How to Double Your Bookings with a Stellar Vacation Rental Listing

Astrid LindstromLeave a Comment

Crystal Peak Lodge

You own a lovely property in a popular destination, and all your renters love staying there. So why is your calendar empty?

Almost invariably, what’s standing between you and higher profits isn’t your property: it’s your vacation rental listing.

The first thing we do when a new owner signs up with Evolve is create a stellar property listing. Without fail, we see the booking rates jump – on average, to about double the former rate.

We’ve created professional listings for over 1,700 properties at this point, and our formula for crafting a listing that gets tons of bookings is unrivaled. Even better – we’re about to share exactly how we do it with you.

One of our owners, Cindy, was kind enough to let us use her property in Breckenridge, Colorado as a before-and-after example.

After we applied the 5 tips we’re about to outline in this guide for you, her rental income has increased by 122% over the prior year!

Want to get the same results? Let’s dive in.

Make a Great First Impression: Headline and Cover Photo

Your cover photo and headline are the first things a traveler sees when browsing through search results on popular websites like VRBO or Airbnb. Looking at these before-and-after screenshots, which listing do you find more appealing?

VRBO Screenshot

New VRBO Listing

We think you’ll agree that the second option creates a superior first impression.

The photo is well-lit and shows a large portion of the property. It has a view of the gondola right outside the window, which lets you know that “ski-in/ski-out” isn’t just an expression. Already, the traveler realizes that staying in this property offers him far more than just a bed for the night.

The second listing also offers appealing features in its headline: free WiFi, a private balcony, and amazing views.

Travelers frequently search for properties not only by area, but by keyword. This means that if they’re searching for “Breckenridge vacation rental free WiFi”, they’ll find this listing.

Even if they’re searching within a listing site, if a traveler sees one listing that says “Breckenridge condo” and the other says “Breckenridge condo with WiFi”, he’s much more likely to click on the property that offers him a little more for his money.

Takeaway #1: To convince more travelers to click on your listing, you need a great headline and cover photo that demonstrate the best features of your property. 

Give the Inside Scoop: The Description

Your traveler already knows a bit about your location – that’s why he’s searching for properties in the area. This means it’s essential not only to describe the amenities available in the area, but the virtues of the property itself.

Our owner, Cindy, had done a nice job of providing some insight into the amenities around the property, but hadn’t described the condo. Here’s her previous description of the property:

The condo is beautifully furnished with much of the furniture being custom made locally from the lodge pole pine tree. It is beautifully decorated in an upscale rustic mountain décor. Charming, relaxing, and beautiful.

The entire remainder of her description focused on the skiing options, the neighboring lodge’s amenities, and the available activities. These are all good things to mention! But since there are many options for vacation rentals within the same development that all provide access to these activities, we need a good reason for our traveler to pick this home over any other.

Which means we need to describe what it’s really like to stay in this property, like so:

This luxurious property has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and enough sleeping arrangements for up to 6 guests to spread out comfortably throughout an impressive 1,103 square feet of living space, making it an ideal accommodation choice for a family or a group of close friends looking for the ultimate mountain experience.

You’ll feel right at home the moment you step inside the condo’s beautiful interior, boasting extravagant furnishings, cozy wood touches and an elegant stone gas fireplace. Massive windows throughout the unit frame expansive views of the surrounding alpine scenery and the neighboring gondola, creating a dazzling backdrop for your trip.

The welcoming condo has everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay, including wireless internet access, central heating and 3 flat screen TVs with cable and DVD players – sure to appease all your entertainment needs during your vacation.

That’s a lot more information. We certainly didn’t skimp on our description of the surrounding amenities within the actual listing, but now our traveler has a great reason to pick this owner’s property over one of the neighboring units.

Takeaway #2: To stay ahead of your competition, showcase the virtues of your property in the description – not just the amenities of the area. 

Show, Don’t Tell: Photography

You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.

That may be true, but some pictures speak much more eloquently than others.

