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How to use email marketing to increase repeat visits

In a previous  article,  I explained that small vacation rental  owners can use email marketing to future proof  their business through repeat guests.  (Future proofing)

In this article I show you why email marketing works and how it works.

Michelle’s complaint – why email marketing works

Recently our friend  Michelle said she hadn’t been on holiday down our way for a long time.  It was 6 years since she had stayed at the nearby town of Lorne, Victoria.  Then she stopped and complained.  “Why didn’t they keep in touch?  I’ve forgotten all about it. I loved it.  If they kept in touch I would have come back.”

Email is remarkably simple. It is just keeping in touch.  Not selling or pestering, just keeping in touch.  And it works.


The Psychology of email marketing

If you have a typical vacation rental, most folks who stayed with you loved the experience.  Just look at your visitor book comments.  Chances are they said they loved it and said they will come back….. but then life just got in the way.

We are all bombarded with information.   An active social media user processes about 50,000 words a day.    To stay sane our brain helps us by deleting 99.99% of these images and ideas.  Holiday experiences are the same, covered over in the avalanche of information.  But holiday experiences create rich experiential memories, sleeping  just below the surface.  They can be triggered back to life by someone making contact, just keeping in touch.

An email marketing system is just a simple way of keeping in touch, saying ‘we are still here, here is what is happening and we have a current deal going for you’.

Does it work?

Yes,  it works.  Every time I send out an email to my past guests, the same things happen:

  • Someone takes the deal offered in the email
  • Several folks say thanks for the email, sorry I can’t take up your offer just now, but we are thinking of coming back
  • Several people say ‘put me on your last minute list’

Then there appears to be silence, but some on the list are already starting to plan their next

visit. In the following weeks emails start appearing. ‘ We have been thinking about coming back.  Would this date work?’  Then they book.

Through a simple email we have subtly brought our past guests’  minds back to their happy last visit.  That visit was familiar, comfortable, easy – and it is so convenient for another visit!

Do people get annoyed?

No.  Provided your tone is helpful rather than ‘salesy’, most guests enjoy keeping in touch and some will email to say so.  A tiny few will prefer to be taken off the list, which is why every email must have an easy unsubscribe option, so the guest feels in total control.  If you do it well, the number unsubscribing will be tiny.  My unsubscribes are way under 1% of past guests.  Of course privacy and spam laws also require you to have an unsubscribe option.

What goes in the email?

Ideally the guest will enjoy reading your email, so typically it will have

  • some local news that is interesting, perhaps with an interesting image
  • an offer that is attractive enough now to keep opening emails in the future

There are a few other basic items:

  • A greeting
  • Some reminder to your guests that they are valued – a direct booking discount is a nice touch
  • Invitation to sign up for last minute offers
  • An easy link to your calendar
  • Unsubscribe option

Over time you can add other features like first name in the greeting, automation, more photos, etc.   I’ll explain the nitty gritty ‘how to’ in the next article.  It is not that hard!

Example basic email

Here is a basic  example, nothing fancy. Something that anyone with a standard email account can create and send.

It has the key parts you need for  an email to your past guests:  subject; news; offer; unsubscribe.  The content is similar to an actual email I sent  to past guests.

Simple email to guests
Simple email to guests


Printable pdf version here.

Example advanced email

Next is an advanced example with personalised greeting, enhanced graphics, and automated unsubscribe ability. The kind of email you produce from a system like Mailchimp, which I use.

It is a bit harder to set up first time, but much easier to administer ongoing.  All the bounces and unsubscribes are handled in the background without you having to do a thing.

By including images you can make it that bit more interesting for your readers.  For example, the pic of the Koala sitting in a water trough here is far more interesting than a description alone.

Example advanced guest email
Example advanced guest email


Open the printable version here.


 Is sending emails to past guests OK?  Or is it spam?

Privacy laws allow you to email a party that you have a business arrangement with such as a paying guest.  However you must give them the option to unsubscribe.

How often are emails sent?

This is a case of less is more.  Once every month or two is OK, providing it is interesting and useful for your past guests.

Weekly would be a horrible mistake, verging on spam.  You would soon deplete your list and damage your  delicate relationship with your guests.

You are also better served sending a newsletter prior to a quiet season, rather than before your peak season when you are fully booked anyway.

What makes interesting news?

It is easier than you might think.

If you are in an area that is close to nature, you have a huge list of material.  What is happening in the changing seasons. What the birds and animals are doing. New places you have discovered for walks or drives.  In our case we have a Whale viewing season, bird breeding seasons with new fledglings visiting, waterfalls, rainbows, etc

If you are in a wine growing region, there are the seasonal  vine changes, harvesting, winemaking, new restaurants, events, etc

If you are in an urban area, you can report on the new cafes and restaurants and your new eating experiences, upcoming festivals, places to visit, etc

Tip: Keep a list of ideas and add to them from time to time, so you are ready when it is time for the newsletter.   Also accumulate interesting photos that you might use as part of a story.

What is a  ‘Last Minute’ list?

