How to Use Email Marketing for Hotels, Vacation Rentals, and B&Bs

January 3, 2018

mobile phone showing an email marketing campaign from a hotel, vacation rental company, or bed and breakfast

You know what I’m tired of hearing?

Hospitality professionals cringing at the thought of email marketing.


It doesn’t matter if it’s email marketing for hotels, vacation rentals, or bed and breakfasts.


There are a lot of negative perceptions of email marketing and its effectiveness.


The first issue people bring up is how annoying it is to receive annoying emails from businesses. It’s almost as if the general public, and the hospitality industry especially, thinks that email marketing is bad.


But email marketing is just a tool!


It has no sense of morality!


The people who use and abuse email marketing are bad!


untrustworthy marketer using and abusing email marketing for hotels, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts
She strikes me as one of those untrustworthy marketers that ruin it for the rest of us.

Email marketing is like every other medium out there: it’s a highly effective tool for marketers to boost sales when used properly. The problem is that most marketers have been as ham-fisted in abusing it as every other medium:

  1. Every social media platform, ever
  2. Direct mailing
  3. SEO

The list goes on.


But hospitality email marketing can be exceptionally effective if it’s a tool in the hands of the good!


In fact:

  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.
  • You are six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet on Twitter.
  • For each dollar spent, email marketing has an average ROI (return on investment) of $40, according to Adobe.

But you aren’t going to get those results from spamming people. In fact, you may get fined. More on that later.


Remember the analogy from the article on hospitality search engine optimization, where your website is like your home? Well, think of email marketing as visiting your customer’s house.


The real-world rules of visiting a customer (and wanting to get invited back) apply to email marketing:

  1. Be respectful, and a good conversationalist
  2. Follow the guest’s house rules
  3. Don’t show up uninvited

275 words into this article, I could stop there.


Following the above three rules with email marketing for vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, and hotels should guide every email marketing strategy decision.


If you need more guidance, that’s what the rest of this article is for.


Read on:


Why Q4Launch Loves Email Marketing for Vacation Rentals, B&Bs, and Hotels

Have you heard of our Q4Launch Core Values? Feel free to click over to that page on our site and skim those before continuing.


I’ll wait.


Here in the office, we play a game called Core Values Bingo.


Whenever someone performs an action that fits under multiple Core Values, someone else yells out the ones the action fits under. And then someone else yells Bingo.


Yes, it’s as lame as it sounds. But we have a chatbot that plays along with us.

Email Marketing Core Values Bingo

Without further ado, a list of core values that hospitality email marketing covers:

Do What You Say You’ll Do

One of the most important parts of being a good invitee to a customer’s’ home is to make good on whatever promises you’ve made. If you promised to bring a salad, you won’t be invited back if you don’t bring that salad. And you’ll get invited more if you bring a nice one instead of one you grabbed at a gas station on your way there.


Same thing with email marketing: if you promise the person signing up for something, make sure you keep that promise.


For example:

  • If you offer something for free in exchange for their contact information, make sure they get it.
  • If you promise to only email them once a month but instead email them daily, they will (understandably) resent you for it.

So make sure you know what you’re going to do before you ever collect someone’s email address. Because nothing will cause people to lose their trust in you faster than not being a decent human being that keeps their promises.

Fast is Better Than Slow & Share Knowledge

One of the tools of an effective email marketing strategy that we highly recommend is automated marketing. Email marketing is a way of communicating with customers and educating them on a topic, be it a product, your location, or how to do a task better (like underwater basket weaving). By educating, you’re increasing their trust in you by providing additional value to them. When you follow-up with an ask (like buying something), they’ll be more likely to respond affirmatively.


In the case of email marketing automation, you can ensure that customers get the information (or education) they need when they want or need it. That could be 2 am on a Tuesday, but it’s their decision. You’re not limited in helping them by the (hopefully normal) hours you maintain to serve them effectively.

woman holding a mobile phone, reading email marketing campaigns from a hotel, bed and breakfast, or vacation rentalEnhance Lives

This rolls under the last bullet, but I’m going to roll with it.


Email marketing is an ideal way to personalize a guest’s experience. If a potential guests hands over their email, name, and tells you what they’re interested in learning more about (ie: segmentation), you can provide a unique, personalized experience to them.


If contacts on your list are inviting you to visit them in one of their most personal spots (their email inbox, more often than not now on their phone), you can bet they’re hoping you’ll be more relatable than those generic spam emails they typically receive.


Don’t let them down!

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Marketing automation (and email marketing in general) permits regular opportunities to review data from campaigns. Using that data, you can find opportunities across the touchpoints to tweak and improve the effectiveness of the next campaign before you (or a robot) hits the next send button.


