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Vacation Rental Management Conference: Holiday Rental Mastery author Rex Brown on creating guest loyalty

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This article is part of our Rental Scale-Up vacation rental management conference series. This is an extract from our May 2020 conference: “How villa and holiday rental managers are navigating the COVID-19 crisis in Southeast Asia and Oceania.”

Vacation Rental Management Conference: Holiday Rental Mastery’s Rex & Sibylle Brown

Rex Brown has run his own vacation rentals in Australia for over 20 years. His prior career in corporate brings a systematic approach to the rental market, and his study of the psychology of behaviour brings a new insight into guest bookings. His properties have run constantly at high occupancy in challenging markets.

Vacation Rental Management Conference: Video From The 2020 Southeast Asia & Oceania Conference

  • Rex and Sibylle are property owners in Australia. Their property, Sea Zen, is set on the Great Ocean Road.
    • Rex comes from a corporate marketing background, and they’ve operated a few properties.
  • Australia closed its borders in late February in response to the coronavirus situation, while the country typically receives millions of international travelers.
    • Australians still cannot travel across state lines.
  • Many short-term rentals in Australia have gotten off Airbnb and similar sites in order to target long-term renters since the demand for short-term rentals is very low right now.
  • Rex sends a monthly newsletter which his guests love. His formula is to inform about what’s happening on property and to entertain.
  • Rex recently conducted a newsletter “experiment,” in which he sent out a newsletter containing a few snippets of positive news and an offer to join a special “hot list” to gain access to a discount only available to the newsletter subscribers (not on the OTAs). These reservations would have free cancellation, and the guests can pay after they arrive, so it’s very low risk.
    • He got 22 new reservations within a day of sending the newsletter! Many guests also wrote personal notes saying how much they miss traveling.
  • Rex and Sibylle realized that both themselves and the guests are faced with uncertainty about travel restrictions in the future. By allowing guests to book now and pay when they stay, Rex and Sibylle can avoid more potential time-consuming refunds, so the policy is actually good for them (the property managers) and the guests.
  • They take care to curate a list of prior guests who had great experiences. 
  • Rex is active in the local tourism community and government agencies, and he’s been able to participate in government funds being allocated to his area to recover from disasters in the past. He will work to influence government policies so that the short-term rental industry stays front of mind for local politicians.
  • He is also pushing the local government to reopen tourism (even for domestic travelers) as soon as it’s safe to do so.
  • Rex will share his successful newsletter so other property managers can find inspiration for their own communication with guests.

Vacation Rental Management Conference: Full Conversation Between Rex & Sibylle Brown And Thibault Masson

Thibault:

Dear Rental Scale-Up members, thank you for joining us for this new session. I’m here with Sibylle and Rex Brown. They are in Australia and they have an amazing property on the great ocean road, which should ring a bell to Australian Watchers. So they are both very experimented when it comes to holiday rentals. So much so that Rex has a very famous newsletter called the holiday rental mastering. And she’s actually a program we’ll be talking about this also. We’ll be talking about how they have adapted their business to be able to be ready for the recovery. So how, what are they doing right now to get bookings? What are they make different, which is very interesting as well. You, you, you, you learn that. So if you’re a property manager, especially a holiday rental owner, you see things that you can use for yourself, for your own business shared by you today by sibling. Right? So first, welcome to the session. And thank you so much for being here. How are you?

Rex:

Well, thank you very much for inviting us Thibault. We feel very honored to be on your call. We’re very much looking forward to sharing with your readers around the world. Start by apologizing for my voice, I’ve got a bad larynx. My wife here Sibylle will be helping speak a bit more. it’s a bit more, so I suppose I speak as much. She’s the brains behind the establishment. Okay.

Thibault:

That’s great to have two experts, two experts in one session. I’m very happy to have both of you. Thank you so much. Yeah. And to get started, so obviously I said that you were in Australia, so can just maybe a bit more about where you are, maybe a bit about your property if you want. Also, I’m curious about situation right now in Australia.

