Building a short-term rental business is surprisingly simple. You buy a property, furnish it, then throw up some pictures of it onto booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO. After a few weeks, a booking comes in, and from there you’re in the game! This is all great until a poor review comes in, sending your listing to the bottom of the pile and your profit with it. Through no fault of your own, your income stream just got cut off, and now you have a mortgage to pay without a calendar full of bookings.
For many hosts, this type of scenario seems like game over for investing. But for Mark Simpson, it’s the start of something even better. Mark grew up in hospitality, marketing his family’s bed and breakfast nestled in the British countryside. His family was frantically cleaning, cooking, and booking with spreadsheets and no system to streamline their business. This ongoing problem led Mark to build Boostly, the software allowing hosts to take their bookings into their own hands.
Mark has helped numerous short-term rentals bring in millions in direct bookings, helping hosts and guests minimize the amount spent on fees while maximizing their experience. So how do vacation rental hosts start doing direct bookings? What benefits come from leaving the big booking sites behind? And how can hosts regain autonomy so their business is never forced to stop? Mark answers these questions and more in today’s episode!
Ashley :This is Real Estate Rookie episode 243.
Mark :So the first thing that I feel like everybody should be doing on the Airbnb profile, that first line, and this is general copy talk. Everybody talks about the hook in copyright. And the hook is just basically getting someone’s attention so they take action, right? The first line is you should be saying, “Hey, I’m Mark, founder of X.” You can’t put a direct web link in there. Airbnb will spot that. The bots will spot that, but you can get creative. So I always used to put, “Hey, I’m Mark, founder of X. Check out our online reviews. They’re rather good,” or, “They’re really good.”
Ashley :My name is Ashley Care and I’m here with my co-host Tony Robinson.
Tony :And welcome to the Real Estate Rookie podcast where every week, twice a week, we bring you the inspiration, motivation, and stories you need to hear to kickstart your investing journey. And this week I want to shout out someone from the rookie audience that goes by the username irissaid, and Iris’s review says, “By far my favorite real estate investing podcast. Ashley always knows how to ask the best questions that a rookie would want to hear, and Tony brings so much advice and knowledge from his own experience. Both have a great chemistry and I love their personality.” So Iris, we appreciate the honest rating and review, and if you haven’t yet, if you’re a listener, you’re part of the rookie audience, please leave us an honest rating or review on Apple Podcasts or whatever platform it is you’re listening to. The more reviews we get, the more folks we can help, and that’s always the goal here.So Ashley, I’m super excited for today’s episode. Our guest is actually someone that I’d known online for a little while, then he and I actually met at a conference last summer and when I heard him speak, I recognized or I realized there was a big gaping hole in my business. And today’s episode is all about how all investors can fill that big gaping hole that exists in their own businesses as well.
Ashley :I’ve got to say, Tony, you’re starting out talking about meeting online, meeting him in person, and then a gaping hole. Where is this going?
Tony :This is for the aftermath.
Ashley :But isn’t it funny how many people you meet in your network that are from online? Growing up, and especially when there was AIM and AOL, you don’t meet people online. Your parents drilled that into you. You don’t go and meet them in person. And honestly, that’s been some of the best friendships that I’ve connected with and have people in my network is meeting them online, and it’s just so funny how things have changed. And obviously meeting them in a safe, public place or at a conference or something like that.
Ashley :When Tony slides into your DMs and invites you over to his home, it’s probably a spammer. Do not go.
Tony :Yeah, totally. And yeah, can we just touch on, if anyone’s getting messages from either me or Ashley or Sarah or anyone asking you to… If we just hit you with a, “Hey, how are you?” and then the conversation quickly flows into crypto, just know it’s not us. It’s a scam. But today’s episode is not about getting scammed. Today’s episode is, again, a good buddy of mine, his name is Mark Simpson, and he’s here all to talk about direct booking. And when we talk about direct booking, it’s for all of those folks that are in the short-term and medium-term rental space that rely solely on Airbnb and VRBO to get all of their bookings. And Mark in today’s episode highlights the dangers of doing that as a short-term rental investor and also gives you a really clear framework on how to build your own platform outside of sites like Airbnb and VRBO, and how he’s had millions of dollars worth of bookings come through his websites to help other hosts do the same thing.
Ashley :And I really don’t know a ton about this, so this was super informational for me. Tony was like a kid at a candy store, word vomiting over everything he was saying and asking really great questions and follow up too, and giving some personal stories about his experience with just bookings through Airbnb. And then the difference between using direct booking and how he’s setting it up. So this is a great episode for short-term rentals. Medium-term rentals, this can even be used for. Or even if you are somebody looking to book a property sometime in the future as to where other places you can go besides Airbnb. And I think with Airbnb making all of these changes recently, maybe it is going to be an advantage to somebody to actually go ahead and start setting up this direct booking site. Mark, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us today on the Real Estate Rookie podcast. Why don’t you go ahead and give us a brief overview of who you are and what you do?
Mark :Yeah, thank you very much for having me. So my name is Mark Simpson. I founded a company called Boostly back in 2016. As you can tell from this accent, I’m over the pond in the United Kingdom. Born and raised here, born in hospitality, raised in hospitality, which is really weird in this industry. So many people fall into it from other investment strategies or from other careers, but I was born in it. And so ever since I can remember, I’m just so used to having strangers in my house in our family business, which was a bed and breakfast. It was a 14-bedroom bed and breakfast right in the middle of nowhere in the United Kingdom, right in the woods. And that was the appeal. So we had lots of guests coming to stay with us because we were in the middle of nowhere with farm animals. We had highland cows. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen or heard of a highland cow before. Those big cows with horns and shaggy hair.
Ashley :Oh yeah.
