UK government put into effect a policy regarding VAT charges for non-refundable deposits of canceled or no-show bookings on 1st March 2019. This came as a surprise to many short-term rental managers, affecting their accounting and revenue-related calculations. But VAT and Tour Operators’ Margin Scheme (TOMS) complexities should not deter you from tracking the tax rules of the hospitality sector. Besides, Brexit and the UK withdrawal from the EU make TOMS not applicable anymore in the UK thereafter. So one needs to consider all these factors when devising a sensible approach to tax accounting.
How have non-refundable deposits been treated to date?
HMRC used to follow a policy of exempting vacation rental businesses from paying VAT on non-refundable deposits received through canceled or no-show bookings. This exemption was justified by the fact that there was no direct connection between the non-refundable deposit and the supply of the items and services provided for the guests.
How are canceled bookings and no-shows to be treated going forward?
An article dated January 4th 2019 on the BDO UK website states:
“HMRC has confirmed a new policy that VAT remains due on a deposit, even if the customer does not use the goods or services for which it was paid”.
So this means that as a vacation rental manager, in case of cancelled or no-show bookings, you will now have to pay VAT on non-refundable deposits. The article goes on to say that the change will primarily affect the hospitality industry,
“which will soon be unable to recover VAT charged on cancellation or ‘no show’ charges…”
How does VAT on cancellations and no-shows affect my vacation rental business operations?
UK governments implemented the VAT on cancellations and No-shows on 1st March 2019. Most noteworthy, if you have not considered this new VAT policy, be sure to take it into account in your business plan.
1. First of all, review your cancellation and no-show policy, and check its terms and conditions.
2. Also, ask your accountant or VAT counselor for advice on how to change your accounting procedures accordingly. Most probably you will need to include non-refundable invoices from canceled bookings in your accounting system or software.
How can I minimise the disruption on my business?
Each time you face a new VAT policy, you need to review the way you operate your vacation rental business. Hence, this time HMRC’s new policy regarding charging VAT for non-refundable deposits of canceled or no-show bookings is going to add to your accounting workload. From now on, you will have to include the invoices for those types of bookings in your VAT declaration.
Luckily there are solutions available. While drawing up invoices is time-consuming work, accounting software such as Xero is a handy solution to the problem. You find it probably even more advantageous to entrust the operation of your short term rentals. You need an all-in-one channel manager. A channel which integrates with an online accounting program to make your tax life hassle-free. Zeevou is an easy-to-use online platform that automates hospitality management. At the time of booking, Zeevou generates a beautifully designed draft invoice for every customer. Even if the guests do not use the services you provide for them, you have the invoice in your database. If knowing more about how Zeevou can help hosts seems interesting to you, please click on this link.
Airbnb hosts are starting to be told that they can employ custom URLs as Superhosts. Airbnb enables eligible hosts to take advantage of this opportunity to create an airbnb custom URL for each of their listings. However, the airbnb Superhost can create only one URL per listing and it is valid only so long as their Airbnb account is active. This also means that airbnb can remove it anytime they decide to do it.
Therefore, Airbnb’s long listing URLs that look like anonymous addresses, and do not make any impression on guests, will eventually be replaceable by ones using the airbnb.com/yourlistingname format, unless someone else has already used that particular name. This functionality was supposed to be released in the fall of 2018. As a matter of fact, that never happened, and Airbnb has still not announced an exact date. According to hosts, emails from Airbnb claim that the final release is coming soon and you can use airbnb custom URL.
Setting up your own custom URL Steps
Setting up your own custom URL is relatively easy. Before starting the process, bear in mind that you are eligible to create only one Airbnb URL per listing. So if you have three listings, you have to make sure you choose three URLs which direct people to each listing you host.
On every listing page, you will find the following items: Amenities, Accessibility features, Title & Description, and Custom Link.
Click on Custom Link and then click on “type your link”, shown in a different color similar to the picture below. Please be aware that you only get to do this once for each listing, so you should make sure to read the terms and conditions of Airbnb Custom URL Policies in detail first.
Alternatively, you might receive a message on your dashboard stating: Promote Listing by a Custom URL. In this case the message will guide you through the steps.
Are Airbnb’s Custom URLs of any use?
What are the pros and cons of using Airbnb’s custom URL? Does an Airbnb’s custom URL improve your SEO?
The advocates of Airbnb’s custom URL say that it will help your listings rank higher. It looks much nicer to have a short and memorable link that can be printed on your business card. you can use it to promote your listing and direct more guests to it.
Opponents of Airbnb’s custom URL criticise some of its features. First of all, the opportunity seems to be unreliable. The existence of this link depends on Airbnb policies; which means it can be suspended if the host loses the Superhost status, or if, for any reason, Airbnb decides to discontinue it. Similar problems have been experienced by entrepreneurs setting up a business through Facebook. Secondly, the opportunity does not benefit all Airbnb hosts. Getting Airbnb’s custom URL is exclusive to Superhosts on Airbnb. While some plus members of Airbnb already have a custom URL, the others have to wait for the new announcement.
