Thursday, February 28, 2013

5 Tips for Combining Your Email and Facebook Marketing Efforts

Some of Facebook's gifts, as displayed in the ...
Some of Facebook's icons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our recent survey of vacation rental owners and managers about their online marketing in 2013, many said social media and email would be a major focus. While paid and free listing sites were Nos. 1 and 2 respectively, social media and email came in at 3rd and 4th in importance, well ahead of organic and paid search.

This makes some sense. Paid search is expensive. Organic search is a constant battle against competitors and Google algorithm changes. Facebook and other social media, on the other hand, are free unless you advertise, and email's monetary costs usually consist of only what you pay to your email service provider, which in most cases is a relatively small amount.

But both social media and email take up your most valuable resource--your time. Every hour you spend on them is an hour you could have spent prospecting more profitably, so you need to make both count.

Facebook’s a hot button right now for the vast majority of people, so for brevity’s sake, we’ll focus on it rather than try to address other social media outlets, such as LinkedIn, Pintrest or Twitter (we’ll save those for a future blog post). Here are five tips for making sure your Facebook and email efforts are coordinated, so you can make the most of your time.

Where is everybody? In the social media pool!
It's time you dove into Facebook too. 
1. Keep your website updated. Whether it’s Facebook or email, your customers will almost always end up at your website. If your website isn't clean, focused and easy to use, then all the time you spend on Facebook and email will be for naught. Do you have clear calls to action? Are your photos as good as they can be? Is your copy well written, concise, valuable and informative? Is your page layout pleasing and navigable for the user? And last, but by no means least, are your Facebook, other social media and email list sign up icons clearly displayed? If not, make improving your site a priority.

2. Develop Facebook only offers. Then publicize them via email. People need to find value in your Facebook page and your emails. You need to give them a reason to visit Facebook and open your emails. Run sweepstakes and contests on Facebook, but make sure everyone on your mailing list knows about them. Encourage sweeps and contest participants to sign up for your emails so they don't miss deals or freebies.

3. Post your emails to Facebook. This can be as easy as posting the link to your email on your Facebook page. Many email service providers allow you to do this by simply checking a box when you schedule your email. Or, you can post elements of your email on your Facebook and direct customers back to your page. If you have a special offer featured in your email, you can pull it out of your email and post it on your Facebook page. The same goes for an article on your blog, new property, or new amenity.

4. Keep your branding consistent. Make sure that your logo is displayed on your Facebook page within the Profile and/or Cover images. One problem with the Profile image on Facebook is that the size allotted is a rectangle oriented vertically. This means that logos that are rectangles oriented horizontally don't fit too well in the space allotted. You might have to pull a recognizable element out of your logo and use it as your profile picture. Don't just upload anything--it's worth engaging a freelance designer to help you get your Facebook Profile image right. The same goes for your Facebook Cover image--it should be consistent with your website. Then, make sure your emails are using the same or similar images and logos.

5. Coordinate your Facebook, website and email content. If you add new properties to your site, announce them in Facebook and in email. Blog posts you want noticed can be pinned to the top of your Facebook page and distributed via email. Content on your site should include Like Us links and email sign ups. It’s best to create at least the outline of a content marketing calendar. Have a rough idea every week or month of what it is you want to accomplish. This will save you time and keep your efforts focused.

The most important thing to remember is that Facebook and email should work together with your website and blog to create a synergistic experience for the customer. They may find you on Facebook, but you want them to remember you when they open their email inbox or see your URL on a search results page. A holistic approach to your marketing is how you stay top of mind no matter how your customers find you.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Something for Everyone: St. Augustine Combines Beaches & a 500 Year History

Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Florida
Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Florida (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Ponce de Leon first waded ashore at St. Augustine in 1513, he was searching for gold and the Fountain of Youth. He found neither. But in the centuries since, plenty of others intrepid travelers and residents have found a wealth of rejuvenation. And if you're searching for a destination that won't take all your gold, St. Augustine vacation rentals are good place to start.

St. Augustine, officially established in 1565, is the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States. During its 500 year history, it's been under Spanish, British and, of course, American rule. The United States took over St. Augustine, and the rest of Florida, in 1821, purchasing it from Spain. Americans had been moving over the border from Georgia and Alabama since the end of the Revolutionary War, causing border disputes.

