Now that the snow is melting and our last guests head for home, many of us will be reflecting on the ups and downs of the season to see where we did well and where we can improve our service in time for next season. A lot of us will be asking ourselves a couple of big questions
- How can I get more bookings ? Anything less than fully booked means a loss of income. When there are mortgages, bills, staff and maintenance to pay, having an empty property can be costly.
- My chalet is the best in town, but how do I tell the world ? With so much choice of accommodation, how do you stand out from the crowd ? how do you show the world what you have to offer and why people should stay with you over anyone else ?
These questions may not come as a surprise, but there is no doubt that they occupy our minds. I know this because a year ago I ran a survey with several hundred ski property owners to find out what pains you most when it comes to technology, marketing and promoting your services. In doing so I had hoped that I might get some further insight into the areas that you find most difficult, time consuming or just those tasks that we all find ourselves doing when really we should be entertaining our guests, promoting our services or maybe even taking a break.
I had expected to receive more specifics that I could then apply to the Ski Lettings website to improve the service, but the two big questions mentioned earlier dominated the replies and were much bigger problems that couldn’t be solved by making a few little tweaks here and there on the website.
I started by trying to think of creative ways to address these problems, yet the whole time I knew that having a good website was the answer, but dismissed it because for a couple of reasons that I’ll get to in a minute.
The magic formula
So how do I know that having a website is the answer? Well, I visit dozens of chalet and apartment websites every day and I can see that the owners that do it right have a significant advantage because of two important factors that work together to attract bookings.
- Firstly, a website lets you reach many times more people through search engines, social media, links, print advertising, referrals etc.
- Secondly, if you think about it, your website is your stage and having your own stage means that you can show and promote your property and services in a way that communicates everything that you have to offer, the way that you want. You are completely in control and you have that stage to yourself, with no advertising or competition vying for the visitors attention.
When you take the increased number of people finding out about you and your offering on your website and multiply that exposure by your ability to capture the attention of the visitor and engage with them in the most affective way, you have a winning combination that can only result in more bookings.
Eating my own dog food
The other reason why I know that this works is from personal experience – 10 years ago I bought my first ski property, listed on a number of holiday rental sites and built my own website from scratch to promote what I had to offer. Very early on, over half of all of my bookings came via the website and as prices and competition increased on the listing sites, my own website ended up providing the majority of my bookings.
To confirm that this was in fact a key factor affecting those that replied to my survey, I did some digging. What I found was that many of those that replied to the survey didn’t appear to have their own website and many of those that had websites were dated, weren’t optimised for search engines, had poor navigation and design.
My big idea (Create a website)
For me, the solution was obvious, I needed to help owners create a website that gets bookings. But this was going to be tricky. I remember how it took months of evenings and weekends to finish my own website so I couldn’t see how this could work for other owners as the time/cost investment would be too great. If I was going to offer websites as a service, they would need to be fully featured, customisable, and able to grow and evolve to serve the visitors and owner’s changing needs over time. This is all doable. but the catch was that it also had to be without the hefty price tag. As owners of chalets and apartments, for many of us this is a lifestyle business. We do it because we love it and because we can live and work in the mountains. Unlike larger businesses that have marketing and IT budgets, we don’t have bottomless pockets and we don’t have huge amounts of cash to invest, so this service would need to be the perfect investment with little to no up front cost and it should pay for itself many times over in a short space of time.
The first attempt
My first idea was to expand the property listings on the Ski Lettings website by taking the existing details and re-purposing them to form a website. While this solution would be inexpensive and an almost instant setup for the owner, it would be limited in terms of functionality, design and flexibility so I decided to bin this idea early on.
If at first you don’t succeed…
My second attempt was to experience building a complete website from scratch, so I offered to do this for a chalet company in Chamonix. While this was a great experience, the time required to offer this as a service to other owners was too great and I estimated the initial build would cost just under £2000 and then there would be ongoing costs for hosting, maintenance, updates etc.
The Eureka moment
It was after completing the Chamonix website that I made the most important discovery and that was that although every ski chalet and apartment website is unique, with different designs, content, images, videos etc. beneath the surface, they are all very similar and have virtually identical needs. For example, a gallery, maps, rates, availability, the ability to take bookings etc.
On realising this, I set about building a bespoke website with all of the core features and functionality already baked in. Once the frame was built with all of this in place, I removed the complexity and simplified the administration parts of the website to make it easy for the owner to manage.
What I had built was a solution that offered owners a state of the art website that is ready to go and puts the owner in control of not only the content and features, but also the design.
The icing on the cake
When we buy a car, we rarely take into consideration the other costs such as insurance, tax, MOT, servicing, repairs, the cost of replacing tyres, fuel efficiency and so on. In the same way, running your own website also has it’s costs. You need to hosting your your website, take regular backups, keep it updated, tuned, secure and when things do go wrong, you need support on tap. Having gone to great lengths to remove the complexity within the website, it made sense to continue this theme to include all of the services that surround your website. What I’m helping owners do is offload all of the techy bits, all of the responsibility for hosting, backing up, maintaining, monitoring, tweaking and improving the website so that you can spend your time doing the important stuff.
BUT I think the biggest benefit to the service that I’m launching is that I’m making myself personally available to support your website, guide you and help you make it a success. In the background I will be continually testing, updating, maintaining and keeping your website running at it’s best and on the cutting edge of web technology.
In my next post I hope to include a bit of a walk through of some of the features so that you can see for yourself how powerful, yet easy the all-in-one solution really is, but I’m sure you will have questions. To help answer some of these, the following link will take you to a page that explains more about the all-in-one website solution. At the bottom of that page, there is a form where you can ask me anything you like about the new service.
I look forward to hearing from you!