Finally, the custom URL does not affect ranking on search engines. When someone clicks on a custom URL, they are simply redirected to your Airbnb listing’s main URL. There are many tutorials on setting up a domain name for your Airbnb listing, which claim to give a personalised character to your vacation rental business and you can google to find also how Airbnb URL Shortener works, but at the end of the day these benefit Airbnb to grow.
And in reality, that’s all it does. The main advantage of using a custom URL seems to be the fact that you get a memorable link that you can share with family, friends, and regular guests. If you are looking for a memorable URL to spread around and help Airbnb strengthen their position in the marketplace and earn more in commissions, this seems to be a great way to go!
However, you may wish to consider setting up your own website to increase direct bookings of your vacation rental business instead. In this way, you will be able to charge your guests more and at the same time offer them a discount, as there’s no middle man that needs a share of the pie!
Increase your Direct Bookings.
A number of channel managers and property management systems for vacation rentals and serviced apartments also offer booking engines. Zeevou is an easy to use online platform that automates hospitality management. One of its aims is to decrease hosts’ dependency on OTAs and listing sites by driving direct bookings. Vacation rental managers setting their website up through Zeevou can use their own domain. The rich SEO tools offered help maximise the chances of showing up on top of search results. Zeevou creates a beautiful, SEO-friendly, modern website which expands visibility and increases the hosts’ profits. If you are interested in knowing more about how Zeevou can help hosts, please click on this link.
Wondering how to increase your occupancy levels using Google?
Increasing your occupancy levels can be given a boost if you learn how to use Google to your advantage. Besides organic SEO, Google can help you increase occupancy levels in other ways. Continue reading below to find out how.
Google My Business Listings are a fantastic tool for driving more business to your SA property. They act as the front window for your business on Google. Aside from the information you put in, they also display reviews and allow guests to book directly from the search engine.
If you haven’t already claimed your Google My Business listing, SEO+ have a great article about how you can do this. Once you’ve done that, these are the steps you can take to optimise it so it works perfectly for your business.
Make sure information is up to date on Google My Business to help increase your occupancy levels
Fuel Travel mentioned in their blog on the topic that your Google My Business Listing acts like a virtual storefront. This is your opportunity to sell your business to future guests. You therefore have to keep all of your information accurate. If you already have a listing, check from time to time that all of the information on it is accurate. It can be easy to forget any minor changes that might need to be made throughout the process of owning a business. Your Google My Business Listing should be as up to date as the sign outside of your property.
This information should also be enticing. Odd Dog Media highlight the importance of having an engaging business description. It should have all the important information from your business – but have a little fun with it. This is your chance to set the tone for your business. It’s the first thing that many potential guests will see, so let them know exactly what your business is about. Keep your writing appropriate to the kind of guest you want to attract.
Use the booking button
This feature is highlighted by Moz, who suggest this is of utmost importance for hospitality businesses. By including a booking button, guests won’t even need to leave Google to book a stay at your property. With many potential bookers these days seeking to secure their accommodation as quickly as possible, this adds another level of convenience and makes it easier for them to simply book it on the spot.
You will need to make sure you have a scheduling platform that is compatible with Google. They have provided a handy list of these platforms. There’s also a list of platforms they will be working with soon, so if you are already with one of these you can just wait it out a little bit. The Google My Business Listing will draw all of the pricing, dates and room information from these platforms, so make sure that information is also up to date.
Get more reviews on Google
With Google set to become the largest platform for finding reviews, you should already be encouraging guests to leave them there anyway. It will also help boost your Google My Business Listing and thus help you in increasing your occupancy levels using Google. Drive Traffic suggest that you can include a link to your review page in emails you send to the guests after their stay. It could also be a good idea to include a handy review button on newsletters. This will remind any previous guests that have not already posted reviews.
Reputation Loop also mention Google’s feature where you can respond to guest reviews. This allows you to interact with customers after they have left you a review. If it is a very good review, a simple thank you will go a long way to show customers you care. For negative reviews, pick out any of the issues they have and make it clear that you are working to fix them. This shows future customers that you are invested in their experience. It is also great for remarketing, as guests are more likely to return to businesses they’ve had positive experiences with.
Including great photos helps in increasing occupancy levels using Google
As mentioned by Ice Portal, visuals are probably the most important content you need to consider. These will be the first thing potential guests will notice. Keep the images on your Google My Business Listing up to date and high quality. If your photography skills aren’t the best, bringing a professional in is one of the best investments you can make. You want them to be eye catching, but also to show off how great your property is.
Google have quite precise specifications for images on the platform, and Travel Tripper have a good guide for this. They also emphasise the three main photos your business needs to have – a profile photo, cover photo and logo photo. Your profile photo and cover photo are the most important. Make sure the photo that best shows off your property is the profile photo. Cover photos are great for wider shots where you want to take in a large space, such as a lobby or outdoor area. The logo needs to be square so it fits in perfectly with Google’s platform.
