Increase Bookings by Pinpointing and Delighting Your Short-Term Rental Target Market

See all my articles on short-term-rental listing writing, including on titles/headlines, photo captions, opening paragraphs, the full listing description, and more.

Some members of my Facebook group Critique My Airbnb Listing had a disagreement recently over a host who is targeting remote workers and business travelers with his airport-adjacent rental unit. He even used “Work from Home” in his listing’s title/headline. Some members were concerned he would be limiting himself to a certain kind of guest, and others wouldn’t book.

I, instead, applauded him for the specificity of his target marketing. One of the most important questions I ask my listing-writing clients is: What is your PRIMARY target market? I then write their listing with that specific target market in mind.

But I do understand that this idea of narrowing down your market is counterintuitive. We have a nagging feeling that we should be marketing to everyone.

“Your target market is not ‘everyone,'” counters Christina Newberry on HootSuite. “Your task in defining your target market is to identify and understand a smaller, relevant niche so you can dominate it. It’s all about narrowing your focus while expanding your reach.”

Indeed, target marketing isn’t about excluding guests outside your market. Instead, it’s about focusing your marketing messages on those most likely to convert from prospective guests into into booking guests.

“Don’t be afraid to get highly specific,” Newberry writes. She notes that target marketing does not stop people from choosing your product (in this case, your short-term rental). She cites a case study in which Nike at one time lost sales when the company tried to broaden its market beyond athletes, later correcting its course when realizing that targeting athletes “does not stop casual users from buying its shoes.”

Identifying your target market provides a focus for all your marketing activities, and even your purchasing decisions as you add amenities. For example, a sauna is an appealing amenity, but because my target is families, I’d consider many add-ons that are more family-friendly before I’d put in a sauna.

It’s icing on the cake when someone outside of your target market reads your listing and decides to book. And in my more than six years of experience as a short-term-rental (STR) host, this icing-on-the-cake situation occurs frequently.

How to Identify Your Primary Target Market

You can look at short-term-rental target markets in a couple of ways. When I started my STR, I thought in terms of the kinds of guests I was most likely to attract – families because the home has four bedrooms and had a lot of potential to offer family-friendly features. It was unusually well-equipped since I had lived in it with my ex-husband. I also knew it would be pet-friendly because it had been my family home and had already had dogs in it.

Another way to look at target market is the kind of guests you want to attract (ideal guests) rather than the kind you expect to attract. “Target market focuses on a group, a set of demographics, numbers of a page,” writes Jasmine Holmes, while “ideal client focuses on people.” They’re very similar concepts, but “ideal guest” is a subset of “target market.” Target market is big picture; ideal guest is more specific.

Indeed, as Holmes notes, in the marketing world, target market consists of data on demographics, psychographics, sociographics, behaviors, and geographics. While some STR owners, especially those with multiple properties, conduct market research on this level, the average STR host with no more than a couple properties probably isn’t going beyond knowing what geographic areas their guests tend to come from and maybe their age range. A small-scale STR host may be able to come up with a statement like: “Our target market is [gender(s)] aged [age range], who live in [place or type of place], and like to [partake in X activity].”

What turns members of your target market into ideal guests, notes STR blogger Jodi Bourne, is that they are those “most likely to enjoy their vacation, appreciate your home, share their experience and return in the future. Better yet, they write amazing reviews.” Obviously, you won’t really know who these guests are until you’ve been in business for a little while.

If I’d been more tapped into the idea of “ideal guests” would I have chosen families? Probably, but I might have given greater thought to other markets. After all, families as guests usually require extra cleaning time, thanks to little kids making smeary prints on glass surfaces and leaving crumbs, candy wrappers, and bits of trash all over the floors.

If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to ask yourself: What type of guest will benefit the most from the features and amenities that you already have? If the answer to that is not your ideal guest, what would you need to add or change to attract a different kind of guest?

If you’re an established host, you already have a good idea of the kinds of guests you’re attracting. Do a deeper dive and really analyze these groups. What are the largest groups and what else do they have in common beyond the type of guests/guest groups they represent (families, business travelers, etc.)? Do they tend to be of similar age?

Do you get a preponderance of guests from the same geographic areas? My STR, for example is in northeast Washington state near the Canadian border. A huge chunk of my guests come from the nearest large city – Spokane, about 2 hours south. Another big chunk comes from the west side of the state – the Seattle area. Very few of my guests fly in from out of state or country. One way I cater to my Seattle-area guests is to be sure to provide a recycling receptacle because they are environmentally conscious and accustomed to recycling. I also provide a variety of good coffees because Seattle folk love their coffee. For both Spokane and Seattle guests, the quiet serenity of my place is a big selling point – the antithesis of the big, bustling, noisy city.

Look at the listings in your locale. You can’t always tell from listings, but try to ferret out who your competitors are targeting. Is there a gap you can fill that the other STRs in your area are not fulfilling? In my small market, for example, very few of my competitors are pet-friendly, so guests traveling with pets are an enormous market for me. Or conversely, are your competitors targeting any markets you hadn’t considered?