Mark :That was us. That was us. That was our appeal. And bizarrely, there was a niche of people, there was an army of people who would travel around just to go and visit highland cows. They would come and stay over us just because of them, which was bizarre. But I grew up in this little bed and breakfast. I grew up and I wanted to, in my teenage years, do one thing and one thing only, and that was escape. I wanted to be a soccer player, but there was one problem. I’m crap at playing soccer. So I resorted to coaching soccer and then had an amazing opportunity to come out to America, so that was pretty much 2000 to 2010 coming to America, five months, got my visa, came out, traveled all over the States, coaching it, doing youth development, and then eventually ended up back in England, back in London, fell into sales and marketing for Yelp. It was Quip at the time before they got bought out. And that’s where I learned all about social media, marketing, emails, SEO, you name it.And then eventually in 2012, my parents, who had had the business about 25, 30 years at this point, they needed one of me or my siblings to come into the business. I was the oldest out of the four, and it was ideal. And I just took all that stuff I learned in London and put it into the business. And for four or five years we just focused on marketing it, taking that offline word of mouth, putting it online. And it worked really well. When TripAdvisor was popular, we got to the top of TripAdvisor in the north of England for most recommended places to stay. Our social media was popping and it just all resulted in 80% year on year of our bookings that came in was from direct. So 20% was Airbnb, 20% was booking.com, 20% was Expedia, 80% of it was direct bookings, and it went really well.And then in 2016 I started a Facebook group called The Hospitality Community, which is still active and live right now and people come and join it from all over the world. And they were coming in because they were frustrated with Airbnb, booking.com, and they wanted to learn around diary bookings. And that’s literally what I’ve been doing every day since 2016, helping people figure out this whole world of hospitality, guest experience, diary bookings, and which is why we’re here today, so thank you for having me.
Tony :Yeah, Mark. Super excited to have you, brother. And you just recently posted something, I think in one of the Facebook groups, about a statistic about all of the direct booking websites that you’ve helped create. Do you know what I’m talking about? Would you mind sharing that figure with our listeners?
Mark :Yeah, so this is really exciting. So for the last four years we’ve been building direct booking websites using WordPress. And for the last four years, I know that these websites work, but it’s just me saying, “Hey, these work, trust me.” And so about two years ago we created a really cool piece of technology where we were able to track every booking that came from one of our websites. And in 2022, so we’re about 11 months in now to 2022, we’ve generated and tracked £2.5 million, which is around about $3 million worth of direct bookings that our websites have generated, which is an amazingly high number. I would love it to be double. My goal is to get that double next year. But it just shows that you can do this yourself. There are ways to making your own bookings and it’s just a case of having the foundations and the blueprint in place to make sure that you’re enabled to do so, which is hopefully what we’ll dig into today.
Tony :Mark, that’s a tremendous achievement. And I think more and more people need to be aware that… Let me put it this way. In any other business, people spend money on marketing, but in the world of Airbnbs, everyone relies on the platforms to drive all of their revenue. But can you think of any other industry where 90% of the folks in that industry don’t spend anything on marketing? And it just doesn’t exist. And I think the message that you’re driving around really taking ownership of your business and not relying on these platforms is a step that’s often overlooked by a lot of new and seasoned investors in this space.
Mark :You’re a hundred percent right. I honestly can’t. And I’ve tried and tried and tried, and if anybody knows in the comments, please let me know because I can’t think of any other industry where you can go take a couple of pictures, upload your business to a said listing site and be pretty much guaranteed to generate revenue. And it is a blessing and a curse. And let’s not get it wrong. We’re not here to slate Airbnb. They’ve built a fantastic business model, as did VRBO, which is the Expedia group, as did booking.com, TripAdvisor before them. And they’ve enabled anybody, any rookie, any real estate rookie to get started on the platform, literally throw up a couple of images. And there are specific dates in your calendar, doesn’t matter where your market is, that you know could just sell out five times over because we’re in the industry of making experiences. We’re in the hospitality industry and we create memories.I say this a lot and I hope that people start to realize this is every booking, there’s a story behind it. So every reservation that you get, whether it’s a staycation or workcation or whatever, there’s a story around it and it’s all about making memories. And so because of that, you can get a lot of bookings very easily from one platform. But the curse is that because it is so easy, and all these spinning plates that you’ve got, it’s very easy to go, well, that’s the market ing sorted. I’ll just leave that to them and you’ll just go, sorted. And then because of that, you are then reliant on one platform, let’s just say Airbnb. And when you are over-reliant, you are then culpable to anything potentially bad happening. And there are so many examples of those bad things happening in literally this year, but over the first three years of this decade at least.
Tony :So Mark, I’m so glad you mentioned that, that you become reliant, and not just reliant but almost at the mercy of, is probably a better way to say it. And we took a new listing live over the summer. It was an older property we purchased, we rehabbed it, one of my favorite rehabs we’ve ever done. And the property, we listed it, it was doing well. And our fifth review came back as a one star. Not anything I think that we necessarily did, just disgruntled guests, we couldn’t get the review removed, so our rating went from a 5.0 to a 4.3. And when that happened, the bookings just immediately slowed down. And we’ve been fighting and struggling to breathe life back into that listening. And as that was going on, I kept thinking, man, had we just had our own direct booking website, it would’ve been another way to get the revenue coming in.And when I look at other listings that are doing really, really well, especially in Joshua Tree, because Joshua Tree is a very trendy, Instagramable, social media heavy market, some of the best listings in that market are booked out months and months in advance. And it’s because they’ve built this massive following off of Airbnb and off of VRBO. So they’ve got the big Instagram following, they’ve got their own direct booking website, they’ve got a YouTube channel. They’re doing these other things to drive traffic to their listings outside of just waiting for Airbnb and VRBO to pass those bookings onto them.
