What is better than receiving a referral for a stay? Perhaps having a steady stream of referrals.
That's exactly what Melanie Kriel discovered, and it's revolutionising the hospitality industry in her area. With her well-executed referral system, she's not only increasing her bookings but providing exceptional hospitality to visitors in the area.
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Ep# 34 - Referring guests with Melanie Kriel
Jenn: Hello and welcome to the Direct Booking Success podcast. Today I am with a another short-term rental owner and manager, and we're gonna be talking about the one thing that she has done. Her name is Melanie Creel and she is joining me from South Africa today. hello, Mel.
Mel: Thank you for having me. So excited to be
I'm excited to have you here. Now, could you please tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are, and what you do?
Mel: Hi, Jenn hi to everybody.
based in South Africa, along the East coast, which is the warm side, of the ocean. Beautiful beaches, sandy beaches, tropical. Weather most of the time, although we do get the odd downfall, but most of the time we've got sunny, lovely weather here. We're very blessed to be able to offer accommodation throughout the year.
It's not seasonal at all. so yeah, we are very fortunate to be here. I have two properties of my own and I co-host, another one, and then I'm a partner and another two, so it's a bit of a mixed bag. But on my website I currently have five. And yes, I, I spend a lot of time coming through to the apartments, checking up on things and looking after my guests.
Jenn: Yes, yes. Like us all, isn't it? It's a, it's a big business, isn't it? And for five units. Now, are they close together in, in location?
Mel: Yes. I'm very fortunate. At three are in the same complex. and then the other two are another complex, so it makes for staff cleaning and allocation very easy. I probably wouldn't look at another one outside of the two complexes.
it works very well in the same complexes, so yes, very happy and they're close together. a bit of a walk between the two, but in the same location also on the beachfront. Hence the name. Beach Park Apartments in Sharks Rock, which is the area that the are. So, yes, they're very convenient and it's been ideal.
Mel: They, they're a winner. Everybody just loves the, the views, the location through family friendly. very convenient, weird space. So you, you know, you're close enough to the shops, and hospitals that need be, or doctors, but you're not in the sort of center of a busy town. Mm-hmm. . So it's a real nice mix bag.
It's, it feels like you're on holiday. But you have the best of both worlds. So very blessed to be where we are. Yeah. I've
Jenn: had a look at your website and I've, I've had a look at those views and you just think, oh, I was, yes, just gorgeous. So the east coast of South Africa, so for us that are maybe not so okay with the geography, what would be the closest big
The closest one would be Durban. Okay. about an hour, not, not even an hour. So our. It's only 20 minutes from us. Great. So the is, yeah, it's really close. It's, it's 20 minutes from us and we more north, and then Durban is more south. and then from, from Cape Town, a flight is about two and half hours from Cape Town.
It's not far at all. No. See, if you're gonna drive, it'll probably take you. We've, we've done it with our daughter being in Cape San . You could do it over two days quite easily and have a sleepover. I know friends who've done the drive all the way through, but yeah, that's not pleasant. but yes. And then Johannesburg being sort of this, the capital of South Africa, that would be a six hour draft from us.
And you can also fly from Johannesburg to us, which is only an hour. Right. So we've. Central, put it that way. Very, we close to Kruger National Park in some ways. You can mm-hmm. , you can start from, from, Durban to, uh, SPR very easily, which is right there by Kruger. So I have a lot of guests who will come in.
Normally what ends up happening is they come into to go to Kruger and then they will come to, to our area, Beto, and then from there they'll probably fly down to Cape Town, spend some time normally doing the wine route down. and then, they pretty much fly home from there. So that's a common, common route.
Although we are getting a few more international flights coming straight into Durban, which is lovely. especially from the uk, which is convenient when mar markets fly out. I don't have to do this, you know, the, the multiple flights, but, yes, it's definitely on the. That's great.
Jenn: That's great to know.
I've been to Cape Town and I absolutely loved it. I was there for a few weeks for, for work actually, and did sort of the wineries and the beaches and then I just, but I haven't explored the rest and I really want to, it's quite
Mel: different. The different areas are quite interestingly different. I mean, Cape Town is, has got, its got its uniqueness and then case, we've got the mountains, we've got the.
