How to stand out from the crowd on those busy online travel agents (OTAs) – with Ronni Bartles of Bookfull

TheΒ Boost Hospitality Podcast is back for another season! We are now in Season 7, and we are currently on the fifth episode! In this episode, we’re going to be talking about how you can optimise your OTA listing to make sure you can stand out from the crowd. Today’s guest is the Director of Marketing at Bookfull.

Bookfull is a new and open common service that is helping their short-stay accommodation owners all over the world. Ronii Bartles is based in Charleston, South Carolina. Bookfull has been on my radar for a while. I’m a keen reader of their blog. I believe that it’s one of the best blogs out there for short-stay accommodation owners.

In this episode, you’re going to learn about how to stage your property on these listing sites. You’re going to learn some of the key terms for what you need to do for the different rental software out there. Airbnb being one and booking.com and home away. You’re also going to learn about why photos are so important, and you’re going to figure out as what Bookfull is doing to help you.

Ronii Bartles from Bookfully

Ronii Bartles from Bookfull

I live in Charleston, South Carolina, and today I’m visiting in Savannah, Georgia. We are a Southern Company. But we’re fortunate to be in Charleston. Bookfull is a free property management software for short term and vacation rentals.

Where are the majority of your clients were?

It’s everybody in all areas of the world. We’ve been amazed because we are a small company. We’re brand new, and we just launched. We’ve been a company for a couple of years but just launched the software last month. So we were amazed once we started getting some new users in there from everywhere. We figured it would mainly be the US, but that’s not the case. We’ve just ever all over the world. I think we’ve counted up not long ago, probably 20 or 27 different countries.

What was your background before Bookfull?

I was a consultant, and I’ve been on my own for 12 years. I come from the marketing research background. So I spent 15 years of consumer behaviour research doing online surveys and focus groups. My experience is concentrating and understanding consumers and how they buy, their psychology behind the marketing side of all of that.

So I spent many years in that and then ventured off on my own. I did some consulting for some small B2B. A few things that were retail as well. About almost three years ago, a friend of mine came to me and said, “I have this opportunity that I think you might be perfect; you’ll like and enjoy.” They persuaded me to come on to Bookfull. I was higher number two. The one great thing about the company is from day one we’ve concentrated on positioning ourselves in the in marketing and not using it as a secondary thought of, “Oh, we’ve got to develop software. Marketing will come later.” We’ve concentrated on at least trying to create our brand perception and our presence in the market from day one. That’s been lovely to be able to build that.

What does listing quality mean?

The listing quality on any OTA is going to dive into your perfect headline, a great description. We’re going to talk about photos. That’s always a big topic. With any website, anything is photos. But you are making sure that your listing in your OTAs is filled out. Because in the algorithm of all those OTAs, that is weighed within that algorithm is making sure that your listing is filled out. So the higher quality that you have on that listing, the more likely you’re going to show up in a search for somebody that is looking for your area, your neighbourhood for specific times that you have availability. You’ve got all your amenities in there. You should have your headlines and everything so that it’s robust. And the algorithm goes, “Oh, this is somebody that knows what they’re doing. And I can pull search results now based on what you’ve given me.”

What is the biggest mistake that you see people make when they come to list their properties on these OTAs?

I think the biggest mistake they make on their OTA listings is that they go into it, thinking, “Okay, I have 10 minutes. I’m going to take these 10 minutes and get it up.” As opposed to taking the time to think about what I am writing and putting.

I’m finding that travellers are different now than they used to be. They’re very savvy. All the research is showing that millennials spend more on travel than any age or generation. They’ll spend anywhere from about $5,000 a year just on travel. They’re big on experiences. That’s what they are looking for. They’re looking for an experience. They want to feel like they’re living like a local.

So I think that when you’re going to put up your listing, you’re like, “Oh, I walked around my house and I took some phones on my great camera phone and slap them up, which I can get on board with it, at least have it done. It doesn’t have to be perfect so that I can get on the board with that.”

But I do think photos are the crux, particularly on Airbnb. You can’t get away with amateur phone photos anymore. You’ve got to invest in some professional photos, and it’ll come back to you two-fold for sure.

What tips do you have to “stage” their short-stay accommodation property?

Staging in OTAs is making sure that you have everything in the property that a guest is going to want or need, but not overdoing it. I think that one of the things that we talked about in a lot of our staging blogs is to get rid of the clutter.