Sibylle:

So our current property is called Sea Zen as you said, we’re on the Great Ocean road about two and a half hours drive out of Melbourne, a very iconic scenic area. We have millions of tourists visit every year. Over the last 10, 15 years, we’ve had three different properties that we have had his holiday rentals. We’ve now contracted to one in that time. Rex with his corporate marketing experience wretched it up many, many different marketing experiments and we had a very, very good success, especially with season and hopefully tease out some of those issues. But in terms of our current challenge of course, Corona virus like most other countries around the world, Australia was affected, has been affected. And we closed our international borders late February, early January sorry, late February, early March.

Sibylle:

Thank you. And since then, the world has been a different place, our guests into state from around Australia, but we also do have international guests and they infect our entire region along the great ocean road has over 60 million international guests every year. So the world changed very rapidly. We, we closed our property very early March as did all the other properties around us. The Australian government organized a very quick lock down. People were asked to stay at home, work from home, non-essential services were stopped, cafes, restaurants were closed very dramatic changes as in quite a few other countries. And of course, holiday rentals were immediately affected. No travel, in fact, Australia still currently has in place state borders. So even though we are now a little bit more or less restricted, we still cannot travel over our state borders.

Rex:

This is not discretionary for us. You will shut, no excuses. So we’re just complying and waiting.

Thibault:

Makes sense. So in this circles, I guess short term rentals have to adapt. So what’s I guess like in some parts of the world, short term rental owners have been, have told themselves, okay, now I can’t have short term guests, so I have to find all the kinds of guests. So can you share more about the, the strenuous world in Australia?

Sibylle:

Yes. that’s exactly what’s happened. Many of the short term rentals have gone away from short term, have taken themselves off Airbnb, Homeaway, all those OTA portals and are now competing in the longterm rental market. If you’re out in the countryside or down by the beach, that’s less attractive. The, a major longterm rental market of course is in the biggest cities, the capital cities. So there’s no doubt that the holiday rental owners will be suffering financially for probably quite some,

Thibault:

And if I’m not mistaken. So as you said, right, if you are not in a big switch to a longer term, longer stage, even no having tenants is not something that’s easy to do. Right. But I guess you’ve, you a great example of, of people with the business sense who have built over the years sort of secret weapon. And I think the secret weapon that you have to see you getting interest or even bookings is your newsletter. So maybe you can, can you, can you share a bit about why, why you use it? There’s some that, Oh wow, newsletter. Why don’t you guys on Instagram? So what’s, what’s about these dudes at the, what, what are you doing with this and what are you seeing in terms of results?

Rex:

Yes, thanks, Thibault. It’s the one thing that really does differentiate us since why we’re running at 80% occupancy last 10 years, really. A lot of our owners are very shy about a newsletter. I feel that it might be intrusive or marketing junk. And I’ve run many experiments over the years and I have a very frequent newsletter and when I say frequently, once, once per month, and my guests absolutely love it. And I have a secret formula. A formula is to do two things. One it so inform about what’s happening locally. And the other is to entertain with things that make like special criteria, which is would I find that interesting to read myself. And I never say hello, please come and stay with us. Otherwise I say here’s interesting things that are happening or happening. And by the way, here’s a special if you’re interested, I’d be glad to see you.

Rex:

So it was very low pressure. And I thought it was the coronavirus I would run a very special experiment, which I’ve run today. I’m very happy to share the results of that with you. So today I sent out, I scheduled a newsletter which I had prepared yesterday. It went out this morning I timed it’s for when the sun was shining, which we could have been a registry for we’ve learned that over the years and basically I had half it has a little strip stories. Went about showing showing up the local people we’re gonna have weights and burning waste since it’s a photo of civilian. Very nice. I’m pretty sure people fishing off the rocks and offering us free fish. Mmm. And it’s talking about a local cafe with the best coffee. It was how it said how there was zero cases of coronavirus our shop, et cetera.

Rex:

And I then I sat back and I thought, well, Mmm, what I should do is invite people to them to participate actively if, if they’re interested. So I said, would you join our uptight hotlist so we can send you a bulletin if a government says that we’re going to be able to open. I said, you can stop Hawkins. And by the way, the good news, he said, we’re going to give you a special deal. It’ll vary. We are shutting off for RCAs. It’ll only be open for previous guests and there’ll be no deposits. And there will be no payments until after you’ve come. We trust you guys and there’ll be full refund. So there’s no risk on your part. And just let us know if you’d like to be on the hot list. And then I sat back and why did it say what? Sorry. What’s going to happen? Huh? Mmm. And their response is usually he’s maybe one booking, excuse me, have this voice.