We've got the, the game as well, the big five. So we've got a real mixed bag. and we tend to be the sort of, the, the, the youngest sister that no, that nobody knows about, you know, and, and we still trying to like, find ourselves in the, in the big world. but, you know, different kids a, a place to watch.
Yeah. Yes. Well, it
Jenn: sounds like it. So tell me about how you got into short-term rental.
Mel: I think like a lot, lot of us, we kind of fell into it or found us. I think I'd like to say it found me. at the perfect time, my daughter was in Cape Town Stadium and I had flown down to visit her and stated an Airbnb and I was chatting to the host as.
As you do. And I just resonated with her. I just loved her whole, aura. Just what she was about, how she was looking after looking after me. And just her, her ethos just resonated with me. And then at that time, we had sold a family home, down south coasts, which we never got to. And we had bought, investment property being our first little unit that we.
And I had actually just handed it over to a management company and I wasn't even taking any notice of it. And then I came back and thought, you know, this could be quite, quite fun. And started dabbling a little bit with Airbnb and, my son was still advisor the time, I mean, sorry, at school at the time.
And, you know, I didn't have a lot of time, but I was, I was looking into it and, and learning as I was going. So it wasn't a big. Deal. At the time I was just really looking at where this could possibly go and it started going really well and I realized, you know what? I actually love this and I I took it away from the management company cuz I felt that I could do a better job and I really just, Thrive with it.
And one thing led to another where friend of mine said, oh, please, can I do her property? Hence the other two. And that's how it sort of came about. It just really found me. And they, both my children live for the uk. my daughter, working there, my son was studying there. So after had a little bit of like empty nest syndrome.
And I'm married to a farmer, so it gets a little bit lonely on the farm every now and then. So it's quite nice to escape. The big city in inverted commons, being the, the apartments. And then I just, yeah, I just loved it. It just grew, it just became a passion and I was doing it for other people and yeah, it really found me and it was the perfect timing.
Jenn: does sound like the perfect timing, especially with your trip to, Cape Town and staying in, you know, a short-term rental hosted by Airbnb and, speaking to that host and getting into it and thinking, Hey, I've just bought this property, and what can I do with it? I think it sounds a great thing. Oh, brilliant.
Okay, so let's get into the one thing that you've done. I know that there's probably many things that you have done over the. with your direct bookings, but let's talk about this. maybe you can explain it better than I can.
Mel: Okay. Well, what ended up happening, it was quite lonely really trying to navigate this new industry that I wasn't familiar with.
So I was reaching out onto different groups to see who I could network with and, you know, what they say about, LA brands like I ended up finding brilliant ladies. There was about five. And we just sort of met together and spoke about the difficulties. How do we market this Hui Marketing, marketing to the challenges that we're facing?
And, we also realized that if we, if we had a person wanting to book and we didn't have accommodation, if we just said, no, sorry, we. That person was now moving to a completely different area. They weren't staying, they were going closer to Durban or they were going up to Rich Bay or wherever it might be.this, this tech took place in:
So if we had a guest who we couldn't accommodate or we didn't have the right layout for them, you know, sometimes I've got stairs, my friend doesn't have stairs, I would pass it on to her, and so
Jenn: they're in the same, sorry, Mel, but they're in the same area as you.
Mel: Then. Pretty much we are, yes, I would say it's a dolphin coast, so it's quite selective.
so we would be people coming here for particular reason being our beach or, events or whatever it might be. So I would say it's a radius of maybe 30 kilometers. Okay. Off the coast and down the coast. not a big distance, but it's all pretty much the same. that would be looking for, for ok. So overlapped and we realized that we need to make this more official and more and more people were hearing about it and wanting to join in.
initially there was quite a bit of resistance. People thought, you know, they shared their to somebody else, they're not gonna come back to them. Mm. And that was a big hurdle to get over, to explain to a host that burying your guest to. Doesn't mean that I'm taking or stealing your guests. Your, your guests will remember that you helped them and they are more likely to go back to you and say, do you have accommodation?