St. Augustine's done a magnificent job preserving its past. You'll find 36 original colonial buildings, as well as 40 rebuilt structures. The Colonial Spanish Quarter and the fort Castillo de San Marcos offer easy, family-friendly sightseeing and shopping. Not coincidentally, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest fort in the United States. Walking through these areas is like taking a trip back in time, they’re so well preserved. In fact, it’s fun to stroll through them in the evening when no one’s around, soaking up the architecture and feeling the past surround you.

Be sure to visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse, built originally in 1565 and rebuilt several times, Fountain of Youth Discovery Park, the Lightner Museum and take part in the Flagler College Legacy Tours. These tours showcase the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, built by railroad czar Henry Flagler as an exclusive resort. You'll see amazing architecture and get a glimpse into our nation's gilded age (think of the movie Titanic). Henry Flagler essentially opened up the eastern shore of Florida for tourism. Of course, rather than traveling by airplane or automobile, tourists traveled by Flagler’s trains and stayed in his hotels and resorts.

St. Augustine: Ancient city, modern luxury.
Is this what Ponce de Leon was looking for?
Anastasia State Park offers four miles of pristine, soft sand. You'll have a lifeguard from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Anastasia's also a protected bird sanctuary, where you'll have hiking and biking trails, canoeing, kayaking, Geocaching and a lot more. Needless to say, it’s also a birdwatchers heaven. You can get food and drinks the Island Beach Shop and Grill. If you’ve been to Florida and haven’t yet visited a Florida state park, you’re missing out. Put Anastasia State Park on the top of your things to do list—you won’t be disappointed.

St. Augustine Beach is home to St. John's County Pier, a pavilion, volleyball courts and a playground, restaurants and more. Vilano Beach is north of the Historic District. Crescent Beach is just south of St. Augustine Beach but seems like a world away. This pet-friendly beach doesn't get as much traffic as the others. Note that St. Augustine itself doesn't have any beaches since it's on a river. However, these beaches rank with the best Florida has to offer, and they're just minutes away from just about any point in the city.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

The London Underground’s 150th Year: A Beginner’s Guide

London underground
London underground (Photo credit: @Doug88888)
Last month marked the London Underground’s 150th year anniversary! That’s a lot of years of impatient commuters shuttling from station to station trying to get on with their daily lives. The Tube has saved Londoners countless hours of precious time that would have been wasted stuck in traffic on a London bus. Newbies to the Underground game are going to have a difficult time at first. It can seem like a daunting experience at first, so I’ve written a little beginner’s guide for the London Underground. Grab a cuppa to sip on and enjoy!

The Tube Map
I’m sure you’ve seen it around everywhere—even outside the capital. The London Tube Map was first designed in 1931 by engineer Harry Beck. Believe it or not, the Tube Map we see today is a simplified version, despite looking like a tangled bunch of messy wires. Unfortunately, the map isn’t to scale or very geographically accurate. It does do the job, though, and clearly illustrates all the different lines. There are eleven of them in total, each in a different color spread through London.

You can get your hands on a Tube map literally anywhere in the capital:
  • posters up on the walls in Underground stations
  • available in any major station
  • any guidebook about London/England should have one folded at the back
  • smartphone apps like TubeMap or London Tube
  • just a simple Google Image search
You have two options to choose from if you’re new to the Underground: a travel card or an Oyster card. If you’re planning on staying in your London vacation rental for a while, then the Oyster card is a no-brainer. You’ll find every Londoner carrying one of these bad boys—in their wallet, card holders, bags, pockets, etc. It’s a pre-paid card that you can swipe off at any Tube station. You can get it topped up at a corner shop or Tube/Train stations.

Oyster cards cost £13.00 and come with £10.00 credit—essentially costing £3.00 each. You can use your card indefinitely and the credit never expires. Oyster card journeys always end up costing less than half compared to a cash-journey. For example, a trip from Whitechapel to Brixton costs £2.10 with an Oyster card and £4.50 by cash. It’s ridiculous!
If you’re only in London for a day, go for the day travel card. If you’re here for longer, then choose the Oyster card. It has a daily cap, too, meaning that it stops deducting credit once you hit £6.50.

Tip 1 – Avoiding peak times
Image by: Qsimple
Any journey before 9:30 am on a weekday counts as peak. This journey will not only cost you more, but also means pushing and fighting your way through crowds of commuters going in every direction you can think of. After waiting for several trains before you get on one, you’ll be lucky to get enough space to breathe. Avoid peak times whenever you can.