Thibault:

Sure, no worries. No worries. I would lower my hand and you could start with an lower.

Rex:

So, so we had so when, no, I was very anxious to see what would happen. Normally we have one booking, maybe a comment about our newsletter. Mmm. And today, I did not get one or two. I got 14 within the first hour and then frequently in all day. Currently I’m up to 22. It’s really engaged our people. And if you excuse my finger for now, I’m going to coach from what’s did I, Brandon says I really appreciate you. And usually this in the pictures, I just haven’t been out. I will free to book why getting let out a lockdown would inspire me to make time. And Nancy says, yes, please send me an update and pop me on the priority list. Well you’re able to take more. Again, I’m very much looking forward [inaudible] there’s is, I have been daydreaming about getting down to stay and somewhere else it says this is our happy place that we missed or coming down. So it gives you a bit of an idea of the kind of response. Where are people really switched on?

Thibault:

That’s again, thanks for sharing. It’s so much with us because it’s, it’s fantastic, but you can only do this because it took the paying of the years to collect email addresses email to these people and build the relationship with them, which you share how you did it. Most of what I was really interested in, what you said is that you are so said, okay, I’m going to focus only on these people might pass guests and offer them some special conditions. Let’s say it’s on the property will only be reserved for you guys. You were with us in the past. And I think you said it was so that they don’t have to put money down yet, but you can come and just pay when the arrived. I think it’s also another thing is that we all hope to be able to take bookings, but I guess I guess how guests are may think what if a second wave happen? So I think this is probably church rice staff. Right. Well, so what, what was your thinking when you thought I’m going do this in that conditions? What, what were you thinking about to address? Could be fears and risks.

Sibylle:

How are we here? In March, sorry, in February when people wanted to come, yeah. Russian bookings in a rush of cancellations. Yes. And it’s it’s as good for us as it is for other people because it’s about certainty. So rather than us taking deposits and then having to potentially reimburse, it’s a lot of time. It’s a lot of Beth, but we decided, no, we’re not going to do that. We will just get people to pay when they actually arrive on the doorstep. And you know, one thing about all of the Corona virus, the word that comes up all the time the concerns, it’s uncertainty, uncertainty, that is the word that everybody uses for everything. And so if you can say to your guests, one thing is certain for you, you will not pay if you cannot come. That is already a really, really good thing for them to relax about. And I should say that probably in your country too, the media has been full of the problems with in the tourism industry, mainly the larger operators, the airlines not being able to give refunds. And every day you have the television news and there’s a story of somebody who booked a $20,000 trip and is, has already paid for it and has not been able to get a refund. So that is a big concern.

Thibault:

Yeah, it’s so interesting as well as a risk I think to go very well presented as well. Is that because this could be a so risk on your side, but in a way, again, this offer you only making it to people who booked with you before. So, and you know, I saw the cost from Rex by Rex is the quotes from your, your past guests can feel that being there and they’ll taste the happy place and know the place. So the service you’re taking, the payments on the other hand, these people have proven in the past, but actual bookers and actually people who pay. So it’s limited risk as well. So as of be having like a no show. So it’s a, I think it’s very, it’s very, very spot mood. Very interesting. But again, it’s only possible if you have slots full of past guests that’s been contacted again.

Rex:

Yes. So there’s a couple of points about that too. We are quite hard nosed about this. Well, we occasionally have a bad yes and we take great satisfaction on putting them on a list if they do not give it on to our user. So this is very how nice. Everyone who’s stayed with us in the past, a lovely people who are on our list and we have not visitation. If someone seemed to be all that, I couldn’t pay it. No wait. I say no problem. Mmm. Just no problem at all. A pirate when you’re ready. We’ve never had a digital payment ever. I don’t think we will.