Mel: Than they are gonna come straight to me. Even if they enjoyed my place, they appreciate the gesture more than anything else. So once we had sort of got over that hurdle, We are not taking away from each other. We actually, we adding to each other really. You, you're building your credibility within your own, host and within your own network.
and then it sort of got bigger and bigger and bigger. And then I realized we had a mixture of people. So it was people I didn't really know. And, you know, some were taking more than they were giving. And I thought, you know what? I need to sort of make this clear as to what the purpose. Um, and we introduced, a referral fee.
Mel: So now what we do is it's incentivizes a host to share the referral. So they, they will get a commission on the rate and also it means that their guest gets looked after. So there's a win-win, right? It's not just somebody giving and somebody take him. because we were having a lot of takers and very few were putting back into the pool, right?
Cause they were worried they might not get their guests. Once they realized that wasn't the case, that started to open up. And I mean, it really has been phenomenal, especially now with, the book direct movement. It's working hand in hand, very nasty. And also at the time, you know, we were in the middle of Covid, the.
The dynamics and the rules and what we're allowed to do, things were changing. It was a nice platform to be able to just chat and say, well, what, what are you doing? Are the beaches open? Are the beaches closed? Are we allowed buy alcohol? Aren't we allowed buy alcohol? I mean, we had those kind of restrictions.
where could, you know, who could you host? are the medical people looking for accommodation? could we section off our, our partners and have separate entrances? You know, there was all those kinda questions that kept coming up. So it turned into very much of, yes, it's a referral group, but it's also, a group of support.
Mel: You know, we have that we, we refer to, we have people who can fix our, our TVs, write down to plumbers, you know, all those kind of things. It's been an extension. All the way through. And also training, I've done training with the different hosts as well. Cause someone knew, who didn't know how to set up their websites or they didn't know that they could also be on booking.com or any of the other OTAs.
Jenn: that maybe had started with Airbnb and didn't know
Mel: what to do next. Yeah. And then with, with, with Airbnb pretty much stopping us during covid, a lot of people lost a lot of money during their time. and we did workshops online just to talk through, okay, what have you, what can you pick up? Can you find those persons?
Can you reach out to them? What can you do differently? it just really became our last line to each other, during that lockdown time. And it just, it's just progressed. It's just got better and better and stronger and stronger. More people are coming and more people are wanting, to be part of it.
And as we know in this. I'm blown away. I'm blown away every day, how, how generous people are and how much they're willing to share. And, you know, initially people said to me, you're a bit suspicious. You know, why are you giving this information for nothing? But it's, it's not giving it for nothing. I was giving it at the beginning, so I'm not giving something I didn't have before.
Mm-hmm. . So there's no, there's no reason to hold back it, it was. It's been such a, a wonderful journey. I'm learning so much as I'm going along and I'm sharing, and it's just a win-win. I, I just don't see why you wouldn't do it. And it's, it's just,
Jenn: it's, you know, short-term rentals. It's helping, isn't it?
You know, we're helpers in, in our, at our core, you know, hosting or, or having people at your, at your properties, you know, you're helping people, you know. So it's that type of person already, isn't it? That's in the industry.
Mel: Absolutely. And we problem solvers, you know, for example, you know, these scammers out there all the time.
We've started a group, well, what do you do here? You know, somebody arrives your, your gates and they've been scammed. how to set them, put them on our group. We find them a place to stay. we had a concert actually recently, and I've got a, a message from one of the, the singers with the actual. . and he said, look, there's a group of us we need, we need accommodation.
Like, nah, we've been scanned. And it was actually an Airbnb scam. Interesting enough. Wow. Yeah. and was able to get him into a place the short notice. And it's, it's just those kind of things. People remember mm-hmm. and they don't associate that area with, you know, the negativity. You know, they, they're gonna associate that area with the really helpful people that came to the rescue.
No, the story's given me
Jenn: goosebumps . No, that's lovely. So it's the awesome host referral group is what you've got, which is a brilliant name, . And it's, are you keeping it in your area? Are you keeping it really
Mel: small? Yes, I think it's, it would be difficult to. I mean, I'm open to somebody else doing it in a different area and helping them set it up.
I think that that would make more sense. Mm-hmm. , you know, we also don't want a WhatsApp group going continuously. Mm-hmm. . My idea is to actually now move this onto, a website so we can all list our properties onto a website and find availability like that. instead of having to go through the, the, the, the process of asking, checking the.