Tip 2 – Walking
Walking is a more cost-effective and healthier alternative. The most common mistake tourists make is pay for a journey that’s walking distance. A famous one is the 260 meter trip from Leicester Sq. to Covent Garden, 45 seconds from one stop to the other. This trip costs a whopping £4.00! Always check the map before you tap in that Oyster card because you could end up saving enough for a nice meal.

Tip 3 – Tap in and tap out
Smaller stations often have discreet check in/out Oyster machines. During off-peak hours, the barriers are left open and you can easily forget to tap in/out. If you get caught, you’ll be fined £6.50 at minimum.

As a beginner, you should be feeling pretty confident at this point. But who doesn’t want to go that extra mile and impress their mates? Here are a few London Underground facts…

  • Despite being called the London Underground, it is only half underground
  • In Cockney slang, Londoners call the Tube ‘Oxo’. Don’t try to pull this off if you don’t have the accent, though!
  • Professor Dumbledore, the Hogwarts School’s Headmaster in the Harry Potter books and movies, has a scar on his knee which looks like the Tube Map
  • A new breed of ruthless-biting mosquitoes have formed in the London Underground over the years
  • Staff members have refused to work at Covent Garden station because they believe it’s haunted.  There have been reports of a man who disappears into nothingness…

Author Bio
Sohaib is a travel writer who takes every chance to explore the unknown. When he isn’t travelling around Europe, you’ll find him in the capital writing for who provide discount London hotel deals.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

5 Academy Award Winning Travel Movies

The 2013 Academy Awards are Sunday, February 24, and there are a few travel related films nominated--The Life of Pi for Best Picture, and Denzel Washington for Best Actor in Flight. Whether or not those add to the list of travel movies that have won Academy Awards remains to be seen, but until we find out, here are five Academy Award winning travel movies you can check out before Sunday's show. (Some credit Lawrence of Arabia as a travel movie, but it seems more like a historical/war drama -- however, it is well worth watching and is widely considered one of the greatest movies of all time.)

Winner of Best Original Score and Best Animated Feature
A heartwarming story from 2009 of a curmudgeonly old man and a young, chubby Boy Scout on a unlikely adventure floating via many balloons (with a house as a gondola)  to Paradise Falls, a mysterious destination in South America.

Lost in Translation
Best Original Screenplay
Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are a generation apart and experiencing crises unique to their different points in life in this 2003 film. By chance, they meet in Tokyo, confide in each other and explore the meaning of their lives, each gaining a unique perspective that would have been impossible without their random encounter.

Out of Africa
Winner of 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography
Meryl Streep plays Danish Baroness Karen Dinesen Blixen who, with her husband, started a coffee plantation in Kenya in 1913, returning to Denmark in 1931. It explores her marriage of convenience to her husband, an affair with another man, and the many problems she encounters while establishing and running the plantation. Sweeping vistas of Africa and Dinesen's growing appreciation of African culture make this 1985 movie interesting to watch.

Forrest Gump
Winner of 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Director
"My name's Gump, Forrest Gump ..." is a line uttered by Tom Hanks numerous times throughout the adventures of Forrest Gump, a man simple in worldly ways but a genius in affairs of the heart, practical matters and ping pong. His story will take you through iconic places and show you the iconic faces of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Stupid is as stupid does in this 1994 film.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Supporting Actress (Penelope Cruz)
Two young women summer in Barcelona in this 2008 film. One, Cristina, is sexually adventurous, while her friend, Cristina, is cautious and engaged to be married. Cristina, over the course of the summer, becomes curious and then tempted into exploring her more adventurous side. A  Woody Allen film, so it's filled with a variety of turns and reflections on modern life.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Travel as a Couple—You’ll Talk (and Do Other Things) More

A couple traveling together, alone, without kids, other couples, grandma or pets, has long been one of the most romantic ways to spend time together. And now, there's a bit of research to prove it.

The U.S. Travel Association recently surveyed 1,100 adults and found couples that travel as couples communicate better and also have a better ... ahem ... sex life.

The report said travel outpaced other shows of appreciation for each other by wide margins. For example, nearly twice and many people say travel sparks romance faster and better than small gifts. Getting away from it all together sparks communication, intimacy and dreaming. Traveling couples say they share not just emotionally, but also practically, as they tend to handle money discussions and differences well. Travel buddies also report being best friends.

Vacation rentals make the perfect romantic getaway. After all, if you head to a resort or hotel, you'll have lots of prying eyes and not feel alone at all. A private, perhaps even secluded, beach bungalow or villa means you can enjoy all the alone time you need. And you can book a place with the amenities you want to make your stay enjoyable. Imagine a week alone in a vacation rental with your spouse or significant other.