Thibault:

That’s really fantastic. And again, that’s, that’s the power of relationships. And two of you have been able to create this you know, your past guests even more through rate, holiday rental mastery, ratcheting, showing your knowledge over the years. And I’ve been a subscriber to use that for last six years, I think 2014. So it’s also something that we’ll link to it in the show notes on the video, but also in terms of relationships or reaching out, I think in last couple of days you’ve also reached out to other people in your area to get together and get some get some things done to help out other property owners and managers. Could you share a bit about this piece?

Rex:

Yes. Thanks Thibault. In the past we’ve had a couple of disasters, the and right. We’ve had a flyer and we’ve had floods and we’ve had right. Oh, closures from, gosh, nine slips. And so what was the last, Mmm 10 years I’ve been active in the industry. I’ve promoted mergings with Aboriginal leaders. I’m the chair of the local tourism group. We are called hoplite coast Hamlet’s tourism. Mmm. And when we had the crisis in the past, Mmm. I’ve always been active lobbying the government agencies. I know in the past I’ve worked with politicians, well, if you’re trying to do good deals and well through my own bed, my own efforts. But we’ve had to deal with a $50 million in government injected into our area correctly. And that’s at 55, which is a direct result of loving that I did, Mmm. After the roads were closed. And we have a leadership forum, which we can vain from time to time. Hey, by the leaders of all the local tourism groups, the shires come together. In one case, we sent a letter to the prime

Rex:

Minister, not the premiere, and we had a very active support from, Oh, the, the government’s businesses. Very well. And she went to Kevin and said, look, we have amazing, was the, yeah. Department heads. And which we did cooperatively without embarrassing him in the press. And we, Oh, expecting the way we’ll do the same kind of positive influencing again, saying this is good for the economy, it’s very low risk. And we think, did we confuse every scene taking a leadership role? Well, we’ll do our part to reinforce government policy and good cleaning standards and we hope it will be a win win result. Yes. Because what’s happening at the moment is restrictions are being loosened up slowly for various things, but I think the holiday rental industry isn’t front of mind for the politicians. So not lately that hasn’t happened. And yet in all of our discussions with key people as Rick says, other politicians and people running various tourism groups add the data. Our medical data suggests that, especially if we opened up just within the state and had local people coming and staying, the medical data suggests that there would be no risk at the moment. So we’re a little bit disappointed that our local LA premiere hasn’t opened the Gates for that. But so that this lobbying that Rex is talking about is hoping to encourage that over the next week or so.

Thibault:

Thanks [inaudible] for sharing all this. And I think we, we opened the discussion with let’s say regulations always say like love down rules and we are also finishing up this on that level right side. There’s of course a lot of things governments are doing or not doing and we have to adapt. But still in the, in a, in a, in the heart of our conversation with like, okay, this is happening and some things I could not control. But you really also share things you can control. Property owner, property manager, getting back to you as guests, maybe being super creative to look at what can I do? There’s risk on both sides. What can I come up with? And so as we saw, right? So that’s something you can do from one day to another. But on the other hand, it’s, you can stop today.

Thibault:

Why not start today? It’s not too late to gather. Maybe even addresses of some people you maybe and some countries may be very difficult facts. You go back to people, you getting them if you have not asked them for their permission. Again was that different from one country to another. But B, we can be creative and we are individual owners and property managers. So sometimes you have to, I find ways to get through this. So once again, I would like to thank you so much for your time and insights today. If people want to reach out get to know more about the property or about how your rental mass you, what was the best way to get ahold of you?

Rex:

Well I’d like to do two things. One is, I mean you’re shown out or whatever, just leaves them with the holidayrentalmastery.com. People can sign up to my list if they wish. I would also like to well, make a special offer today to send the link to my wildly successful, usually that you said advice dictations so people can have a read for themselves. In, some of my readers in the past have also signed up, so they used to use it. So if people do want to sign up like in August future ones and be a fly on the wall.

Sibylle:

Because it’s not about necessarily reading that newsletter, but it may give them ideas about how they could do their own newsletter and the sort of things that they put include. Yep. So thank you very much for today Thibault.

Rex:

Thank you very much for spreading the word and doing what you’re doing. It’s very important for a global community. We’ll see leaders such as yourself who are helping bridge the gap in a very unusual situation. And thank you from our hearts.

Thibault:

I’m getting emotional about. So thank you so much for your time. Again today. Links in the show notes and well I hope to see you soon.

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