Checking with the guests, they make the choice. So ideally I'd like to pull it where we all together and, we can still somehow benefit from that referral. but yeah, to scale it, I think it needs to be done in the area that you, you actually are in. It makes more sense, especially when you're dealing with.
You know, they wanna know where doctor is or they need, Tara car or whatever it might be. You know, it's, I think it's area Pacific.
Jenn: Yeah, I think you're right. And from what you said at the beginning, you wanna keep those guests in the area. So if they're coming to your area, you don't wanna say, well, we don't have availability, but would you like to drive three hours down the road and stay somewhere else?
Exactly. You know, they're coming to your
Mel: area. Exactly that. So there is criteria. We're not doing any sort of backpacking. most, most of it is self catering. there are a few, guest houses on the, on the group and, we do refer to hotels for some guests that we've got a list to, but they're not on our group or just refer them on.
And it also comes a town where we actually pass onto the management accounts. The, the sort of, Accommodation, bigger groups in the area where they, they can accommodate bigger groups where we are pretty limited. Either the houses can only accommodate up to 10 and they're looking for a group or a conference or whatever it is, and we don't have that.
Jenn: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. But you become a referral network. Yes. Yeah. And so it goes outside of your group when, when needed. And I love the idea of becoming a support group too, because like you said, we are working by ourselves. Sometimes you have a partner or a husband or a sister that you might be doing it with, but a lot of the times it's you on your own and you've got to figure it.
Mel: Yeah. And also technology that's coming through. Also the, all the different add-ons that you can put onto your websites. It's only really word of mouth. You get to hear about it. I've learned how to put my own reviews on my own website.
And my, the web designer was like, oh yeah, no, that's a good idea. And you think you'll. So, you know, I think you've gotta keep up with the latest technology, keep up what's happening in the industry. and that's how I'm able to do the workshops with the, with the hosts.
And they enjoy it. They, some are not interested in the, the techno, they prefer doing it the old-fashioned way, which is absolutely fun. They rely on their phone, word of mouth. but I think it's, the economy is going to the point where you have to look. More than one avenue. Mm-hmm. , you have to pick out the box.
and we've learned through, through various things that happened in our country, we've had floods, we've had rights, we've had covid, we've, you know, there's really has been a whole lot of different things. And you know, you can either sit in a pile and say, oh, sorry, me, but I've still got a bond to pay. Or you can say, okay, what can I do to, to get this going again?
Mel: How can I think out the box? And yeah, that's really what's it's been, just thinking out the box and reaching out to people. it's been wonderful and, and they've been so welcoming cause they're doing the same, you know, I'm thinking about, there's a little wine tasting shop up the road. Beautiful. It's done, done so beautifully.
But she's, she's new to the area, she doesn't know anybody and it was just a matter of collaborating together. Her level business is taken off. She's referring to me and we both benefiting and it's, it's just lovely just building those, those networks and and friendships. Really, a lot of friendships have come out of this.
Jenn: And for the guest side, you're building that trust too, cuz a referral, if you have someone say to you, you know, I know this person, you're gonna have a great stay here. yeah, it, it means a lot doesn't it? The trust.
Mel: They want to know your favorite place or your, favorite restaurant or where do you go and have your nails done, or, oh, I love your, whatever, couch covers or whatever they, they, they want to know.
It's easy to Google it. Yeah. but I think the trust is very important and building that rapport with your guests, the nine of the 10 times they're going to with you again. Mm-hmm. to you again, if nothing else.
Jenn: Yeah. Or tell somebody else about you, which, you know, money can't buy that. Absolutely.
Mel: And, and, and.
It just gets you further along, you know, to try and start with just an advertising little flyer to getting to know that guest. You've jumped so many hurdles already. It's you've, you've already got your guests, you've really got your network. And that's what's been so nice is building the space and been able to share my base now with others and them sharing with their, with me.
So it's just become, I mean, there's 56 of us on this. And I was trying to count how many properties, and I wasn't a hundred percent sure because there are some that have multiple in one complex, but we well over 500. Wow. So it's, it's a lot. It's in a network and if we can't accommodate, we, we, within our network, we, we reach out even further, you know, to a guest task that said, do you have availability and can pass the guest onto, so, Yeah,
Jenn: it's almost that model.