In fact, according to the DMA, over 75% of email revenue is generated by trigger campaigns, rather than one-size-fits-all campaigns. In addition, automated email campaigns account for 21% of email marketing revenue.


But those numbers don’t happen automatically. First you have to understand your target customer and then plan an ideal experience for them. Then you have to review the effectiveness of your initial planned strategy, test your tweaks (we highly recommend A/B testing), and implement improvements. And start the process over.


But you can’t tell whether your campaign is successful or not without an overarching goal to guide your process, don’t forget.

What Hotel Email Marketing is Not Good for (ie: Why People Hate Email Marketing)

If you use our Core Values as your guiding principle of planning and implementing your hospitality email marketing strategy, you’ll have the start of an effective plan.


But for what purpose is email marketing not a good choice?


Marketer abusing email marketing for hotels, vacation rentals, and bed and breakfasts
Don’t be this guy.

Remember the getting invited to dinner at someone’s house analogy?


Well, spamming someone is like being a bad guest. Think of guests who have come to your house:

  1. Uninvited
  2. Only know how to talk about themselves
  3. Pressure you to do things you don’t want to do
  4. Only know how to talk about topics that bore you and cannot make the topic interesting for you
  5. Or a mix of all of the above

Remember how much you can’t stand those people, and can’t wait for them to leave, never to return to your home?


That principle applies to a couple iterations of email marketing, including:

  1. Emailing someone who hasn’t asked you to email them (like buying lists of contacts)
  2. Sending hard-sell emails
  3. Sending emails that only talk about how wonderful you are, without attending to the recipient’s needs or at least helping them see what’s in it for them

But so many businesses have abused email marketing that email providers like Google (Gmail) and even the government have tried to step-in to enforce good behavior.


Follow the rules of being a good house guest (and a decent human being), and you’ll be okay.


The Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines as set-out by the CAN-SPAM Act require companies follow certain rules, or risk getting sued:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information or subject lines
  2. Identify the message as an ad
  3. Tell email recipients where you’re located
  4. Tell email recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails, and honor those requests quickly (and preferably make it easy for recipients to opt-out automatically on their own). The only exception is sending those requests to a company that manages email marketing for you (ie: do due diligence of telling us, for example, when someone has requested to opt-out of future email campaigns)
  5. Ensure that people sending emails on your behalf are being good house guests, as well. Trust but verify that a hospitality marketing agency is following these rules on your behalf. If they’re not, you risk getting sued as well. Ignorance is not bliss in this instance.

How to Include Email Marketing in your Hospitality Marketing Strategy

With the above data in hand, it’s time to incorporate this into an effective hospitality marketing strategy.

Personalization is the Foundation of your Email Marketing Strategy

Like every other message you share with your guests and potential guests, you need to put their needs first. Not sure what their needs are? Start by having a general idea of whom you’re trying to target.


For example, sending an email marketing campaign to a business traveler is going to look different from one sent to someone looking to plan a romantic vacation.

boring office in which a recipient is happy to receive your email marketing campaigns for hotels, vacation rentals, or bed and breakfasts
A worker in a boring office would certainly appreciate getting a great email campaign from you that paints a picture of them on vacation. That’s one problem fixed.

Understand Who Your Guest Is

Understand your target customer, know their pain points, then use marketing channels like email marketing to communicate how you’ve already fixed their problem. They may have the same problem as hundreds of other people, but it’s unique in that it’s their problem. Solve that problem for them and they’ll love you forever (and hopefully throw money at you).

Get Your Potential Guest to Trust You

Guests aren’t going to stay with you if they don’t trust you. In a world where Russians may have influenced the American election using the Internet, the need to research people and businesses and make sure they’re someone you want to do business with is as important as ever.


Not to beat the house guest analogy to death, but would you invite someone you don’t trust to your home?


Trust cannot be earned just from email marketing. Visitors to your website need to trust you enough to give you their email address in the first place to receive your emails afterwards.


In our industry, that trust needs to be earned through other digital marketing channels, for example:

  1. Social media management
  2. Search engine optimization
  3. Hospitality review management

But trust can be built-upon (or blown away) via email marketing. Promise to provide additional value if only they’d give you their contact information, then deliver on that promise, and potential guests will trust you more.


Which leads us to the next section:

Make Your Potential Guests Want to Keep Opening Your Emails

Now you understand who you’ll be talking to, what you’ll be saying to them, and how to get them trusting you in the first place. The next step is actually creating those email marketing campaigns!