Mark :Yeah, a hundred percent. Again, you’re right. And my goal is to help one million hosts to never have to worry about getting a bad review on Airbnb, never have to worry about the algorithms again. Because when you are so worried about that, you then become reliant on the guest as well. And when a guest books with you via an OTA, you can’t really control who that person is. As much as there is inquiry-only mode, instant book is everything now, and Airbnb force you to go down that route. And because of it, anybody can book. And when that happens, we talk about it a lot when we say customer avatar, and customer avatar is just fancy marketing spiel for your ideal guest. And ideally with the properties that you’ve got, whether it’s in Joshua Tree or Upper State New York or in the Smokies or wherever, you’re going to have your ideal guest. Now, the ideal guest for the area, but also the ideal guest for your property.And then once you figure out… I talk about it in the book there at Playbook, it’s all about you’ve got to identify, you’ve got to locate and you’ve got to attract. And when you get all of them down, then everything becomes so much easier to the point, like you’re saying, you can build a social media following, your website copy is a hundred percent speaking to your ideal guest. So everybody who walks through the door, it’s an instant five star. You never have to worry about a one or two star coming in. And then you don’t have to worry about it on Airbnb because you are dictated, because that one bad review knocks your ranking down to say 4.3 average, which then means super host is going to be harder to achieve. And every three months, you’re fighting an uphill battle, and this is review five. That’s guest five. That could be potentially five weeks in and you’re thinking, ugh, should I just switch this to a long-term? Should I just forget about this?And that’s crazy, but that’s the short-ism that you get when you are so reliant on one platform. So yeah, it’s all about putting in that sort of blueprint, those foundations. And this is why I’m really excited to come onto this podcast, because this is where I guess a lot of people are getting started in it and it can feel so overwhelming. So I just wanted to break it down and go, hey, let’s do this, this, this, this, let’s get an actioned and then everything else just becomes so much easier.
Ashley :Let’s talk about that then. So your software, what is the most important piece to this and how can everything be linked? Okay, so you need to do some marketing, advertising, you need to draw people to it. How are people booking it? How is it tracking? When are days booked, when aren’t they booked? How are people paying for it? How are you taking those common things that make Airbnb and VRBO work so well and then putting it into your own website here in the software?
Mark :Yeah, a hundred percent. So I talk about never build your house on someone else’s land, but before you build that house you need to have a solid foundation in place. Now, the problem is, and this is the problem, and so many people listening to this or watching this will be able to go, yeah, that’s me. So what happens, property number one, you go and list it on Airbnb, just Airbnb. And then what happens, you’ll maybe get something like Hospitable as a smart messaging tool. Hospitable used to be called SmartBnB. Now it’s changed to Hospitable. But you got SmartBnB or Hospitable because you wanted that smart messaging automated feature that just makes it more automated. And then what you do, you go, well, I’ve got my Airbnb listing. Let me just go and create one of these VRBOs. Let me go create one on there, but I’ve got to link my calendar. So what am I going to do? I’m just going to go grab my Airbnb iCal link and I’m going to paste it into VRBO so I don’t get a double booking.So then what you’re doing, you’re doing exactly what Airbnb wants you to do and you are building your foundation on the Airbnb land. Instead, what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to hit a hard reset. And what you’ve got to do, first thing, even at property number one, and there’s a lot of people who will push back on this, but I swear by it. You’ve got to go and get, from property number one, a property management software tool. It’s otherwise known as PMS, PMP, and there’s good and bad news. So there’s some fantastic technology available. When I first came back into my family business in 2011, they were using pen and paper and Tippex. It was a mess. We had 14 bedrooms, we had three holiday cottages. The phone would ring, a guest would book in, my dad would forget to take the booking. And then literally I walked home, came in from being a weekend away, my mom was frantically running upstairs, she was stripping and changing her bed and her bedroom because a guest had arrived. My dad forgot to put the booking in. So it was a crazy time.So by getting his technology, it means that life is so much easier for a newbie in the business. So a property management software tool, fantastic. The problem is, there is 1,140 different solutions around the world. That’s crazy. There’s too much. There’s too choice and it’s just a case of getting overwhelmed. What we have been doing over the last four years is we’ve been creating a blog post on the Boostly website, B-O-O-S-T-L-Y. And on there, what we did is we interviewed 100 hosts and we said, “Right, who are you using for your PMS? What’s the pros? What’s the cons?” And we built out a really cool blog post. It’s probably our most viewed blog post. Just head to boostly.co.uk. You’ll go and find it. So there’s about 14 of the top ones. So go to there, go and pick one. There’s tons of different contenders. You’ve got Hostly, you’ve got Host Away, you’ve got Guestly for Hosts. Hospitable now is classed as a channel manager PMS because they do all that linkage. You’ve got Uplisting. There’s tons of them.So go and pick one. And once you’ve got the property management software, everything becomes easier because then what you do is you link your Airbnb to the PMS, number one. You can go and link VRBO to the PMS. That’s fantastic. Then you can go get booking.com and anything else they can link to. And the cool thing about that is that instead of you linking it to Airbnb, you’re linking it to your foundation that you’re starting to put in place. So that’s step number one. Everything works off the property management software tool.
Ashley :Mark, I have a question for Tony real quick actually on that. Tony, which one are you using and what do you recommend?
Tony :Yeah, the same exact one that Mark recommended. It’s Hospitable. Yeah, we honestly only dabbled with the few options when we first started. It was either Hospitable is a big one, Your Porter was another popular one that some of my friends were using. And then OwnerRez the third one. And OwnerRez I think by far probably is the most powerful tool, but it was also the most complicated to get set up, and as a newbie in the space that just didn’t have the brain power to make that work. And Hospitable at the time offered a good mix of automated messaging along with all the other tools that you want from a channel manager, so that’s the one that we use in our business.
Mark :The funny story about Hospitable is that they were powered by their community to turn themselves into a PMS and their channel manager for. And I know Pierre and I know Matt really well behind the scenes because with Boostly, what we do now is we partner with all these providers so we can do that trackable booking that we told you about. And for years they were saying to me, “Listen, we’re not a PMS. We’re not a channel manager. It’s our community.” Because they’re going out and saying to everybody, “Oh yeah, I’m with SmartBnB, Hospitable. We’re the channel manager.” And they’re like, “We’re not a channel manager,” but they’ve changed because of that. And this is what I love about that platform. I love it because they are so young and fresh and so they’re able to pivot really quickly. So right now, they’re adding in payments, so Stripe payments.So again, the reason why you have a PMS, a property management software tool, and if somebody… So say Tony wants to come and stay at my place and he’s like, “Hey, I’ve seen you on Instagram, fantastic. I want a book with you. I want to book direct. How do I book direct?” And you’re like, “Well, I don’t know. I haven’t got any of the systems in place.” But if you’ve got Stripe set up, with Stripe, you can create an invoice, you can create whatever and I can send it to Tony. And you can pay me direct via there, and then you just go on manually, in your own property management software tool, mark it off on the calendar and it’s down as a direct booking, which is lovely. So the second thing to put into place is having a payment gateway.Now, Stripe is the easiest. There are so many other options and a good buddy of ours, Rafa, I know Rafa is looking at getting into crypto and all those cool things, but Stripe is the easiest. And the one thing I love about Stripe, a couple of Irish boys set it up. They’ve got a history in hospitality. They grew up in a hotel. So I think it’s just a fantastic little easy fit, super low-cost, takes two minutes to get set up and it links into every single good PMS. Yeah, that’s what I will say.