No guest is left without a bed.
Mel: can't let them go. We've gotta look after them. .
Jenn: Yes. So if anybody's listening and thinking, this sounds brilliant. How could I do this in my area? Do you have any tips or ideas or, advice for them to start? Yeah, I,
Mel: I, I would say do it because you're gonna make friendships.
you're gonna. Build your own network within your own groups, you are also gonna have more choice for your guests. I, I don't see why you wouldn't wanna do it, because it's has been a win-win for, for all of us. And I would say look at people that's are like-minded probably, and similar properties. If, if possible, start with those as your core.
Mel: Cause then it makes it easy to move your guests to a place that you. I like to go and see, if I host drawings, my group, I like to go and see their place. So it's not just a picture. I know if I'm referring one of my guests where I'm sending them to, not everybody does that cuz a lot of them are remote.
they're not. But I do, I like to know and nobody comes onto the Google ads, me having a chat to them. Right. So I know everybody individually, so. I would, I would say make sure that you're not being scammed. Make sure that the person is a, you know, real and they've got a real property. Cause the last thing you actually wanna do is recommend somebody and they're a scammer.
Mel: Yes. So,
Jenn: just your reputation on
Mel: the line, isn't it? Absolutely. Absolutely. So that's, that's my number one starting point really. and then re just, you know, as, as, as a woman, I wanna say, I've also got guards on the, on the, the group that's, they seem to be a little bit. The girls chats and they will say, oh, you know, how do I cope with this guest?
Or, you know, what have you here. And, there's always various points of view and you just pick the one that's know relevant for you and you move on, you know? So it's, it's a really good support system and there's only a win-win scenario out of it. And is this group,
Jenn: is it a Facebook group or a
Mel: WhatsApp group?
At the moment, it's only a WhatsApp. but I do need to look at moving it on. Like I said, I probably will look at doing a website. It'll probably be easier doing it that way. Facebook, I don't know if I feel that's quite the right platform for, for it. I, I kind of feel we, we would be better off doing a website.
So we'll see. It's, it's, it's in the magazine. .
Jenn: Yeah. No, I think cause I think, yeah, because a WhatsApp group could get quite, quite busy. But, I think a listing site of some sort, I think might be a really good idea
Mel: for the, yeah. What we have done split, we have done it where, for example, when our peak terms, we have a, a last minute.
Availability. So if you haven't been booked, say it's Valentine's or if it's Easter weekend or whatever it might be, and you haven't been booked, instead of everybody posting, they've got availability. They're posted on, on a separate group. So that's quite nice. So if you've got guests, you just go to one place to look for it.
So we have sort of simplified it. and there's a sick format that people have to, put their request on, you know, clearly Mark who, who the name is. Cause a lot of us will get inquiries and it could be the same person. So you wanna be sure that it's the same, it's not being repeated, right? So you put a name, how many adults, how many children, what they acquire, if they have a budget, you know, there's a standard sort of thing that you put on the group.
So yes, it can be busy, but not necessarily where you've got to the point where it's just pinning all the time. You know, it's, it's not that.
Jenn: And the setup seems, you know, after you've talked to them, met, the potential, host and seen their property in that the setup of a WhatsApp group is, is fairly easy.
So there's And the no, no
Mel: cost. No cost. The one we did have a regulation, I, I dunno if it's the same name in the UK but's, we have a puppy act where you can't refer and you can't give somebody else's details to some to, to a third party. So, . What we've done is we've created flyers, so I'll put a, I'll put a request on that.
Jen and her family are coming to stay. I'm looking for a beachfront apartment with econ, and a lockup garage, for example. Mm-hmm. . I will give maybe three or four Repliers to say they've got availability and they send me a flyer. So they will summarize the, the, the place, basically three bedroom. With the pool econ situated here.
This is pictures, the decor, and I'll just pass those onto you. So I'll send you the three slides and you'll have a look and I'll also send you the rate. Cause they tell me the rate and I'll send it onto you and you'll say, mm, don't really like that one. But I'd like that, you know, to follow up on that one.
And then I'll send you the host telephone number. Right. And you. And then it's up to the referring host to let me know. And I do follow up with the guest as well, that have they found a place, would they like me to continue looking for them? No, no. 10 times they tell me straight away that they're booked or, they would like maybe, a bigger place or with a garden or whatever it might be.