Before we optimized this listing, it had 13 amateur quality photos taken by a regular camera. They showed the basics of the property, but they were poorly lit due to lack of professional equipment, making the property seem darker and duller than it really is. Many property listings have this problem, since few owners have access to the type of equipment and lighting that make a room look bright and inviting.

Professional photos make a property look much more like it does in real life.

Tell us: which room would you rather step into?

Entryway Before

Before: This appears to be a photo of a mirror reflecting a door. It tells us very little about the property, though it does speak well of the owner’s taste in knickknacks.

Entryway After

After: This is a photo of a well-lit entryway with beautiful furnishings and gorgeous wood doors. This seems like a lovely way to start a vacation.

Living Room Before

Before: This is a photo of the side of a comfortable chair. There’s also a fireplace over to one side, and a couple of wine glasses on the table. Looks pretty dark in there.

Livingroom After

After: This is a photo of a beautifully decorated living room featuring a stone fireplace. It seems bright and comfortable and cozy.

Living Room 2 Before

Before: This is a photo of … we can’t tell. Maybe the lamp? Maybe of the red pillow? You can see about half of a couch and a chair, too. What should we be looking at?

Living room 2 After

After: Ah, the same living room from another angle. You can see now that the living room opens out into a lovely kitchen with an island and side chairs.

Bedroom Before

Before: This is a bed. Hard to tell how big the room is, but it seems a nice enough bed. What’s that on the bed? What’s that next to it? Is this what it will look like when a traveler comes to stay?

Bedroom After

After: This is a bedroom ready for a tired traveler to come and stay in it, from a wide enough angle that we can see the room feels spacious. Looks professional and ready for guests.

The last set is perhaps the most striking before-and-after, since the angle is nearly identical. You can clearly see that the professional photographer was able to get a shot that gives a much better impression of the room as a whole.

However, lovely as these pictures make the property look, it’s not only important that you have high-quality photos.

It’s also important that you have the correct number of photos.

Listing sites like VRBO and Airbnb reward owners who use more photos by placing the property higher in their search results. We’ve found that the magic number is 24 photos or more. Any less, and you risk your property being ranked below someone with just a few more photos.

Takeaway #3: To rank higher in listing sites and get more travelers to book, you need at least 24 professional-quality photos on your listing. 

Book It: Responsiveness and Updates

You’ve created a stellar headline and description and gotten professional-quality photos of your beautiful property. Your hard work is paying off with lots of travelers becoming interested in booking your listing.

This is where our sample owner, Cindy, ran into a snag.

We took this screenshot October 26th, and Cindy last updated her calendar on the 19th – which means any potential travelers wouldn’t have a lot of confidence that the property is still available for the dates they want.

This hurdle could, possibly, be overcome if they could get the owner to quickly confirm the property’s availability.

But if you look on the right side of the original listing, you’ll notice that Cindy’s response time was within 2 days.

ResponseRate

That might seem like a reasonable response time, but today’s travelers are accustomed to making decisions almost immediately, and they’ll often book with someone else if they don’t think they can get a response quickly.

According to TripAdvisor, travelers are twice as likely to book if they can get a response within 24 hours as opposed to our owner’s 48-hour standard.

Better yet, if the traveler can get a response within 6 hours, they’re 4 times more likely to book.

To optimize this listing, our owner would need to answer the phone as promptly as possible, preferably within 6 hours or less. The owner wasn’t prepared commit to such a rapid response herself, so she employed Evolve to do it for her.

Evolve's Response Rate

You’ll see that the response time is now within 1 hour, and the calendar is updated daily. Travelers can now make bookings secure in the knowledge that they’ll be confirmed promptly.

Assuming, of course, that the property requires a response to take the booking.

A 2012 study by HomeAway showed that 92% of travelers prefer to book online, and will choose properties that provide this option over those that don’t. Prior to hiring Evolve, Cindy wasn’t able to offer instant booking on her listing. With our Travel Advisors vetting and responding to booking requests immediately, she now benefits from a listing the converts at much higher rates.

