Monday, 24 December 2012

Using Social Media to Promote Your Villa in Thailand

2012 saw a massive shake up in the SEO world. The Google Penguin update in April destroyed the livelihoods of millions of internet marketers and supposed SEO experts. The hypocritical American corporate wiped out the little man and handed the first page slots to itself and its corporate buddies. The excuse was the need to improve content from searches. The real reason is that Google hated the fact that people learnt to get on the front page for their particular search terms without paying Google money for adwords. They called this ‘black hat’ promotion.

There are no doubt many Thai villa owners as well as developers and estate agents in Thailand who were doing link exchanges as well as sending links to their sites via article directories and the like who were penalized this year.

To these people I would say there is no way back. There is a lot of rubbish talked about removing all the links (as if that is feasible) and submitting to Google for re-consideration. The chances of this helping are slim. It is a monumental waste of time.

Travel related searches are now dominated by Wikitravel, Agoda and Trip Advisor. They are all big corporate entities that don’t really give local information by local people. They are all about selling hotel rooms or about getting free user generated content that is one sided.

How can you compete?

Well one answer is to boycott Google. Bing and Yahoo are returning much more varied and interesting search results. Persuading people to use these search engines starts with you.

Another option is to start a new site if your site was hit. Google rates new sites with regularly updated content much higher than old sites with ‘too many’ targeted backlinks.

The other option which many people are going for is social media. It is a way to bypass Google and get traffic from referrals. In Brazil more people use Facebook than they do Google.

It is difficult but the way to get social media to work for you is to engage with your audience. To put up snippets that people will react to. As for linking it is different to SEO. It is not reciprocal. Rather the more people and posts and photos you can like or re-tweet or pin the better your chances of being noticed and being drawn into wider social circles that can give exposure to your villa.

Twitter is perhaps the worst of the social media. It is full of people who ‘follow back’. They don’t care about your tweets; they just want to bolster their follower numbers. Twitter streams are full of streams of selfish people not listening to each other. Having 100 followers who are social media marketers is useless – everyone is selling and no one is buying.

Much better is Facebook. It is easy to set up a Facebook page. Often they rank well. They allow a forum for people to post comments, photos and video. It is a genuinely engaging media that keeps people on page and could lead to sales. Communities of travellers meet and their opinions hold weight with their peers.

So if you have a villa you want to rent or sell then set up a Facebook page and start to get your friends to the page. Once you have 30 likes you get stats from FB. These stats aren’t much use but it is the first hurdle and a sign you are heading in the right direction.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Pricing Your Rental Villa

Finding the right price for your villa in Thailand can be a tricky business. There are a number of things to consider: your running costs, your competition, your expected occupancy rate; and, changes in the rental market. Only when you have made an assessment of all these factors can you begin to price your villa correctly. And then, of course, there are seasonal price fluctuations to consider.

If you follow the prices for a successful hotel in Thailand you will shocked to discover just how often they change their prices. You will also be surprised at the lack of transparency when it comes to prices. There are often hidden extras such as tax, transfers, movie channels that don’t appear in the initial price quoted. If you go to booking engines such as Agoda,, Trip Advisor etc. you will find a different price on each site. This is partly to do with commissions charged. If you are managing your own villa it can be a real headache dealing with all these prices.

I have found that it is worth trying booking sites but only keep up with 1 or 2 that perform for you. Most don’t produce much.

Running Costs

Here is a check list of running costs that you should consider:

1)    Electricity bill. This is the main bill due to air-con. Many hotels use keycards to stop people leaving the air-con on while they are out. Keep a close eye on your electricity bills when you have guests as this will help you estimate your electricity costs in renting your villa.
2)    Water. Big groups and families can often use a lot of water for showers. Hot water use will also impact on the electricity bill.
3)    Cleaning. If you offer a maid service, laundry service, rubbish removal etc. All these costs need to be factored into your price.
4)    Transfers / Agent fees. Many villas offer free pick up. It is a good idea as that way you don’t lose your customers at the last hurdle. It is also a chance for them to meet the villa agent, pay damage deposit, collect keys etc.
5)    Wear and tear. After a year you should spend money to repair your Thai villa. Chances are that it will need a lick of paint, this piece of wood replaced, filters cleaned and so on. Try to estimate a yearly cost for keeping the villa presentable. This should include such things as new sheets, a fee for use of fridge, TV and other expensive items. The more detailed you can be the better your estimate will be.
6) Legal fees.

Minimum you want to be making 50% more than all these costs put together. Of course the higher your occupancy rates the lower your profit margin needs to be per day rental. Some places make nearly all their money by making 200% profit at Christmas / New Year and over the year this works at a profit minus costs rate of about 50%. It varies. Keeping your eyes on thesew figures is key. Estimate what your minimum is to break even over the year. that will greatly help you to decide how much you can discount.

Your Competition

The received wisdom is that you try to slightly undercut your competition to attract more customers. There is a lot to be said for this approach. You need to study the villas that are the same size as yours, offer similar facilities and are in a similar location. It can be hard sometimes to find an exact match. This is good news as it means you have something unique to offer. I look at what hotels are charging to guide my pricing as well.

In Thailand there is often not much price undercutting going on. The market reaches a type of unspoken monopoly on prices, especially when there is no shortage of customers.

Much of the price changes go on with slightly altering the peak and low season prices. This is connected to expected occupancy levels.

Occupancy Levels

If you find you have high occupancy levels at Christmas and during the European summer holidays it is often not a bad idea to slightly raise your prices for these times. This will increase profit. By the same token if low season occupancy rates are low it is a good idea to drop the rates at these times of the year. Another idea is to offer monthly rates at these slow times. To make this possible you can offer different packages that perhaps don’t include maid service and other services. People keen for longer term lets often want a bare bones package. This suits you and the tenants. As long as you are making near your 50% profit margin there is no problem. Moreover, it is always good to have people staying – they help spread the word about the villa and can also be encouraged to leave positive comments on Trip Advisor. They can also form part of a repeat customer business.

If you have really low occupancy rates then you should consider drastically changing your marketing strategy, upgrading the villa and altering your prices. Pursue as many avenues and ideas as possible to get the bookings. Analyze what is putting people off.

Changes in the Rental Market

Holiday destinations in Thailand fall in and out of fashion. They go from being relatively unknown to being centres for mass tourism. They also fall out of favor. Places in Thailand have a habit of developing quickly and the market gets flooded. In Koh Samui hotels shot up in the 80s and 90s and now there are far too many rooms to fill. Everyone suffers, and no one can see the obvious that over-development is bad for business. In Koh Samui the hotel owners imagine all they need is more daily flights to the island. They don’t see that people are put off by the over-commercialism and high prices.

The 2008 global financial crisis has had an on-going impact on tourism to Thailand. It is a long recession and many North Americans and Europeans simply don’t have the same money to spend as before. Thus, offering cheap deals for the times when the Europeans are likely to visit is a good idea.

By contrast Russians, Chinese and other Asians are coming in droves to Thailand. Finding ways to get exposure in these markets is a good idea. One way is to offer other languages on your website. Also finding the online sites that these relatively new markets use to search for villa rental is a good idea. However, beware these customers often are far more astute with their spending and are looking for bargains that eat heavily into your profits. Also they often have very different expectations to European guests.

Pricing your villa correctly to balance being attractive to the consumer and making a healthy return for your money is not simple. The more factors you consider the more accurate you can be in assessing the mood of the market.