Last-minute stays have always been popular among spontaneous travellers and cost-conscious guests looking for exclusive deals.
But now that COVID-19 travel restrictions have made it impossible to plan ahead, most travellers wait as long as they can to book their accommodation. The average booking window has reduced drastically. Last-minute bookings have become the norm across the board.
Our internal statistics show that in August 2020, 26.59% of all travellers booked 1-6 days out, compared to 21.07% in August 2019. Nearly 76% booked within 30 days of travel, which is a 9% increase from last year.
The trend is clear – but how can property managers ride the wave and increase their occupancy with last-minute bookings?
Let’s explore the most effective vacation rental marketing tactics that you can use to attract last-minute bookings, monetise expiring inventory and make up for cancellations.
We’ll give you tips on how to set last-minute discounts and get you acquainted with the best last-minute channels to get listed on.
When it comes to attracting last-minute bookings, pricing is key. Travellers who book a few days out expect to find bargain prices on OTAs. Your competitors are likely to apply price reductions to their expiring listings – and if you want to stay in the game, you need to do the same.
Setting a reasonable last-minute discount can have many positive effects. First of all, any booking is better than no booking, and some revenue is better than zero revenue – especially during times of low demand.
Secondly, discounts can help you rank higher in OTAs and increase your conversion rate. And thirdly, they can get you included in merchandising initiatives run by OTAs (for example, Booking.com’s deals page).
Airbnb last-minute discounts
Airbnb offers a last-minute discount pricing option so that you can reduce your nightly rate as the check-in date gets closer.
If you set a true discount – at least 10% lower than your usual rate – the price will appear crossed out in search results and on the listing page. This is beneficial because it shows that your offering a deal and guests are more likely to book with you.
You can set up last-minute discounts from your Airbnb account or from your channel manager if you’re using an Airbnb channel manager like Rentals United.
Booking.com last-minute promotions
Booking.com created their promotions feature to help property managers get bookings when they need them the most. For example, when they’re trying to sell out last-minute inventory.
Last-minute promotions are easy to set up and you can even see how much offering a promotion has increased your revenue in the Booking.com extranet.
You can set up last-minute promotions by logging into Booking.com or using a channel manager like Rentals United that connects to Booking.com and has implemented the Booking.com Promotions API.
Property managers who had the foresight to build a mailing list in the past months or years are going to have an advantage when they need to sell properties last-minute.
For example, if you managed to collect the email addresses of guests who have booked with you before, you can send them an email with special last-minute discounts.
This could be a good opportunity to generate a repeat booking and lock in a last-minute stay at the same time. Not to mention that gestures like this build loyalty and brand awareness.
If you have a social media following, you can also share last-minute deals with your community. Just make sure you add a link to your website so they book directly with you instead of an OTA.
Our last and perhaps most effective tip is to get listed on channels that specialise in last-minute stays.
These bookings sites can get your listings in front of travellers who are specifically looking for last-minute stays. The listings that stand out to them will be the ones that offer the best discounts and tick some other boxes too – like the amenities they’re looking for.
Here are two fantastic last-minute channels that can instantly increase your bookings and help fill the gaps in your calendar:
Snaptrip is a member of the Rest Easy Group, whose portfolio of sites – including Last Minute Cottages, Dog Friendly Cottages, Big Cottages and the recently launched LateCottages – cater to a range of specialist niches.
Focusing on last-minute bookings, SnapTrip helps property managers generate bookings for their properties when they would otherwise go empty.
“Like the rest of the sector, we have seen a huge surge in bookings overall over the past 3 months. Whilst the most-booked rural areas remain highly popular (Cornwall, Devon, North Yorkshire), the main differences we’ve seen in behaviour is more of a shift to last-minute (bookings within 30 days),” says Joshua James, COO at Snaptrip.
Snaptrip offers more than 60.000 holiday cottages, lodges, log cabins and apartments around the UK.
“Whilst we’ve always been focussed on last-minute, this has amplified during 2020 as increased uncertainty and ever-changing government guidelines have made planning ahead more difficult,” Joshua says.
Joshua and his team have also noticed an increase in the average length of stay. Since people can now work from home, are unable to travel internationally and have holiday days saved up, they’re more likely to book longer stays.
According to Joshua, Snaptrip and the group’s other sites all target underserved niches and focus on giving customers the greatest choice and the best price.
“With this aim and our breadth of traffic, we are able to drive incremental bookings for PMs,” he says.
Joshua’s advice for property managers looking to increase their last-minute bookings is to work with Snaptrip and provide them with live availability. And, he also says to “be agile and have good relationships with owners so as to deal with super last-minute requests such as next day, or even same day check-ins.”
Did you know that Snaptrip is one of the 18 new channels coming soon to Rentals United?
You’ll soon be able to update your pricing, availability and calendars automatically on Snaptrip with the Rentals United channel manager!
Whimstay specalises in helping property managers liquidate expiring inventory, providing them with access to a last-minute value-based traveller.
“Whimstay is a complementary channel in a complete distribution strategy,” says Brad Solso, CEO at Whimstay. “It helps maximize your unit revenue, without adversely impacting your brand or your premium pricing for advanced bookings.”
Recently, Brad and his team have seen an increase in last-minute bookings as a result of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
However, as he points out, last-minute travel as a category “continues to expand as the pandemic shifts travel to a more local model and different use cases (e.g. work from home, just not your home) emerge.”
The best way to prepare for last-minute stays, according to Brad, is to focus on your rentals’ cleanliness, as this is currently the most important concern expressed by travellers.
It’s also important to know your customer – and consider their unique needs.
“For instance, the needs of a remote worker may be considerably different than a family on a weekend getaway. At Whimstay, we reach out to every traveler to gather information about the trip and the traveler,” Brad says.
We’re proud to say that Whimstay will soon be among the 60+ channels that Rentals United users can connect to, so you can manage your listings on Whimstay directly from our channel management platform.
“Our integration to Rentals United allows you to set your pricing in your property management system without any maintenance on the Whimstay site,” says Brad.
Do you know any other last-minute channels that we missed?
If you want more distribution tips that work, download the Getting Bookings in 2020-2021 ebook!
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