What a treat to finally be writing for Geekestate! After admiring the site as a fantastic resource for some time now, it really is an honor to be able to contribute. Now, although I have some good experience within the real estate industry myself, especially in the broking, investments and auction side of things, my current business is Vacation Rentals. Over here in South Africa, Vacation Rentals are a fairly new concept, with the traditional “catered accommodation” side of things handling the majority of our visitors needs. Hotels, Guest Houses and the like have been looking after guests since forever, but Vacation Rentals as the new kid on the block, are really starting to come to the fore as a valid alternative.
Here in Cape Town, we have experienced a boom in tourism over the past 15 years. New airports and infrastructure, the FIFA World Cup, and most notably the removal of sanctions after Apartheid has really put Cape Town on the map as an international travel destination to rival Sydney, London, or Vancouver, as a must visit city. Coastal hotspots like Camps Bay, Hermanus, Langebaan etc. have seen unprecedented levels of demand, which has led to a number of entrepreneurs converting their homes into B&B style accommodation, or most recently, into self catering apartments, and/or villas, which offer all of the comforts of a hotel. Things like wifi, a/c, satellite television, and daily housekeeping are common place. Obviously these kind of demand-driven opportunities lead to fly-by-night operators entering the market, and fortunately we have local organizations like South African Tourism, SATSA, and Cape Town Tourism to keep things standardized. Most recently, Trip Advisor, and other social media have ensured that standards are kept, and guests can be safe in the fact that they have booked something which has good reviews and ratings, as per any other major international destination.
This increased demand for vacation rentals, led us to create ComeToCapeTown.com back in 2008 with a focus on good design, up to date technology, and a quality product, which we could promote on the international stage. A number of other players are currently active in the market, and these are split between your traditional Mom & Pop style “letting agency” which has a few Vacational Rentals on the books, to the technology entrepreneurs, who know how to create and promote great websites, but don’t always have the industry experience to make a real splash.
There is also a further split in terms of the technology used in the booking process. We have guys like Safarinow who operate a facilitated model, whereby guests communicate with vendors directly, however a 3rd party agent facilities the transaction in an intermediary capacity. Then we have guys like SA-Venues who operate a “pay to list” model, similar to FlipKey.com whereby vendors pay to list their property, and all communication takes place outside of the site. Our model is a traditional agency model, whereby our agents work for our guest directly, sourcing availability according to a brief. We enjoy this model, as it allows us to build personal relationships with each guest, which leads to a certain amount of brand loyalty.
In the old days, it was a lot of admin to manage a traditional agency model, as there needs to be a certain amount of back and forth between guests, owners, and/or suppliers (managing agents) These days, we have some great technology which facilitates the process. Most notably, we have live availability, and distributions systems, like Razorpms.com and Nightsbridge
Just to tell you a little more about Razor. What Razor has achieved is creating a marketplace for the vacation rental and non-hotel accommodation industry bringing together both the supply and demand channels together. The biggest obstacle to working with our sort of properties in the past has been access to the required information that agents and guests need to make an informed decision on whether or not to take up an opportunity. This information included accurate availability, accurate rates and up to date information. Even finding a property that matched what they were looking for was a task that would turn the most ardent agent’s blood cold.
This is no longer the case. Razor operates as a GDS for this part of the accommodation sector, completely opening it up and removing these obstacles to the benefit of both sides of the equation. Agents and tour operators are able to quickly and effortlessly find relevant properties for their clients and in the process pass on the benefits of booking vacation rentals to their clients without adding unnecessary hassle to our jobs.
So, tools like Razor have greatly improved our operational efficiency, but as important, if not more important, is the marketing side of things.
Back in 2008 when we launched our first beta version of the site, I knew little about SEO – however, I knew I wanted to rank and rank quickly. This attitude led me to commissioning a number of unscrupulous SEO providers, and link building “experts” who wore hats that can probably be considered as a dark shade of grey. These kind of tactics worked relatively well, and within a few months, we had gotten onto the first page of google for a few big keywords, which I thought was the destination, but quickly realized was only the beginning of a long uphill battle. You see, when you are working within an industry which has a relatively low volume of total searches, being first page for a few terms is probably not going to bring the type of traffic needed to sustain a business. It was soon apparently that there was something called “the long tail” which we needed to sink our teeth into.
In early 2011 we launched v2 of ComeToCapeTown.com which was created using a standard WordPress template and some custom taxonomy rules, with properties as posts, and areas as categories. From this, we were able to rank, and receive traffic from a wide variety of long tail sources related to specific areas, types, and even the actual property names. This eventually led to us converting alot more business than we could have hoped for by chasing generic keywords alone. I can recommend this method for creating accommodation or real estate type websites, however, I would also advise splicing your property related data with as much unique content as possible to avoid the threats of google panda, and other algorithm updates.
That’s a peak into the South Africa tech scene in real estate. What are we missing? How can we make our site better?