Getting readers to continue to want to open your emails depends on impressing them with that first email they receive. And that depends on:

  1. Copy
  2. Content
  3. Design

First: Focus

But all 3 of those concepts need something to guide them. In this case, the goal is whatever one action you want an email recipient to do when they open your email and click somewhere else.


If all you want to do is update recipients on, literally, everything going on at your business in the first quarter of the year, then go for it. Unless people like you personally, though, there’s no guarantee anyone will care.


Once you’ve decided on the specific goal of the email, plan it to get that goal happening as often as possible. That includes knowing who to send the email to in the first place, obviously.


We highly recommend following the inverted pyramid method for creating your email marketing campaigns.

Do Not Throw Everything But the Kitchen Sink in Your Emails

One of the surest ways to get people to not do what you want them to do is give them too many options. Most people are naturally indecisive, so forcing them to make decisions makes for an unpleasant experience of reading your emails.


Fix that problem by giving them only 2 options (after they decide to read your email, of course):

  1. To click a link to somewhere on your site to learn more about something (and eventually book, or something)
  2. To not click that link


Sounds simple, right?




Or at least, so many marketers and companies ignore that rule.

Don’t Be the Nut Case at the Dinner Party

To make up for signing me up for a newsletter that I didn’t want without asking me, I got to sign one of my colleagues up for one newsletter of my choice. So I got some help finding the worst email newsletter list I could.


And we found it, check-out this example email campaign.


It pains me to link to it, but if it helps you learn, dear reader, I’ll do it.


This email is all over the place:

  1. It lacks focus
  2. It’s visually overwhelming

There’s just too much going on. And it hurts my eyes and brain to even look at them.


Joke’s on me, because he forwards me the emails he receives from them. Daily.


Granted, I invited them into my inbox. But they’re the butt of a lot of jokes in the office. Don’t be like this company.

More Tips and Tricks for an Effective Email Marketing Strategy

Testing and experimenting (Getting Better Every Day) has lead to a few more ways to upgrade your email marketing strategy. These are just suggestions, not requirements, so use them if they fit with your strategy, or not.

First, check out at webinar about email marketing by our fearless leader, Matt Bare, for a few tips and tricks:

Next, a visual guide from Revinate sharing some of the lessons they learned in hotel email marketing.

The following infographic was created by Revinate, all credit and brilliance is owed to them:

revinate infographic of tips and tricks for email marketing for hotels

Here are their findings, if you don’t like looking at pictures for some reason:

Send a pre-arrival email

Send an email before your guests arrive, preferably three to seven days before check-in. The best converting pre-arrival emails include a term like, “upgrade” or “upsell” in the subject line. They also include a clear CTA because, duh.

Send post-check out email campaigns, a typical feature of a great hotel guest life cycle campaign

Industry best practice is to send an email within two to seven days of a guests’ check-out to remind them of their recent visit and getting them to want to come back to your property.

Targeted (ie: segmented) campaigns averaged $5000 more in revenue

That’s in comparison to email marketing campaigns that don’t have a target demographic in mind. Even guests who are arriving soon or have recently departed count as two separate target demographics.

Personalized emails receive the highest audience engagement

Doing simple things like including the name of the recipient in your communication helps. People love hearing or reading their own name, so if you have their name, use it. Saying something like, “Dear Friend”, is the easiest way to remind a recipient that you’re not actually their friend.


Emails that include the recipient’s name result in six times the transaction rates of generic emails.

How to Measure a Good Email Marketing Campaign

Yes, it depends on your goals. But you probably want some help knowing how to keep up with Joneses.


Research from HubSpot found:


Companies with 1-10 employees typically receive a median open rate of 35.3% and companies with 26-200 employees receive a median open rate of 32.3%.


That same research also found that open rates generally increase as companies send more emails until they send more than one per day. After which they decrease, because that’s just being pushy.


Mailchimp reports that the Travel and Transportation Industry typically sees:

  1. 20.69% open rate
  2. 2.17% click rate

So if your campaigns beat that, pat yourself on the back. But it’s not relative, so don’t rest on your laurels.


Keep looking for ways to push the envelope.

A Few Examples of Successful Email Marketing Campaigns from Q4Launch

Google Analytics dashboard to measure effectiveness of email marketing for bed and breakfasts, hotels, and vacation rental companiesYou knew this was coming, didn’t you?


I reached-out to members of our team for some email marketing campaigns of which they’re particularly proud.


Here’s what they had to say. Keep in mind, bookings are solely based on eCommerce conversions in Google Analytics, not phone call bookings caused by a recipient getting a friendly reminder to book, for example. It also doesn’t include recipients who emailed back to book.