Tony :I love Stripe. Have you used Stripe at all before, Ashley, for anything?
Ashley :No, the only thing that I really collect payments from is for the liquor store, but we use a POS system called Corona. Yeah.
Tony :So we’ve used Stripe in different parts of our business and I love Stripe as well. Super easy to set up. It integrates with a lot of different platforms. The only thing I don’t love about Stripe is that if you have a longer lead time between when you process the payment and when that service or product is actually delivered, Stripe has a tendency to hold a certain percentage of your funds in reserve. So for us, for our events under the Real Estate Robinson and Short-Term Rental Summit, our average ticket is sold between 70 days to 60 days before our event. And when Stripe sees that there’s a long delay between purchase and sale, they hold 10% of all your money in a reserve account in case there are any chargebacks or things like that. So that’s the only thing I don’t like about Stripe. Other than that, it’s a fantastic tool and it does definitely work and integrate with a lot of different platforms.
Mark :Yeah. That’s the payments down, which is step number two. Should we go onto another biggie, which is another part, which is when I get the biggest pushback on in all of this? Do you want to move on to that one?
Ashley :Yeah, what is that?
Tony :And if I can tee it up, because I think this is the question I had for you, Mark, when we first started working together. And was, everyone knows Airbnb. Everyone knows VRBO. No one knows Tony J Robinson’s rentals in Joshua Tree, California. Why would someone go onto my website and book direct where they don’t know me, they don’t know who I am, they don’t know my business, versus going on to a reputable platform like Airbnb or VRBO?
Mark :And this is a two-parter. And this is mostly, I feel like 90% of the hosts that I speak to, and it’s the problem that we’ve created, but it’s also a thing that Airbnb have created as well. They are fantastic at building brand loyalty. I know not one person who walks around going, “Hey, I just booked a VRBO. I’m a VRBO host.” Well, people walk around saying, “Hey, I booked an Airbnb.” They are Uber in this industry. And as much as I try to stand on my little soapbox here and say, “Don’t do that. Don’t brand Airbnb,” people are doing it, right? And because of that, and this has been done by design. All you have to do is load up YouTube, type in TED Talk and type in Joe Gebbia. He was one of the co-founders of Airbnb. He’s since recently left, but on his TED Talk he spoke about how Airbnb built for trust and it’s been done by design, and this is a hundred percent done from the offset what they wanted to create. Because this is literally, they’ve got millions of people walking around branding their business on a daily basis.So that’s issue number one. But as a fix, we simply brand our business. So you say if anybody comes up to you at a party or an event or whatever, “Hey, what do you do?” Say, “Oh, I’m a short-term rental host. My business is X,” whatever you want to call X. And by doing that and by keep spreading the word, then you start to build that brand loyalty. You get a domain name that fits, you brand it, whatever that may be. And to answer the question directly, how do you build that trust when a stranger is on your site? There’s two things that you can do. Number one, there’s a software, an accreditation service called I-PRAC. I-PRAC. And my British accent is so dodgy that I’m going to have to spell it for you. So it’s P-R-A-C. So i-prac.com.They are the world’s leading accreditation software platform tool. And what that means is that when a guest books with you directly, the guest is instantly covered with the I-PRAC guarantee, that if they come to your property and your property is for whatever reason not there, then they will ensure that that guest has got a place to stay. It’s part of the guarantee that you have by joining them. Now, not everybody can join. You have to fill in a form and prove that you say you are. But once you’ve got that verification, they’ve got some fancy technology in the blockchain that means that you get a badge on your website, a badge that you can use on your social channels, even, if you want to, your Airbnb and VRBO listings, but it shows that you’re a proper and true business.And the second thing is Superhog. So this is guest verification. Now there’s Superhog, there’s Proper, there’s all these different types of insurance that is available. But by having that, when a guest books and a guest verifies who they say they are, your property is uncovered for $5 million. Okay? Now, one of the things that I always get a pushback on this is, well, Airbnb make it easy with AirCover. Now, you’ve always got to remember this. When Airbnb create anything, the main people that they are benefiting is Airbnb. So you’ve got Airbnb dynamic pricing. That covers Airbnb. That benefits them. And it’s the same with AirCover. AirCover is just fancy marketing spiel. And it is there and it is a lot better than what it used to be, and that is being amended to make sure hosts are a little bit more protected.But there’s some really worrying news that’s coming out with Airbnb and AirCover in when a host puts a claim in, if a host puts, let’s say, five claims in out of 30 bookings, Airbnb are turning around and saying, “Hey, you are using this far too much, naughty Mr. Airbnb host. We’re going to actually pause your listing, cancel your listing and suspend your listing,” which is crazy. But also as well, there’s just other really worrying stories coming out. ‘Cause at the end of the day, what you’ve got to remember is that an insurance company is going to try and get out of X, Y, and Z payments and they’re going to delay the process as much as possible. So what you need to do is you’ve got to make sure you’ve got a third-party coverage that’s going to cover your back as well. Because you don’t want to…For example, somebody comes to my property, they smash it all up. I then report it to Airbnb. Or even if it’s just a minor breakage. Let’s say they smash the TV. And I am not going to place that claiming at Airbnb until the guest has left the review. Because I’m afraid that if I turn around and go in the review, “One-star review, guest broke the TV, didn’t tell her, da da da da,” then the guest is then going to use that as leverage to then write me a crappy review that means that my algorithm tanks. You are so worried about the review that the guest is going to leave that you’re just going to end up going, “Ah, you know what? It’s only a cracked TV. I can go and get another one of them,” and it shouldn’t be like that. You know what I mean? So by having that third-party coverage, i.e. Superhog, superhog.com, then you’re no longer worried about putting in a claim for things like that.And so that is the other two things. So you have the I-PRAC for the verification of you as a business, so it gives that extra level of trust. And then you get the Superhog, which is again for the guest verification, so you know the guest who’s coming in, and that means you are covered in your property.
