and was massively less effective than the more refined TV adverts that you see today 70 odd years later.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I’m telling you this because exactly the same thing has happened in the vacation rental world.[/pullquote]

In the beginning VR owners had little choice in the way of advertising. They certainly couldn’t afford to advertise on TV. They were generally limited to word of mouth promotion through friends, family and colleagues.

The only other option was print media.

print media

The problem with print was that you paid by the word and it wasn’t cheap – although adding a photograph was an option it was an expensive course of action.

As a result holiday home owners ended up posting short classified ads of a few words together with a contact phone number. The few owners that could afford to add a photo did so and these ads stood out among the pages of text only offerings.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Then the internet was born. So what did we do?[/pullquote]

Well, we did the equivalent of playing radio advertisements on the TV.

We built websites that were little more than classified adverts. Sure enough we could add photographs but these were slow to load so were relatively small. We expanded our copy text and listed the appliances in our homes. That was it. New media, old marketing method.

When I built my first listing site I actually photographed maps and overlaid map pins showing where the property was located in relation to the nearest attractions. There was no Google maps in those days and I think I was one of the first to do this. I also transcribed comments from our guest books and included these for each listing. Again no one was doing this at the time. I also hand coded slide shows but these took an age to load and did not make for a great viewing experience.

The advances in technology between then and now have been enormous but if you look at listing sites and owners websites today little has changed. Sure enough we can add large photos and more of them, we have sliders, we can embed video and maps are now interactive.

But that’s about it when it comes to what’s offered.

We now have the ability to add a truely unlimited amount of information regarding every aspect of a guests vacation but owners and listings sites focus solely on the accommodation they have to offer.

They haven’t evolved.

Potential guests and fee paying guests now expect information on tap and if they don’t get it from your website they will go elsewhere in order to get the advice and information that they are looking for.

If they go elsewhere you may well lose them.

VR websites could and, more importantly, should become destination portals encompassing every aspect of a visitors needs.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Owners need to become virtual hosts that share a host of information.[/pullquote]

This includes pages of activities, things to see and do, an up to date local what’s on guide, personal recommendations on where to eat and little known places to visit, attractions (their opening times, directions of how to get to them and what they cost) family days out and the list goes on. And on.

Natural selection


Naturally we want our properties to be selected by potential guests.

But Darwin described natural selection as the process whereby organisms (owners and managers) better adapted to their environment (the marketplace) tend to survive and produce more offspring (bookings / happy guests).

So putting this into a modern perspective: in order to survive, owners, and managers, need to adapt to their environment – But they haven’t or at least very few have.

Survival of the fittest

After reading Darwin’s book Herbert Spencer coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ and this is exceptionally apt for the VR sector. We are in an over populated marketplace (think Wildebeest) and it’s still growing at a crazy rate. Nearly all existing websites and listings sites are weak in survival and marketing terms.

Owners that adapt into new environments and embrace the new possibilities will become stronger in marketing terms and the weak will simply be left at the wayside.

The birth and growth of social media

vacation rental marketing evolution 3

So 10 or so years ago social media was born and this time we were presented with a new media within a media.
So what did we do?
Well, we fired off those same types of classified ads from our print days. Once again our evolution didn’t really adapt to these new surroundings created by technology. In fact most are still taking this outdated ‘look at what I’ve got’ approach, as you can see from this recent Flipkey ‘advert’.

Bad vacation rental marketing

The ironic thing when it comes to social media is that we don’t have to evolve at all really. We have all learned to behave socially from an early age.

We just haven’t made the connection to use that trait in our marketing up until recently.

Social media is now the most popular activity on the internet. We have all adapted quite quickly to using it personally. It plays a big part in most peoples lives. But very few have the correct approach when it comes to business within the social enviroment.

So why is it that owners, managers and listings companies that have a presence on social media tend to try and sell what they have to offer instead of enticing potential guests by talking about the actual reasons that people visit an area in the first place? Why aren’t they being social?

Bad VR tweet

Well it boils down to the tortoise pace of evolution and peoples reluctance to change.

At the end of the day it comes down to the survival of the fittest and those that evolve a strategy around the technology will find themselves heading the natural selection.

Those that don’t will be heading for The Dawrin awards and that’s not a place that you want to be.

If you would like to know more about social marketing and how it can increase your bookings please watch the video below. It’s some of my keynote session from this years vacation rental world summit.

It’s around 40 minutes long but that’s a lot shorter than waiting for mainstream marketing to evolve.

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