The Esmeralda Inn & Restaurant

  • 25.46% Open Rate
  • 5.08% CTR (Click-through rate)
  • $2,823.26 in bookings (tracked in eCommerce conversions in Google Analytics)

When asked her theories as to why this email marketing campaign was so successful, Sarah Church had this to say:

The Chimney Rock Cabin is a featured property. This cabin is their most popular and we know it does well (ie: is a guest favorite). Featuring it in an email is a way to leverage a well-performing property to drive bookings. The Wine Dinner is the CTA in this one and those dinners are really popular among Esmeralda Fans. I think it was kind of a dual effect of featuring a well-liked event with the best performing property. I’m sure this email drove more bookings that we can’t see (for example, phone).

Pinnacle Cabin Rentals

  • 21% Open Rate
  • 3.2% CTR
  • $3,209.75 in bookings (tracked in eCommerce conversions in Google Analytics)

This email marketing campaign sent on behalf of Pinnacle Cabin Rentals at the end of August featured secluded cabins and mountain photos.

I think it was the seasonality,” Bryan Jayne explained, “In late summer, people were ready and looking to book a mountain cabin. Great photography is a huge benefit in this case!

Spinnaker’s Reach Realty

Taylor Shifflett had two campaigns for Spinnaker’s Reach Realty he was proud of:

Spinnaker’s Reach Realty’s July Campaign

  • 54.48% Open rate
  • 17.04% CTR
  • $2,743 in bookings (tracked in eCommerce conversions in Google Analytics)

Taylor’s theory as to the effectiveness of this campaign are as follows:

This email featured recently updated properties with before and after photos.

This campaign had the highest open rate for any of their campaigns yet. This was due to the subject lines announcing that homes have been updated and gave recipients an idea of what they will find inside.

I believe that the before and after shots in this campaign led to a successful click-through rate and drove the one transaction in this email. By having these images in the email, readers were not only told that homes were updated but they got to see for themselves.

Spinnaker’s Reach Realty’s April Campaign

  • Open Rate: 40.18%
  • CTR: 13.88%
  • $6,463 in bookings (tracked in eCommerce conversions in Google Analytics)


Regarding this email, Shifflett had this to say:

This email featured their higher end homes labeled as the “luxury selection”.

This email had the compelling subject line “Announcing A New Line-up: Select Luxury Homes” that offered recipients something new (The Luxury Selection). This enticed recipients to open the email and learn more about the new line-up.

The content of the CTA was short and sweet but was able to differentiate the luxury selection of homes from the others with a bulleted list. This helped encourage readers to get excited about the new homes and click to learn more.

Farmers Guest House

  • 32.5% Open Rate
  • 2.8% CTR
  • $1,170.10 in bookings (tracked in eCommerce conversions in Google Analytics)


This email campaign was a last minute special promotion. In Bryan Jayne’s words:

It’s an all-new special, which ties to a local event. I think the name of the local event (Galena Whiskey Weekend) increased the open rate, and encouraged past guests to book again.

Ready to Get Going? Some Tools to Get You Started Today

fashionable woman reading email marketing from a bed and breakfast, hotel, or vacation rental on her mobile phoneOver 3,000 words in, and there’s so much more to learn!


But this guide should be enough to get you on a great track to creating and implementing a fantastic email marketing strategy.


Want to learn more anyway?

Email Marketing Certification Courses

Would you like to learn more of the details and concepts that I had to gloss-over in the interest of brevity (laughable, I know)?


I highly recommend HubSpot’s email marketing course and certification. Every team member that works on email marketing gets this certification at Q4Launch before planning any strategies.

Email Marketing Software

There are a lot of options. None are perfect, but they’re all good depending on what you need. But keep in mind they’re all just software. As such, most can provide some limited guidance on strategy, content, design, etc, but the those decisions still need to be made by you.

  1. GetResponse is what we use at Q4Launch
  2. MailChimp is the most well-known in the industry for a reason
  3. Tidings is used by one of our competitors, I am fairly certain, so it can’t be terrible
  4. Constant Contact is used by lots of small business owners for reasons beyond me

Hospitality Email Marketing Services

No shock here, but we wrote this super long guide to effectively using email marketing guided by our own experience offering it in our suite of hospitality marketing services.


As I mentioned, email marketing is effective on its own, but other aspects of your marketing strategy need to be working well in addition to increase your return on investment.


And that means everything:

  • social media management
  • search engine optimization
  • b&b website design
  • content creation
  • reputation management

The list could go on.

Our email marketing strategy depends on the industry, so the tool is used differently for:

Get in touch with us for more specifics, depending on what your goals and target demographics are.