Tony :Ashley, let me ask you a question. Have you ever booked direct?
Ashley :No, I haven’t.
Tony :Neither have I.
Ashley :I’ve never even booked on VRBO either. I’ve only booked on Airbnb.
Mark :You’re going to make a British man cry right here.
Ashley :Mark, a question I have about that stuff is how are those things being paid for? Is this paid on the host side? Is this fee covered on the guest side? How are you getting this much coverage?
Mark :So with I-PRAC, for example, the host or the business, you pay an agency rate and it’s based over a year. It’s an annual subscription. Let’s just say for example if you were going to sign up for a Netflix subscription for you, it’s the same sort of thing, so you pay that. When it comes to Superhog, it’s actually built into the guest side. And the cool thing is as well, if you use Superhog correctly, it can actually be a revenue generator for you as a business. Because when a guest verifies who they say they are, you can actually end up generating revenue from the insurance company that works alongside Superhog and the guest verification. With Stripe, obviously there is a percentage to pay per booking, but that is a very low percentage in comparison with the commission costs.And commission costs is something that I think is really important to note, and this is very time-sensitive, because very recently, in the last 48 hours, Airbnb announced that on the platform now they’re going to get rid of cleaner fees, they’re going to get rid of all those things, and they’re just going to have state taxes, whatever those taxes may be. This is to fall in line with booking.com and the Expedia group. Now, there’s definitely something behind this and I would love to think that this is all swings and roundabouts and roses and lovely things that’s all for the good. But booking on Airbnb used to be 3% commission to you, the host. And then they charged the rest of the percentage to a service charge to the guest. Very recently, when they bought Hotel Tonight, it’s their pivot to taking on booking.com and VRBO. 2017, Airbnb had 15% of the whole market. The prediction is, by 2025, they’re going to have 60% of the market. They are not going to just catch up with booking.com and VRBO. They’re going to overtake them massively.And to do that, what they need to do, they need to get rid of that niggling thing that is in the way and that’s the service charge. So they’ve already started, as soon as you try and connect your Airbnb account to a property management tool, they say, “Hey, you are a professional host. Let’s get rid of that,” and you’re whacked up to 14% commission, right? My worry and my fear, we talk about they’re trying to become the VRBO of the taxi industry. My fear is that they’re trying to become the Amazon of the world where if I sell a product on Amazon, I have to spend up to 60% commission for everything that I sell. It’s crazy. And they dictate everything. I don’t get any data. I don’t even get a name of who buys anything, a book or whatever on Amazon, but I have to go down that route. I don’t have a printing company behind me. I can’t print all these books off, so I have to go through Amazon to do it.Now, the way that it’s going is that if Airbnb continue to dominate this industry, and we’ve got so many people who are branding themselves as Airbnb businesses, Airbnb could easily turn around in 2025 and go, you know what, Mr. And Mrs. host? This relationship that we’ve got here isn’t fair. We’re generating 80% of your revenue. I feel this 14% commission is not right. Let’s bump that up to 20. Let’s bump it up to 25, 30, 40, 45. We think this is a 50/50 relationship. And you know all this data that you get? The phone number? The name? You’re not going to get that. You’re just going to get this little NFT notification, whatever they’re going to do in the future. You know what I mean? Which is worrying, because then you literally have no way of communicating with your guests. You’ve got no way of potentially generating a repeat booking, a repeat guest, a direct booking.So we have to start doing these things now. We have to start sucking up a little subscription fee here and there, because if we don’t and we continue to let them dominate the way that they are dominating, then this game’s going to get so much harder. So this is why it’s really important everybody watching this puts us into practice at property number one. Don’t wait until property number 10 or 20.
Ashley :Something that I did think of, back to that question you asked me, Tony, if I have done a booking off of a direct website, I haven’t, but I’ve done almost word of mouth. So it’s actually very common around here for lake houses that the same families re-rent them every single year, so these people don’t even have any kind of online presence and it’s just word of mouth. But imagine how much further those people could take it if they have these same families that are coming in, they’re putting up a website, those families share it with other families that are going through and they still have no need to be on Airbnb or any other platform too?
Tony :Ashley, that’s a great point and an example came to mind as you were talking about that, and it’s AutoCamp. Have you heard of AutoCamp?
Ashley :No, I don’t think so.
Tony :Mark, have you heard of AutoCamp?
Tony :So AutoCamp, it’s a resort, but instead of it being like a traditional hotel, say, all they offer is Airstreams. And they’re in places like Yosemite. They opened up in Joshua Tree. I think they’re in Utah somewhere. But that idea of doing the whole Airstream thing was really popularized on Airbnb. That’s where a lot of these unique stay started to originate. And AutoCamp took that idea and they said, hey, we’re going to do this at scale, but you actually can’t book an AutoCamp Airstream on Airbnb. You can only book direct through their website. So it’s an interesting model, right? They’re taking something that was popularized by Airbnb, yet they’re saying, if you want to book this, you actually can’t get it from there. You have to come direct to us. And I haven’t seen AutoCamp on Expedia’s website, on booking.com. I only see them direct book. So it’s an interesting thing, right? You can build it out, it just takes a little bit longer.