Keep everything consistent to help Google increase your occupancy levels
Not only should your information be accurate, but it should be consistent across all the platforms you use. Raj Nijjer highlights the importance of having the information be the same on directories and search engines on Search Engine Watch. This prevents your potential guests from being confused as to what is accurate and boosts your rankings.
Pick A Web state that the most important step to ensure this is to make sure your NAP data matches the data on your website. NAP stands for name, address and phone number. These are three details most important to guests, as well as the information Google algorithms take into account when promoting your Google My Business Listing. Google takes into account all of the information from your business across the web – not just what you enter. Updating everything makes sure this remains correct on your listing. If you run multiple properties under the same business name, make sure your website has addresses and phone numbers for all of them.
It can’t be said enough – this listing is your virtual storefront. You should be performing regular maintenance on your online presence, so make sure to add this to your routine. By keeping the information accurate, reviews positive and images enticing you will start to notice a significant improvement in bookings. This is one of the easiest ways to pull your business away from relying on OTAs.
I hope you have enjoyed this guest blog for Zeevou about ways of increasing your occupancy levels using Google. If you want to come and find out more about Boostly, then head over to boostly.co.uk.
To follow my journey, I record daily vlogs on my Instagram account where I show you how you can increase your direct bookings and document how I am taking on the Online Travel Agents on a daily basis. Follow here
Which 5 sites bring the most bookings is a question that is often asked and discussed within hospitality circles. Any hospitality owner will be aware of the importance of driving their direct bookings. At the same time, it is common knowledge that it is not sufficient to only count on them. Almost no short term accommodation provider can survive without advertising their offering on Online Travel Aggregators (OTAs).
The detailed breakdown of actual figures depends heavily on where you are located and who your target market is. However, below is a rough guide as to which sites will get you the largest number of bookings flowing through (ranked alphabetically rather than in order of importance):
Agoda is Asia’s largest online travel agency, so it’s sure to bring you some good bookings. The number of bookings you receive may not be as high as some of the others on this list. However, its customers generally seem to be happy to pay high price tags for properties that they like. Hopefully this will land you the odd high-value booking!
Airbnb is a very large listing site based in the USA. It started off as Airbed And Breakfast (the idea being that you could rent out spare rooms in your home to travellers. The site has quickly grown to become one of the largest listing sites for entire homes. It is very popular with tourists and travellers. More recently, Airbnb has been attempting to cater to business guests. It has also launched Airbnb Plus, a hand-picked list of curated homes.
Booking.com is a relatively young company, and it has grown aggressively over the past few years and is now the leading booking site for hotels and alternative accommodation providers such as holiday homes, vacation rentals and serviced apartments in Europe. Most channel managers and property management systems link to Booking.com. It can bring a large amount of bookings with a healthy mix of leisure and corporate customers.
List your property on Booking.com by clicking here and get 5 commission-free bookings!
Ctrip is probably the least well-known out of this list of sites. It is China’s largest online travel agency, so if you list on here make sure to try and cater to things that Chinese guests may find appealing. Top tips include providing slippers and pot noodles. Make sure to take a close-up photo of a pot noodle and add it to your listing. If you’re ready to tackle this massive market and are up for a challenge in how to attract a larger number of guests, you want to look into this.
Expedia is a massive group that owns dozens of other sites, and distributes your inventory across all of them. This site can help you attract a fair amount of corporate clients. However, as there are often many systems involved in the distribution of inventory and retrieval of bookings, it is not always easy to make contact with the guest booking the accommodation ahead of time, so if there is no reception at the property, you need to spend some more time and energy in trying to make contact with the guest through Expedia once you get a booking.
Note: Some of the above sites manage payments and security deposits for hosts, others manage them partly or not at all. If you wish to automate the distribution of your rates and availability, retrieval of bookings and processing of payments, security deposits, communications, and guest vetting, you may wish to take a look at Zeevou Book‘s 5-Step Booking Confirmation Process.
Which 5 Sites Bring The Most Bookings? Is Yours One Of Them?
In this article we have been talking about 5 OTAs and large listing sites where you should be advertising your properties. This will help you increase your occupancy levels for your short term rental. However, the number one site that you should be focusing on is your own website. Promoting this correctly will help you drive direct, commission-free bookings. Many softwares for Serviced Accommodation operators or Guesthouse/B&B owners will automatically generate a website for you (for example, take a look at Zeevou Show).
Always Book Direct
However, not every provider will give you a website that is good enough to rank highly on search engines such as Google. Moreover, it will not necessarily provide a good booking engine. You should be looking for one that allows you to offer promotions or voucher codes for direct bookings. You may be unhappy with what your channel manager or property management system currently has on offer. If this is the case, take a look at the Boostly Websites. Furthermore, Boostly allows you to easily set up your own #bookdirect website which will attract the attention of bots and humans alike. Finally, it allows you to link that up to your booking engine to convert interested visitors to your site into paying guests.
NB: If you’re looking for a hands-off solution, then you may wish to enquire about the Boostly Done For You Websites. If you’d like to find out more about this service, which includes a free marketing review, fill in this form and a member of Boostly will reach out to book in the job and explain the process.