So if you're looking for a special Valentine's Day gift, why not let your loved one know you'll be spending a week together, alone, in a private vacation rental in a romantic city or on a secluded beach.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

January Vacation Rental Bookings Mirror Manager Optimism

English: Rental cabins near the Great Smoky Mo...
English: Rental cabins near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Sevier County, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

January was a great month for vacation rental bookings at Perfect Places, which means it was a great month for a lot of property owners and managers. We saw a 32% increase in online bookings over January 2012. We also saw set a record for online booking revenue.

This mirrors optimism expressed by vacation rental owners and managers in our recent survey. The majority said they were optimistic about business picking up in 2013. So far, so good.

Perfect Places is no stranger to online bookings. In fact, we’re a pioneer. We booked our first property online in 2006.

Since then, we’ve built a great inventory of more than 40,000 properties around the world that can be booked securely via credit card. As more and more travelers turn to vacation rentals as their preferred lodging option, more and more will expect online booking as an option.

Online booking needs to be seamless and easy for a customer, but there are a lot of moving parts to monitor. The technology is complex, and property managers and owners need to provide extensive information about the property, high-quality photos and guest reviews. We work with owners and managers to ensure everything works and that the guest experience is a good as it can be. We’ve got the experience needed to help property owners and managers make online booking a success.

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Friday, February 8, 2013

5 Ways to Enjoy an Affordable Orlando Vacation

Okay, fair enough -- affordable may be a stretch when speaking about a trip to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. While those two entertainment meccas are definitely worth the price of admission, going is something most of us have to plan for, save up for, and then savor when we're there, because going again might be a couple years off.

To help you maximize your budget so you can get back to the Magic Kingdom faster, here are a few tips to help you save money on your trip to Orlando.

Orlando Vacation Rentals
. Now, this advice isn't good just because Perfect Places is a vacation rental portal. Vacation rentals truly do save you money versus a hotel or onsite Disney or Universal Studios resort. Even if it's just your family, you're going to save money because getting a couple rooms for you, your spouse and the kids is really expensive when compared to getting a whole house to yourself. There are plenty of vacation rental options available in Orlando. You can get just about as close to the theme parks as you like, or as far away as you want. Remember, staying onsite means staying with the crowds. Just think how nice it will be to save money on lodging and be able to head back to a private home, with a private pool, sauna, hot tub, game room, etc.

Gather Ticket Price Data. The word "data" was used intentionally, and you should not be afraid of it. You need to take a very analytical approach to ticket prices. Create some kind of chart, either on a pad of paper or in an Excel spreadsheet, that has the dates you can travel, the theme parks you want to visit, and the ticket prices. Remember that there are usually a lot of different ticket options available, so leave space to accommodate not just the standard options, but any seasonal discounts that might apply. Include tickets available at the park, preordered online, and tickets available through AAA or other promotional discount source.

Go in the Off Season. Even Disney World has an off season. Unfortunately for families with kids in school, it lines up with the school calendar. Now, we'd be the last people to suggest your kids should miss school for Disney, but if your children are in preschool or even Kindergarten, missing a couple of days probably isn't going to hurt them at all. You can always get assignments from teachers and turn everyday tasks into learning events (since you're staying in a vacation rental and cooking a meal or two, you could have a weights and measure session while making their favorite dinner). If you're not traveling with kids, then booking an offseason trip will be easy. Florida on September 10 is just was warm and fun as Florida on June 10--but a lot less expensive.

Menu Planning. Ever go to the grocery store hungry then walk out wondering how in the world you spent so much? It's the same thing when you go to Orlando hungry. The minute you get off the plane, you're tempted by all the easy, delicious food options. To counter those temptations, have a doable meal plan. You'll be in a vacation rental, so cooking will be a snap. Tip: Plan at least a couple meals out. You're on vacation, so you'll want to treat yourself. But if you treat yourself every day, you'll end up spending way more than you really need. You'll also be able to prepare brown bag lunches to take with you, or at the very least snacks for along the way during the day. Stopping to buy an overpriced lunch or overpriced candy bar can add up quickly.

Less Expensive Attractions. Hit Disney and Universal for the big stuff, like the Harry Potter ride. For water parks and water slides, pencil in a day at less expensive attractions. You'll make plenty of memories at Disney and can schedule some family cool down time at a low-key, yet still nice, water park in the Orlando area. Then you, your kids, and your pocketbook will be refreshed for another go at the Mouse Kingdom the next day.

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