Ashley :I opened Airbnb the other day and it went right to… I was viewing it as a guest and I wasn’t in my host account, and this beautiful property popped up and I looked at it and it was somewhat close to me. And I went through their listing and it was like, check us out at this website, follow us on Instagram. And it was their brand and they had four or five other properties and I went and looked them up, I started following them. But do you think there are people out there that are putting their listing up on Airbnb but directing people to their website? I don’t know what Airbnb monitors, but are there people out there saying, “Hey, if you want a 20% discount, go to the website to book directly?” Or…
Mark :Now you’re making me happy. And this is literally what this book is about. The book I wrote, Playbook, I’ve got 101 tips in there. And one of the things I talk about, and it’s what I talked about on the Bigger Pockets podcast, it was 680. I spoke about how to optimize your listing to drive a guest from Airbnb to your direct booking website. And it is a simple walkthrough, because there are so many cool little checkpoints on your Airbnb listing that you can do so. And it’s not going against any T&Cs. It doesn’t hurt your algorithm in any way, shape or form. And that makes me happy. You made me cry earlier when you’re talking about you’ve never direct booked, but that little story there that’s made me happy.And the cool thing is about the story about the lake houses, that is a direct booking. It doesn’t have to be on a fancy website. A direct booking is when somebody reaches out to you on the phone, on the email, your website or social medias, just say, “Hey, how do I make a booking?” And the problem is that, as hosts who are so reliant on Airbnb, you get overwhelmed ’cause there’s 101 different things that you could be doing. And so that’s why I put that book together. So when you open it up, just like a playbook, like a coach’s playbook, you open it up and go, right, I need help on social media. Follow it, implement it, you’re sorted. And there are so many case studies, there are so many stories, which makes my world happier because, again, proof is in the pudding. Nearly $3 million worth of direct bookings generated this year. And that’s just tracked. That’s not including phone calls, emails, WhatsApps, social media messages, emails, letters, you name it. That’s things we can’t track, but it is happening.And the good news is that direct bookings year on year is increasing. So obviously OTAs take up tons of the overall amount of bookings, but direct bookings are increasing as well. COVID has sped that up because there was a point in time, especially in the UK, if you wanted to book in the UK, you couldn’t on Airbnb or booking.com because they shut out the calendar. But there were still people that needed accommodation. I know you’ve just had the amazing and Sarah [inaudible 00:37:37] on talking about medium-term rentals and about how they help place insurance people, displaced people, healthcare workers, et cetera. Those were all needing accommodation in the UK during 2020. They could only book direct. And this is the cool thing is that all it takes is some simple proactive marketing.The problem in this industry, too many people are reactive. They’re literally sat there waiting for the ping notification on the phone going, “Oh, I’ve got an Airbnb booking.” But instead, you should be being proactive and doing 30 minutes of new business every day. It amazes me how many people, when I say just do 30 minutes of new business, the first thing every business owner should do, not just hospitality, everyone. Doesn’t matter if you’re a PT, hairdresser, first thing you should do, 30 minutes of new business. And people look at me like I’ve asked them to go and run a marathon. They’re just like, I’m not doing that. It’s 30 minutes. It’s like an episode on Netflix. You could do it while watching Netflix, so it’s so easy to do.
Tony :Mark, I want to talk about the direct bookings increasing, but I want to tie it back to what, Ashley, you had mentioned about the Instagram handles being in the profiles or on the listings. And I think, Mark, tie back to where we initially started this first little conversation was about the trust piece. I feel like if someone can go to your listing on Airbnb and you have your Instagram profile that gives the story of who you are as a host, who you are as a business, and maybe there’s a link in there to your direct booking website, it still builds the trust. And then maybe if they saw you on Airbnb, but now you’ve got this cool Instagram profile and there’s a link in there to go book direct, maybe that does build the trust for them to actually book with you directly.And the other thing you mentioned, Mark, about the direct bookings increasing, what do you think? I don’t know. Is it getting easier or harder do you think to build that presence of your own direct booking platform? As Airbnb and VRBO gains more popularity, do you think that’s going to make it easier or harder for hosts moving forward to build out their own direct booking platforms?
Mark :If I have my way, it’s going to be easier. And the whole thing is that we have to start doing something now. It is so easy. The thing is that we make it seem so hard, and when we think it’s hard, we get overwhelmed. We just go, “I’ll just deal with it another day.” And the really cool thing is that your Airbnb profile, so not the listing, but your profile is an untapped real estate of Airbnb that nobody uses. I’ve been onto so many listings, ’cause I do a tons of marketing reviews. So every month in the hospitality community group, I pick one person at random, I do a marketing review. And when I do this review, I look at everything from social media to their listing sites. And I always look at Airbnb and I look at the profile, and so many people in their profile just put, “Hey, I’m Bob.”It’s like, Bob, calm down. You’ve got 400 characters of description that you can use here to present yourself as a professional business. Now, I love, Tony, yours and Sarah’s. Your Airbnb profile gets straight into that. You explain exactly who you are, why you do it, and then from there, people can go and find out more about you. So the first thing that I feel like everybody should be doing on the Airbnb profile, that first line, and this is general copy talk. Everybody talks about the hook in copyright. And the hook is just basically getting someone’s attention so they take action. The first line is you should be saying, “Hey, I’m Mark, founder of X.” Now, you can’t put a direct web link in there. Airbnb will spot that. The bots will spot that. But you can get creative. So I always used to put, “Hey, I’m Mark, founder of X. Check out our online reviews. They’re rather good,” or, “They’re really good.”So what’s the first thing that you do? They’re going, “Oh, I’m going to go find these online reviews.” So I’ve given them my name, I’ve given them the business, I’ve told them where I’m located. So if they went and Googled business name and location, the way that Google works, it’s going to show you your business website because it’s there. The keywords are very low. Now, the cool thing that we’re doing at the moment is I’m showing people to put check out our IG, which is Instagram. And then you put the little at symbol and then you put the handle straight afterwards. So everybody now knows what IG means and they know the apps and they’re there. And again, you’ve been driving them from Airbnb, they’re going to have literally… They’ll have the Airbnb app up on the phone and they can instantly then open up the Instagram right next to it and they can come and find you.And then if you’ve got your Instagram listing optimized, as in a pinned post saying, “Hey, this is how you book.” So it’s being differential and being direct and showing this is how you book, having a pinned post showing it, whether it’s a video or whether it’s a post. And then you’ve got a Linktree in your bio. So many ways we can do this. You’ve just got to start.