Instant QuoteOnline Booking

Takeaway #4: Owners who offer instant booking, an updated calendar, and a quick response rate get more bookings. To maximize your income, you need to either provide these services yourself, or find someone who can do it for you. 

Maximize Your Income: Optimized Rates

Before we optimized this listing, the owner only had 2 rate periods and a single minimum-stay requirement to cover the entire calendar year.

During the high season, these rates were quite reasonable – in fact, this owner was leaving money on the table during the holiday weeks when demand is the greatest.

During the low season, her rates were often much higher than surrounding properties, virtually guaranteeing that her property would be viewed as too expensive. Travelers who think they can get a better rate elsewhere usually will.

To make sure that this owner’s rates were competitive no matter what time of year travelers were looking to book, Evolve’s team of analysts examined comparable properties in the surrounding area and developed a competitive rate structure with 16 different rate periods.

Optimized Rates

16 rate periods! It can seem like overkill to some owners, but what they may not realize is that “high season” and “low season” aren’t the only seasons around. Take a look at the last item in the new pricing structure, for example: that’s a specific rate and minimum stay requirement for President’s Day weekend, which tends to be the busiest weekend of the ski season.

Takeaway #5: To be sure you aren’t leaving money on the table, your listing should include multiple rate periods that factor in your competitor’s availability and rates. 

What Results Can You Expect from a Stellar Listing?

We’ve demonstrated, we hope, that a stellar listing looks superior on the surface. But now for the million dollar question – how does it perform?

Within the first 3 days of the new listing going live, Cindy’s property received 3 separate bookings for a total of 16 nights, earning the her over $8,500.

Over the next few weeks, Evolve booked all of the highest-fee nights for the property, earning our owner far more rental income than she would have with her previous “high season” rate.

How much more?

Well, Cindy tells us she earned about $23,000 during last year’s ski season.

With Evolve, she’s earned $51,158 during the same period – and ski season isn’t over yet.

That means Cindy has already earned over $28,000 more this year, for an astounding 122% improvement in her rental income. 

With results like that, it’s easy to see how important it is to create and maintain a high-quality vacation rental listing.

Here’s an at-a-glance look at what Cindy’s property looked like before and after we created a stellar listing for her:

AT A GLANCE

BEFORE

    • Headline: Not optimized
    • Description: Not optimized
    • Images: 13 Amateur Photos
    • Response Time: 2 days
    • Calendar Updates: Weekly
    • Rates: 2 Rate Periods
    • Online Booking: No

AFTER

    • Headline: Optimized
    • Description: Optimized
    • Images: 24 Professional Photos
    • Response Time: 1 Hour
    • Calendar Updates: Daily
    • Rates: 16 Rate Periods
    • Online Booking: Yes

Are You Willing to Put in the Work?

When we sign up an owner, the first thing we do is follow every step in this article. We create the listing, send a professional photographer to shoot the property, research ideal booking rates, and keep a team of Travel Advisors standing by 7 days a week to maintain that prompt response time.

Over 1,500 owners use our service, which means we have a pretty large pool of before-and-after comparisons. Some owners see incredible changes in their bookings – quadruple their previous number, often at higher rates than they thought they could command.

Other properties were already pretty popular, and their bookings increase at a more modest rate after they get a professional listing – but their rates are typically higher because travelers are willing to spend more given the quality of what they see on the listing site.

One constant remains: the owner’s vacation rental income goes UP.

We’ve put a lot of work into becoming exceptional at creating listings travelers love to book, and we’ve seen this formula work time and again. The question is: are you prepared to invest the time to do it yourself?

If you’re prepared to make the effort, we know you’ll see amazing results. Use the tips we’ve outlined here as a guide, and let us know how it works out!

If you want to earn more rental income but don’t have time optimize your listing, we are here to help! Speak with one of our Homeowner Consultants today by calling 877.818.1014 (press 2) or click here to learn more about Evolve.