Loyalty vs simplicity for keys – the vacation rental dilemma

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Today I had what seemed a helpful message from an online travel agency that I list with.

“Let us know where guests can pick-up the keys

Quickly tell us where guests can pick-up the keys so you don’t have to worry about explaining it each time a new guest stays.”

Sounds good, easy for the guest and you, BUT … I say no!

The “but” is that this particular OTA (Booking.com) masks your guest’s email address and censors messages. Keeping the key details in your control gives you leverage to withhold the key details until you get your guest’s full personal email address.  No keys until you get the full address!

Why should you want the full email address?

There are two vital reasons.

1 Your loyalty program

You should keep the option open to be able to email past guests for any reason any time.  The OTAs remove emails after a while, and you have literally no way to contact past guests by email. Once guests stay you can get their permission to go onto your newsletter and if you have the guest personal email you now have a fabulous way of keeping in touch, sending offers and marketing to your own guests.  Remember, it is so much cheaper to get a repeat guest than to acquire a new one.

2 Transparent emails without censorship

With your guest’s direct email, you can send attachments and telephone numbers direct to your guest, knowing they will get them in their entirety.  Guests can also send you any details and they will all come through untouched.

It is well known that OTA robots may censor messages removing attachments and any other information.  Last week, my OTA guest tried to send me his telephone number via the OTA messaging service, but the robots stripped it out, twice, and he had no way of knowing. 

Once I have the email address, I send a personalised welcome, with handy attachments – and the key details.  They always go through untouched and I often get guests’ messages thanking me for the handy attachments – like the best local places to eat.

Your details, your choice.

Different hosts have different styles.

  • For some the guest transaction is a commodity that should be as hands off and simple as possible, no loyalty program. For such hosts revealing the key arrangements automatically will be a step forward, and that is fine.
  • For disorganised hosts, they sometimes forget to pass on the key information. Recently my cleaner was asked for help by a passing desperate locked out guest. The host simply forgot to send them the information!  These hosts should also automate the key process.
  • For other hosts – like me – the relationship is critical. A path to loyalty, word of mouth recommendations, newsletter and lots of repeat bookings. An email address is a critical part of all that. By controlling the key information, I have 100% success in getting the email address.

But it is your choice, weigh up carefully how you allow your key information to be revealed.

In a later post I will explore the various ways that guests actually get the keys, there are many and new emerging ways to do it!


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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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