Ashley :Mark. I want to take us to the pricing part of this. So if you’re using Airbnb, they have their pricing tool, it’s like their dynamic pricing, or Price Labs I think is another one where you can integrate it to figure out how much you should charge per night. And I’ll be completely honest, there’s three or four other short-term rentals in the area that I have my Airbnb, so there’s literally no data that comes up when looking at any of these things. Also AirDNA, there’s no data from those, so the easiest way for me is just going on Airbnb and looking what other people are charging. But for somebody who’s in this huge market, how are you able to incorporate this with doing direct bookings? And where is the data being pulled from, I guess, too?
Mark :Yeah. Well, there’s Price Labs, there’s Wheelhouse, there’s Beyond Pricing. There are so many cool tools available now that wasn’t around when I first got started. This is that my biggest regret as a hospitality owner is that every year when it came to pricing, we would just put the price of a dollar. We had a set price for the whole year, which is mental, but we didn’t want to upset our loyal customers or whatever. Very typical Yorkshire mindset. And if I say Yorkshire mindset to you, you’re going to think what’s he talking about? Anybody who’s been to England, you’ll know what the Yorkshire mindset means. We would just basically just go, right, that’s the price this year. And it’d be a set fee of £80 a night, which is madness. But now with pricing tools, we have got access to the technology that was only available to the Las Vegas casinos, the Marriotts and whatnot, and it’s available to everybody. Doesn’t matter if it’s property one or property whatever.And where they get their data from is where everybody gets their data from. From the booking sites, from the listing sights, AirDNA and all that cool stuff. They’ve got access to so much data. And the main thing that I want everybody to take away from this is never, ever, ever, literally slap yourself on the wrist if you ever go onto Airbnb and go, “Oh, I’m going to check out their pricing suggestion. I’m going to see what they suggest I charge,” because they’re only going to benefit one person and one person only, and that’s Airbnb. You need to use this third-party tool, and it’s so cost-effective, it’s so cheap. Whether it’s Price Labs. Wheelhouse is free. You can’t get more cost effective than that. And then you’ve got Beyond as well. There’s loads of cool ones.And you’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt, so do your research on that. I always say to everybody in the Boostly community, go and get active on Price Labs. Go get a listing on Wheelhouse, go get a listing on Beyond, and use it as a guide. Don’t use it as the be all and end all. Yes, you can set your price rule sets, et cetera. But Ashley, for your scenario, it’s literally a case of going on, look at what everybody else is charging, and then look at what you offer as well and go, right, well I’m going to charge this because I know that I can charge this because I offer an extra whatever that may be. The amenity may be a hot tub, it may be whatever. Whatever it may be.And then you use it as a guideline. You’re not going to have a set price throughout the year because there’s going to be set dates in your calendar that you know could sell free or four or five times over, because that will go up or down. Now, the more you go down this rabbit hole, yes, you can then pay Price Labs, Wheelhouse, Beyond for their pro services that does this all automatically and you literally don’t have to worry about it, or you can do a combination of the two. But the main thing is, never, ever, ever use Airbnb’s suggestion because it’s only going to benefit one person and one person only.
Tony :So Mark, Airbnb’s goal is to make their pricing as competitive as possible. And the way that they want to really scale their business isn’t necessarily by getting hosts to charge more. It’s by increasing the supply of hosts on the platform. If they have a larger inventory of available listings, that’s how Airbnb continues to scale. Or to your point earlier, Mark, maybe it’s now they’re charging the host a little bit more for being on the platform, but their goal is to always be super competitive when it comes to pricing. So if you listen to what they’re suggesting, you will always, always, always price yourself lower than what people are actually willing to pay.
Mark :Do you want to hear what my Airbnb prediction is for next year or maybe the year after?
Ashley :We would love to.
Mark :I don’t know if you’ve watched this, but have you checked out the Spotify Netflix series?
Mark :If not, go and check it out. It was created in Sweden, but it was dubbed in English and it was really interesting ’cause it told a six-part story from every single angle, from the founder to the CTO to the coder to the artist. And one thing, I think it’s episode five, that was really controversial, is when Spotify wanted to charge an extra commission to the artist to get their song appearing higher on the list. All right? Now, let’s bring this back to hospitality. Booking.com have done this for years, so you pay a flat 15% fee, but if you want to get an extra boost in your listing visibility, you then up that commission from 15% to 18% to 20%. With everything that’s been happening very recently, they are moving towards that model. I can pretty much foresee it in my mystical meg ball, and I hope to pin this and come back to this when they do it and go, “Told you so.”Airbnb will turn around and go, “Hey, Mr. host. At the moment our algorithm is based off price, review and availability.” They don’t care about Super Host by the way. Everybody, every quarter who puts up that little super host badge saying, “Hey, I’m a super host,” guess what that’s doing? That’s branding Airbnb on your social media channels. It’s genius branding, and it does one thing or one thing only. And I’ve got this set post I put out every three months and saying, “Super Host means nothing,” right? And they all come back to me saying, “Well, it means I get more visibility on their platform.” No it doesn’t. They care about price, they care about reviews and availability.And there’s going to be a case and point in time where everybody’s got the same price, the same reviews, the same availability. So then they’re going to go, “Well, Mr. host, Mrs. host, how can you get more visibility on our site? You are struggling with bookings. Here’s what you can do. It’s called Airbnb visibility boost. Let’s knock that 14% up to 20% and we’ll whack you up here.” And that’s what’s coming. And it just makes so much financial sense for them because they know the hosts that are desperate, the hosts that just rely on one platform will pay for extra commission to get that booking. Now, that is a bad thing. So this is why you’ve got to start doing all of this now. Go and get the playbook, put it all into practice, and you’ll never have to worry about an Airbnb algorithm change again. You’ll literally go, “Oh, that’s cute. Let me now go back to running my business and I’ll just [inaudible 00:48:45] because that’s just a nice little change, so…”
Ashley :It’s like social media. If you have a huge Instagram following, and then all of a sudden social media goes down, you have no way of reaching your platform, all your followers, the people that you engage with, and it’s just gone. Instagram controls all that. The same with Facebook or Snapchat or any of those. And that’s why it’s so important to create… The most common thing I see is create an email list so that if one of those programs go down, that software, then it’s creating that email list that you have it, so capturing emails from people, giving away free stuff or whatever that is. And having your own website too, and being able to reach people in a more way you can control.
