Updated: Nov 4, 2022
In 2021 90% of Poggiosole's bookings came via the eponymous (and ubiquitous) online Dutch travel agency. This year, about half our reservations came through Booking, the rest through our website (except one group of Americans who used Airbnb). But 2022's lower share of Booking-referred guests doesn't diminish the importance of Booking.com to Poggiosole. Many of our guests, since we first started hosting, have discovered us on Booking. And while it's true that, after their first stay, many reserve with us directly on subsequent visits, discovery is crucial; absent Booking.com far fewer folks would know we exist.
Booking charges handsomely for this matchmaking. All things considered, including their "Genius discounts", the premium Booking effectively applies to our base rates (assuming we wish to net the same revenue from a Booking-generated reservation as we do from a direct one) hovers around 40%. Ouch.
OTOH that hefty premium pays for a very sophisticated presentation of lodging and holiday options, including, crucially, each property's review rating: an average of the numeric value (on a scale of 1-10) that guests assign to various aspects of their experience. Typically, review ratings range between 6 and 10. To help the discovery process, Booking assigns qualitative terms such as "Very good", "Excellent", and "Fabulous" to these numeric averages, but, as is often the case, it's the numbers that do the talking.
When, in April 2021, I took over management and custodianship of Poggiosole from my parents, our rating on Booking was in the high 8's: 8.8 or 8.9 if memory serves, with our sub-score for cleanliness trailing in the low 8's. My goal then, with the pandemic still very much on everyone's mind, was to move our average rating to the mid-9's by the end of this year. As a small vacation rental operating in a very crowded market (the Chianti fiorentino is packed with properties that resemble ours), I saw the path of guaranteeing continuity of interest and revenue as inseparable from the pursuit of quality, inside and outside Poggiosole's lodgings. And as any seasoned Booking user knows, the line separating the best from the rest is two to four tenths of a point above 9.
So last week, when our average review rating on Booking ticked from a more-than-I-had-wished-for 9.7 to a nosebleed-inducing 9.8, I took note. Fewer than 1% of Booking's listings in Tuscany rate that high. The question is no longer how to move higher but how to maintain such a lofty score. But before succumbing to performance anxiety, I'd like to take a moment to:
1) thank Booking.com,
2) thank our guests,
3) thank our cleaning crew (headed by Nicoleta and Mario),
4) thank our long-term gardener Marco and our occasional but essential earth-movers Massimiliano and Samuele,
5) thank our stone masons Valeriano and Marco (different Marco), our metalsmith Simone, our plumbers Gianni, Sasha and Marco (different Marco again), our electricians Alessandro, Leonardo and Davide, our carpenter Akim and our painter Stefano,
6) thank our furniture refinishers Giacomo and Michele,
7) thank our new gardener Abdu (and his crew),
8) thank our groundskeeper and all-around handyman Vasile,
9) thank our pool guy Antonio and our lighting designer Paolo,
10) thank my eldest son Elio who has punched above his weight this summer weeding, whacking, hauling, sanding, lifting and sorting while repeatedly beating Vasile at chess.
Last not least I salute my mom and dad for taking the plunge, aged around 70 back in 1999, on an old country house, 6 hectares of land, 500 olive trees and a dilapidated stone hayloft (our present-day fienile). As I put it to them back then, "The question is whether or not to commit."
Commit they did, the rest of us following.