And then I'll, I'll put some more info onto the group. , but most of the time it just, it works so well, we just pass that flyer on and, the guests decide and then we, we've overcome that boot. We'll be not sharing the guest information. Yes. Yeah. And also, you know what, over as well, you, you know, you referring them the right kind of class.
Jenn: I just think it's such a great idea that you've come across, and I totally get the, the journey you've been on with it as well. And for it to have grown to, to 56, people, 500 over 500 properties in your area has, you know, you wouldn't want it bigger than that, would you?
Mel: No, I, I don't think I'd ever turned anybody away.
Mm. Cause I think there's always, You know, people rent out their places, maybe seasonal. Sometimes we just have people with their houses, over Christmas or whenever it is. so, and these new people just coming on to learn how to do it, a lot of that's been happening. So I don't think I've turned anybody away.
but they would have to meet the criteria. being in the area, being, you know, that it is set up for, short-term rentals. Right. It's not something Yeah. You know, garage, it's not quite up to. So, yes, it, it, I don't think I'd turn anybody away, but I probably wouldn't wanna get it, you know, too much bigger.
Jenn: No, and you've probably helped so many, homeowners, property managers who, you know, thought Airbnb was the only way to go, and you've opened up their world too, having their own business and having the control and setting their own rates, and having personalized communication and all the benefits of booking direct.
Mel: Absolutely. I mean, the more you think about booking direct more makes sense. You know, up until you make that move, you really don't have a business. You really are just working for somebody else. And it's very empowering when you actually make the, the realization that you've got a, you've got a business.
Yeah, this is, this is okay. Yes, it might be wrapped around you as an individual. That probably is a little bit of a, a concern. It's all. The person hosting, but at the same time, I really feel like it's been a journey empowering me, and I've now got to the point where it's, I've got my own website, I've got my own properties, I can do this as a business.
It's financially viable. it's, it's ticking all the boxes. it's, it's actually working, you know, all my background in, in finance and, school marketing and public relations and all different. All these little journey along the way sort of walk me to this point and it's like, aha. The penny's finally dropped and this is all working and I finally can actually earn a little bit of an income and, and build a business.
Yeah. And it's, it, it's very powerful. And I was saying to somebody yesterday, you know, to have a sense of purpose. In the morning, I've got this to do. I'm excited to do it. Can't wait to get out there, meet new people. It's, it's just, no, I'm very, very blessed, very grateful. So
Jenn: it brings me to the time where I ask the question, what does direct booking success mean to you?
Mel: I might have just answered all of
Jenn: that. I know. I think you might have, without me even asking , ,
Mel: I, I really do think it's, it's given me a sense of, It's also taught me about, abundance, not, not feeling. I had to hang on to, what I have and competing with my neighbor in the same complex. You know, when I initially started I thought, oh, I wonder what her rates are, or Maybe I make must make mine less.
And, and then I realized, you know, she could only book out that night once. Mm-hmm. , somebody wants that. No one's available. So it doesn't mean that you have to compete rather work. And that was together and that was really the, the man shift. And also how awesome hosts referral group started was just realizing you don't need to hang onto everything to make this work.
And booking direct, it's just grown from that. There's just an extension of that. and I just, I just think it's, it's just the most brilliant industry to be in. It's really changed my life and given me a sense of purpose. So I just would love to just give everybody doing it. . Yeah,
Jenn: and I think this, this episode is gonna be a real inspiration for people and I hope that if somebody does start a referral group or if you have a referral group, let us know where you are cuz we'd love to to hear from you.
Cuz I think it's, it's great, it's a really great initiative that you've put together and. It's a real success and a testament to you and you being in the hospitality industry.
Mel: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Jenn: Thank you, Mel, for joining me today and sharing your story. If you would like to connect with Mel, I'll put her links in the show notes. Now, I want to know about the one thing you've done in your business, something that has brought in new bookings or made a difference with your existing guests, or even with other owners and managers like.
Come and tell me what it is. Head to my website, direct booking success.com/one thing, and that is spelled out o n e. One thing I'd love to have you on a future episode of the Direct Booking Success Podcast.