Mark :Can I give you a Boostly top tip for 2023?
Ashley :Yes, please.
Mark :Which you’ll all love. So there’s a company called Stayfi, and again, my British accent is awful, so I’ll spell it. It’s S-T-A-Y-F-I. Now, this is not my company. I’m not affiliated by them. I just love them. And what they do, and the best way of describing what they do is when was the last time you were in a Starbucks or an airport or a Marriott? If you wanted to use their Wi-Fi, what did you have to do? You had to give up your email address to use the wifi. And I’ve been talking about building an email list since 2016. I bang on about it and there’s so many pluses to it, but Stayfi is fantastic because there’s been nothing for the short-term rental industry. I dabbled with something in 2014. It wasn’t ready. Stayfi now makes it ready.So when you get a guest come and stay at one of your properties, and if you’ve got a larger property that sleeps, let’s say, 12 to 14 people, if you’re doing it right, you’ll get the guest’s, booker’s information: name, email, phone number. And there’s so many other ways of doing it, right? But this is the cool thing is that you don’t just get the booker’s information, you get everybody in the party’s information. ‘Cause to use the Wi-Fi, they have to give up their email, and they readily do it because everybody wants Wi-Fi. Everybody wants their Wi-Fi. So you’ve got 14 people. Now just imagine that the guest booker, he’s booked it for a friends and families meetup. That guest is never going to go back to Tennessee again. He’s never going to go back to Gatlinburg or wherever it may be. But that doesn’t mean that somebody else in the party.And by getting all those 14 guests’ data, if you do this regularly, do it over a year, you can easily get a thousand emails. Now the cool thing about what Stayfi are doing next year is that they are building an email CRM, but they’re also building in text messaging and they’re building templates and automation that just makes it so easy to collect but also then distribute and use. So as a prime example-
Tony :Even if there aren’t going back to Tennessee, if you have properties in other places, if you have properties in multiple markets, now you’re able to market those other options in them. And if they enjoyed their stay with you in City A, there’s a good chance they’ll enjoy that stay with you in City B.
Mark :And that’s called Building a brand. Yeah, building a business. That is it.
Ashley :Yeah. I actually just pulled it up real quick, and it’s so easy. They send you a device, you plug it into the router and then when the people try to sign into the Wi-Fi, they just put in their information. It’s very easy. Why not do it?
Tony :So Mark, you’ve been fantastic by the way, and every time we chat I always learn a little something new, man. So I’m glad we got to share your vast knowledge with the rookie audience here. So I want to start to wrap things up, I want to move into our rookie exam. These are the three most important questions that we ask every single guest that comes on to the show, so we’ll jump right in. Question number one, Mark. What is one actionable thing a rookie should do after listening to your episode?
Mark :First thing everybody should do is go and check out property management software tools. And I don’t care if you’re at property one or property three. Just go and implement it in your business right now. PMS. Go get that.
Ashley :So the next question is, and we might already know the answer to this, what is one tool, software, app or system in your business that you use?
Mark :I’m going to say obviously PMS, but also as well what I have built with the family business, which was The Granary, and also Boostly, is a really good email marketing software tool. I use MailChimp and it’s fantastic. M-A-I-L-C-H-I-M-P. And it’s free. It’s free to use for the first 2000 subscribers, and it’s that place where you start to build that list. So important to do, so please do it soon.
Tony :All right, Mark. Last question. Where do you plan on being, or where do you plan on Boostly being five years from now?
Mark :Everywhere. Yeah, I want to continue just making sure that Boostly is visible to all. Doesn’t matter how you take in content, whether it’s blogs, whether it’s books, whether it’s Audible, audio, whether it’s video. I just want to make sure that Boostly is everywhere, because if I can help, my big goal is to help one million hosts cut down on their reliance on Airbnb. And that means that I need to make sure that it is visible everywhere. It doesn’t matter how people take in content on all the platforms. So yeah, it’s just continually striving to make sure we are everywhere.
Ashley :So Mark, for our next segment, we usually highlight a rookie rockstar, but we wanted to switch it up this week. And we want to ask you, what is your advice for somebody who they’re just starting out in their journey and they want to become a rockstar in 2023? You as an entrepreneur obviously have become successful. You’ve got your hands in many things to put together these websites. What kind of advice would you give to somebody who has identified what they want to do, how they can actually take action and become that rookie rockstar?
Mark :So I’m going to give the same advice that somebody gave to me in 2016, and that’s imperfect action applied at speed is the key to success. So many businesses are destroyed on procrastination. So imperfect action applied at speed is the key to success.
Ashley :That’s great. I like that. Well Mark, thank you so much for joining us this week. Can you let everyone know where they can reach out to you and find out some more information about you?
Mark :So the best place and the only place is this one. It’s The Book Direct Playbook. Go and find it. Audible, Amazon, wherever it may be. Go and find it. And once you get that, you get access to my Instagram, you get access to a course and all that cool stuff. So go and grab that. Come and say hi. I do love an Instagram DM, so come and say hi in the DMs and if you’ve got any questions at all, just throw them at me and we’ll see how we can help.
Ashley :And I know you guys love to slide into people’s DMs, so make sure you guys follow Mark on Instagram. What’s your Instagram handle, Mark?
Mark :It’s @boostlyuk, B-O-O-S-T-L-Y-U-K.
Ashley :Well, thank you guys so much for joining us. I’m Ashley at Welcome Rentals and he’s Tony at Tony J. Robinson, and we will be back on Saturday with a rookie reply.
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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.