Some people such as shift workers can only book a week or so ahead, so find it attractive to join your ‘Last minute’ list.  You offer guests the opportunity to join in your ‘last minute’ list, and later you send those on that list a separate email about a hard to fill last-minute vacancy.  They can grab the last minute opportunity, and you can increase your occupancy.  Win-win.

How hard is it to do all this?

The hardest part is starting!  You can write a basic email  newsletter in half an hour, and it might take another hour to make up a distribution list of past guests.  It can be that easy.

What kind of subject line works best?

You will have heard that the subject line is most important factor in whether the email is opened.  There is a mountain of information on this, but fortunately for email to our guests, the answer is easy.  Simple is best.

The experts have found that for a regular newsletter,  telling your readers just what it is about eg ‘Sea Zen newsletter’, is more effective than something catchy and misleading.  Your readers are not stupid.  After reading your first few newsletters they will have made up their minds to open or not.  If it adds value they will open it.  If you mislead them, they will unsubscribe.

Also the software systems sending and receiving emails have filters that block emails that are suspiciously like spam.  Simple and honest goes straight past those filters.

Why would I bother with all this?  One more time …

Let’s remember why email marketing is so powerful for your rental.

Our changing world is dominated by large websites that can change their prices and rules overnight.   To be independent of them we should be increasing repeat guests, which we are uniquely placed to do, due to our intimate contact with our guests.

Email marketing  gives you a simple way to keep intimate with your past guests, to bring your rental property  top of mind and for them to come back to your rental directly.

That is, you can have more return guests at zero marketing cost.  Then, if the big websites do push up their prices it will have minimum impact on your business.  You will have future-proofed your business. The best part is that it is free and anyone can do it!

The nitty gritty details

In my next article I will go into tips and tools, including automation and how to write a newsletter.  Stay tuned!


Do you send email newsletters to your guests?  Leave a comment and tell us how it works – or doesn’t work –  for you.

Help your colleagues.   If you found this article useful, please forward to a colleague in the industry.

Here’s to your holiday rental mastery!





8 Responses

  1. Thanks Rex
    Another interesting topic.
    And yes, newsletters and emails do work.
    You just have to find the time, make it interesting, but most importantly, commit to it on a regular basis, say quarterly at a minimum.
    Keep up the good work

  2. Hey Rex,
    Thanks for the reminder! I was talking about mailings with Paola Gheis from CasitaSitges.com (http://www.casitasitges.com) just yesterday as she said it was a priority on her to do list, so no article could be at a better timing. I’m just forwarding the link to her right now.
    Hope things are going well down under and I look forward to the day when I’ll come visit Sea Zen with my wife 🙂

  3. Dear readers, I need to come clean here and acknowledge the advice and support about email marketing that I have received from Bryan, who is a consummate master of email marketing to his past guests. Thanks so much Bryan!

  4. Thank you Antonio for forwarding on. Coming from a guru like yourself, it is very encouraging! Paula is fortunate to have your help.
    Speed the day that you come to Sea Zen! We are ready for you.

  5. Hi Rex, yes yes, I am very lucky and fortunate to have Antonio’s help :-)) (and thanks Antonio for copying me on this blog!).
    This is the perfect timing to read your great article Rex, thanks much. I will subscribe and will look forward to learn the automation tricks you will teach us. I am procrastinating with the newsletter mainly because I have to start creating the distribution list and I know the longer I wait, the more time consuming will be. That said, I know I must do this marketing effort. I tried it for Christmas to keep in touch with those guests from 2014 that I really really liked and wanted them back. I sent just 10 customised letters and I got 1 booking in return! not bad for such short distribution list. Thanks for all your insight on how to write a good newsletter, highly appreciated! Paola

  6. I hope it goes well Paula. I think we are all guilty of procrastination. I have to confess that I once spent a day planning how to get started on emails, but it took less than an hour to actually collect the email distribution list going back several years.
    Getting started is the hardest – doing something different for the first time!

  7. Enjoyed the article Rex. I’ve been in touch with a few past guests already and I haven’t had many (compared to your other subscribers as I’m new to market) and 95% responded – I emailed them for some feedback of another property I want to list and they provided me with great feedback.

    I totally agree that many owners are fearful of being intrusive or being perceived (by previous guests) as being too salesy.

    But, if you don’t ask you don’t get!!! and whether an owner chooses to email, once, a month, bi monthly or every six months, it’s good practice to stay in touch – remember that an email is a great way to show previous guests, that you remember them and that you value them highly …..which we all do – for without them we wouldn’t be in business. It’ s all about perspective – so no need to fear!! – like Rex says, if someone doesn’t want to be included on email list, then they can unsubscribe.
    thanks Rex

  8. Very interesting thanks Danka.
    Although not exactly email newsletter contact, your response from recent guests about a specific question at 95% is amazingly high. It shows you have made a strong rapport, and they still value it. Over time, it would usually fade, and it will be interesting to see the response you get from your newsletter further down the track. Knowing your style, I expect response will be still high.

Comments are closed.

My name is Rex Brown. I live in Australia, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I run two of my holiday rentals here on the coast, and another in inner Melbourne . They are all quite different, but they all run at high occupancy. They are the sandpit that I play in, running constant experiments about what works and what doesn’t.

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