sands scarborough

Here’s Why ‘The Sands’ Ranks #1 In Scarborough

How the Sands in Scarborough has become the number one tourist destination on the Yorkshire Coast

Scarborough's holiday destination has everything, from beautiful beaches to fish and chips. The stunning scenery of the Yorkshire Coast is also home to The Sands.

The luxurious 5-star apartment property is the number 1 place to visit in the area on TripAdvisor. What are they doing right online to get so many bookings and good reviews?


As of July 2016, The Sands has 667 reviews on TripAdvisor, with a massive 90% of those reviews being 5 out of 5 stars. We spoke to Matthew Oxtoby, marketing manager of The Sands, to find out what vacation rental marketing strategies keep them hot on the web and why they have such an excellent online reputation.

Use Social Media Advertising Tools

Facebook and the company website of The Sands are currently the most potent forms of marketing that The Sands employs.

Facebook Advertising is easy to use and it gives users an instant tool to track return on investment. To use it, you set a daily budget. That way, you never spend more money than you want to. This is similar to the way that Google Ad Words works. (We've written about that in more detail in other blog posts.) Facebook can also let you target specific demographics. For example, if you want to promote your property only to people who live in Leeds, York and Harrogate, you can. Just set up an advert, ask Facebook to predominantly show your ad to people of those cities, and set a maximum spend. Simple!

“The biggest budget I spend is on Facebook,” says Matthew. “It’s quite a chunk of money a year, but it’s by far the cheapest way of driving traffic to your website, which then results in getting direct bookings.”

Find your base and audience demographics

When you create your ad, you need to decide the area and the people you are aiming it at, whether that’s UK-wide or more local. The Sands does a bit of both as the business is now bringing in people from further away.

When deciding your audience demographic, you need to profile the customer. Matthew picks a few average people who come to The Sands to inform his understanding of who his guests are. An “average” customer there is a woman aged between 20 and 55. Once he profiles a typical guest, Matthew breaks down the main areas of their interests to build a more in-depth profile of his customer base. This includes what cars they drive and what radio stations they listen to. By collecting that vital information at check-in, Matthew has been able to determine his target audience accurately.

Embrace Online Travel Agents

Some people frown upon online booking agents, complaining that they take commissions away from hospitality businesses. But Matthew says that you just have to work with them. They are a “necessary evil”.

Give your customer good reasons to book directly through you. The Sands gives direct bookers 10% off; if you do book direct, you may pick which apartment you would like.

Use commissions to jump listings

Online travel agents are popular because they tend to be free to use up-front. Later, of course, you pay a commission fee, but if you don’t get bookings, you don’t spend any money. There are tools you can use that instantly push you up in search ranks, though, so that your business appears closer to the top of the page in a list of Google results. This strategy definitely works.

Matthew thinks everyone should be “trying to get on the first two pages as much as they can”, as most people will see what’s on the first page and then decide based on that.

It’s better to have a bum in a bed, than your property empty,” says Matthew.

Encourage customers to leave online reviews

Online reviews are hugely important. Matthew says that reports should be considered in light of the fact that “the modern-day traveller looks at multiple sources when booking”.

When a customer books through an online agent, the agent tends to send an email asking them to leave a review. However, getting customers to leave a review for your property on TripAdvisor is up to you.

Matthew says the big thing The Sands has always pushed is customer service and attention to detail.

This starts as soon as the guest arrives in the car park and continues through Matthew's personal responses to TripAdvisor reviews. The Sands have a great team in place, so from the moment you step through the door, they do everything they can to make sure that you have a fantastic stay. They eradicate many potential issues by giving each guest a tour of their apartment and showing each feature. The Sands also gives guests a contact number in case they need anything.

Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference,”  says Matthew.

Keep in contact

In a follow-up “Thank you” email, everyone who stays at The Sands gets asked if they would like to sign up for the mailing list to receive alerts about special offers, late availability, and competitions.

“Obviously, not everyone wants to just because of how many emails people get nowadays,” says Matthew. “So, for the people who do want to sign up, we send them mailshots using MailChimp.”

Matthew suggests not spamming customers with lots of emails. Instead, keep in general contact by sending one email per month.

Keep your social media fresh

It can be hard to find things to share on social media when your business is purely accommodation, but Matthew says, “you’ve got to try and make it a conversation rather than just selling.”

You shouldn’t go in for a “heavy sell” in your regular posts. That’s what adverts are for.

“Asking people questions, asking how their day’s going, asking them ‘do you like this', ‘do you like that', it can be anything,” says Matthew. “As long as it’s social and light, that’s what people like.”

Be specific when targeting

The Sands spends about £400 a month on Google AdWords. Their return on investment is considerable. Matthew says it’s best to be precise with targeting. Try to brand your company and use popular keywords. “We do ‘Sea view apartments in North Yorkshire’,” says Matthew. “It’s always worth a try, but try and keep it specific to what you are.”

Final words of advice

“The simplest thing you can do right now to draw some bookings in is to get on as many booking channels as possible,” says Matthew. “Get on, get on LateRooms, get on Expedia.” If you don't know what you're doing, get help from someone who can!

We'd like to thank Matthew Oxtoby from The Sands for taking time out of his busy day to meet with us and discuss his online and offline marketing strategy. He did so because he wanted to pass on what he has learnt over the years to the independent hospitality industry.

Hopefully, you can take something from Matthew's advice and implement it in your business. The BEST way to come up with new content for your social media platforms is to follow the best people in your local area and see what they are doing. Our final piece of advice: go and find The Sands on Facebook, Twitter etc. and take note of their posts and competitions. Get some inspiration!

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