You might also consider identifying your market by looking at guest pain points. Some typical pain points for STR guests might be:

  • Difficulty finding STRs that accept pets
  • Challenges finding STRs big enough to accommodate a large family/group
  • Trouble finding STRs that accommodate a disabled member of the group

Developing a brand-positioning statement may be a way to define your market. Marketers suggest a formula like this:

“To [descriptors] guests who [verb] [pain points or desired features], [name of your property] is the short-term rental home that [provides these benefits].”

For my STR, the formula looks like this:

“To families with pets who seek a peaceful vacation spot in a natural setting, Hansen Woodland Farm is the short-term-rental home that enables them and their pets to partake in numerous family-friendly amenities and outdoor activities, along with an exceptionally well-equipped, comfortable home-away-from-home experience.”

Sample Target Markets

Let’s look at some mainstream target markets for short-terms rentals, adapted from a list at, and features you’d want to consider highlighting in your listing if you were targeting each one. (You’ll find overlap in these groups, e.g., families/couples/large groups with pets, families/couples/tourists who love outdoor activities). What benefits can you offer your particular target market and highlight in your listing? You don’t necessarily need to invest in these features, but if you already have them, highlight them in your listing according to your target market.

  • Families with young kids: Family indoor/outdoor games, books, toys, puzzles, pool, proximity to family attractions, baby/toddler equipment, safety features, washer-dryer.
  • Couples (romantic getaways): Privacy, king bed, fireplace, cozy nooks, hot tub.
  • Large groups: Many bedrooms and beds, games/game room, hot tub, pool, sufficient dining and lounging seating, spaciousness, ample parking, outdoor space.
  • Active, outdoorsy types: On-site acreage, recreational equipment to borrow/rent (floats, kayaks, skis, snowshoes, etc.), equipment storage, proximity to outdoor recreation areas (state and national parks, lakes, forests, mountains).
  • Seniors and Travelers with Disabilities: Accessibility features, home that is all on one level, quiet setting, clear instructions for electronics.
  • Business travelers: Proximity to airport and/or the companies they’ll be doing business with, dedicated workspace, fast Wi-Fi, home gym, proximity to good restaurants, chargers, printer, laptop.
  • Digital nomads, work-from-home types: Fast, reliable Wi-Fi. These folks are often traveling with family and seek many of the same features as the family market, along with features that promote relaxation.
  • People with Pets: Low or no pet fee, pet equipment (food/water bowls, bed, toys, treats, poop bags, leash, crate), fenced yard for pottying and romping.
  • Tourists in the area to visit a tourist destination: Decor themed to the tourist destination to extend their experience, information such as brochures and maps about the tourist destination onsite, coupons for the destination.
  • People visiting area family members or attending a wedding, funeral, graduation, family reunion: Well-equipped home that makes things easy since these situations often involve stress and hectic preparations, washer-dryer, ironing board/iron, indoor or outdoor space for their local family members/friends to visit (if you allow that).
  • Guests from [name(s) of geographic area(s)]: Streaming services that enable them to watch their local news and sports, practices that reflect values of their origin city, such as my recycling-bin example above, peace and quiet for city-dwellers coming to your quiet neighborhood or rural area.

Not Sure? Experiment. Rotate Messages to See Which Perform Best

In addition to asking my clients to identify their primary target market, I ask them to pinpoint their secondary markets. Marketers note that it’s fine to have secondary markets, as long as you’re aware that effective messaging targets one market at a time. Your most significant messaging to guests is your listing. If you’re not sure of your target market or ideal guest, try crafting titles/headlines and opening paragraphs that target different target markets and rotating them to see which get the best response. I provide my clients with five options for headlines/titles, at least some of which appeal to different audiences. For a few extra dollars, I can do the same with opening paragraphs. Here’s an example of two opening paragraphs for the same listing but targeted to different markets:

[Targets digital nomads]

If you’ve dreamed of a digital-nomad life in which you can travel to fun and scenic spots and enjoy every comfort while using blazing fast WiFi to get work done, you’ve found the perfect place. This luxurious house-plus-private-apartment combo has it all, along with a huge office space with TV. It’s beautiful, spacious – 4,300 sq ft – and loaded with amenities. All in a gorgeous natural setting close to Round Rock/Austin attractions, shopping, and fine dining. Ideal for small business retreats!

[Targets friend groups]

Gather the group for a delightful stay at this grand house-plus-private-apartment combo, where you’ll experience breathtaking sunsets and Hill Country views in a quiet, scenic, suburban neighborhood. Perfect for friend groups with members seeking extra privacy in the annexed apartment. Guests rave about staying in a natural, scenic setting – featuring visit from friendly deer. Superbly equipped with amenities galore and just 20 mins from downtown Austin. You’ll love the blazing fast WiFi!

Bottom line: You will craft a much more effective listing if you have your target market/ideal guest in mind. If you’re not sure, a professional like me can help you both to identify your market and target it with your listing.

Contact me if you need help identifying your target market and/or crafting your listing. See my site.

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