We do it in our homes; we do it everywhere. Get rid of all this stuff you don’t need. People don’t want too much clutter; they want more space. So getting rid of a lot of knickknacks and clutter, staging things that look modern and clean and light. People don’t like dark rooms. They want everything to be light. And I think we’re living in the Instagram world. ‘ve been using this term quite a bit lately with a lot of people when you go into your property, and you’re looking to design it or stage it, you want it to be Instagram worthy. That’s how people judge anymore. Can I post this on my Instagram?

What would be your advice when listing your property on Airbnb compared to all of the other OTAs that are out there?

I think that on Airbnb, the top things to pay attention to are good quality photos that are very modern, light and bright. The other thing I think that is very important on Airbnb is when you’re doing your headlines, your description of your place is to tell a story. I believe that the travellers are honing in on the experience. You want to make them feel something. Create your description like you’re telling the story of your place, why it’s yours and why you love it. What’s the uniqueness about it? That’s when you can stand out. You still need to give the basics of what everybody needs to see. How many bedrooms, baths and all that kind of good stuff.

But people want to feel like they’re in that experience already and get excited about going to it. So it’s telling the story behind what you’re doing in that space. I think that’s important on Airbnb more so than any other platform.

What are the amenities that are popular at the moment that people can offer to their properties?

I think this is where we also get into really knowing who your guest is. The oldest millennials will be 40 years old next year. And so, when you’re thinking about a 40-year-old versus a 25-year-old, they’re in a very different life stage. So those older Millennials are going to be geared more towards family activities. So amenities that are family-geared will resonate with them more.

The younger millennials who are also spending a lot of money on travel or just in a different life stage so if your target is there, then things that are captivating like hotdogs make a lot of sense. The one thing I think that universal across the board and I’ve looked for this when I’m booking anything as well as free Wi-Fi. I don’t think you can get away without having Wi-Fi.

Even if you think about business people, even if they’re travelling and staying in a short term rental, they want free Wi-Fi. That’s their livelihood. So business people, families, young millennials, Gen Zs, for sure. Free Wi-Fi is just one of those things that we all look for. We still have a few of our clients that are still charging for Wi-Fi. And I’m like, “Look, guys, you’ll be much better off if you offer this for free. It’s not that big of a deal. You’re not you’re losing that much money.”

What tools do you have at Bookfull to help with this process?

Bookfull is the industry’s only free property management software. We just launched last month. So the software has been our main focus and for the past few years is to develop that and make it into a platform that full for people. Our CEO, Kevin High, owns a property management company in Charleston. They have around 80 properties at any given time. He had tried several different software out there that didn’t do all of the things that he needed or wanted for his business.

He was like, “I’m going to solve this problem” and he started developing the software. There are a lot of property managers in the industry, so we wanted to be able to offer it for free.

It’s a robust software that’s like any other software out there; we happen to be free. Every single time, the very first question people say to me is so then how do you make money. We do have additional services. The listing review service is one of those add ons that you can hire us to do. It’s to review and audit, and our team are still in beta on that. We’re getting a few people in to get a few under our belt and see how it goes. It’s a fascinating service because I think, from an OTA perspective, it’s beneficial. Each OTA is different. The algorithm is different. We talked about this even in the marketing side of things. The algorithm for every platform is like the challenge of the day for all of us. The Facebook algorithm, Instagram, Airbnb, the algorithm is the talk of the day and so really kind of looking at each one of those listings and going, “Okay, where can you improve your listing here so that you can show up better and the algorithm?”

Not that I can say we figured out the algorithm in the OTAs because we haven’t. But we have as best as we can only for probably six months, which is how they all kind of work. But certain things are weighed. It’s looking and going, “Okay, here’s a checklist of things that you can do to improve this listing and show up higher results. And driving that very simple. I’m going to give you actions for you to follow to make this better for you.”

And that’s our goal for all of our customers is to help the industry. I mean, it’s a growing industry. We’re all still learning and figuring out, and it’s moving so fast because it’s growing so fast. And that’s our goal, to help people do better and make more money, that’s all of our goals. We want to make more money. That’s kind of what we’re hoping to do with all of it.

Know more about Bookfull

Website: www.bookfull.com

Instagram account: @getbookfull

Facebook: www.facebook.com/gettbookfull

Listen to the full podcast on iTunes or Anchor or visit Boostly Hospitality Podcast for the full list of episodes!

 

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