After listing a vacation rental property on multiple OTAs, the next logical step for many hosts is to create a direct booking website. A direct booking website may seem like a lot of extra work, but once it’s up and running it can help you to attract direct bookings to increase your revenue significantly — if it’s done well.
Direct booking websites can be a great marketing tool too. Here you can share more information about your property and let your own brand identity shine through, which can help to set your property apart from similar listings in the area. To help you design a great website that attracts direct bookings, we explore the main options and share some practical tips for how you can ensure that your online bookings keep rolling in.
A direct booking website is a site where you can display your high-quality photos of your property and neighborhood, share a detailed property description, and offer a direct booking engine. This way, guests are able to book directly without having to pay an additional service fee.
While no two direct booking sites are the same, the following are some of the information that you will typically find:
There are a number of reasons why it can be a smart investment to build a direct booking site. The most obvious perk is probably that you will be able to generate commission-free bookings, but that’s not the only benefit of going the book direct route.
You might be concerned that operating your own vacation rental website for direct bookings comes with more risk. For example, it does not come with any vacation rental insurance. Though, your direct booking site does not necessarily need to replace your property listings on OTAs altogether. You can get the best of both worlds.
Instead, a booking engine simply offers an extra revenue stream that you can tap into which can help you to scale your vacation rental business faster.
As mentioned earlier, a direct booking website can be a valuable marketing tool. You can, for example, include a blog section where you regularly add relevant blog posts. Not only will your target audience find this helpful, but it can also help a lot with search engine optimization (SEO).
With your own booking engine, it is also easier to integrate other marketing strategies like social media and/or email marketing. You can, for example, create a monthly newsletter about recent renovations or events in the area that you share with your email list or blog readers. All in all, with a little bit of effort and creativity, it can become a very effective tool to generate more leads and direct bookings as well as increase brand awareness.
The booking fees that OTAs charge can add up to a pretty penny. This is probably one of the main reasons why vacation rental owners want to turn to their own website and booking engine. For example, if you opted for the host-only fee on Airbnb, the 14-16% that you would have paid per reservation will end up back in your pocket.
A website won’t have to follow the same guidelines set by OTAs. With a direct booking website, you are free to decide on and implement your own terms, policies, payment structures, prices, and availability. For example, if you decide to charge a security deposit, you can inspect the property and only return it if the guests looked after your property and abided by all of your house rules.
You can also use it to optimize the experience completely. For example, if you have adjacent properties, you can easily create your direct bookings site in such a way that travelers will see that they can book both properties together. Perhaps you want to rent out only an individual room? While Airbnb allows you to list shared spaces, not all the vacation rental platforms give you this flexibility.
With your own booking site, you are not restricted to the character limitations set by the OTAs. This means that you will have more space to tell potential guests about your business and property listings. How did it start? What is your mission and vision for your short-term rental business? What about the neighborhood – what makes it a popular attraction?
What’s more, you can also give website visitors the option to sign up for email communication. Not only will this mean that guests also no longer need to go through a third party to communicate with you (and vice versa), but you can also use it to keep them informed about specials, upcoming events, etc. This way, they can be the first to know when you are running a promotion or your town has a special attraction.
When you have your own direct booking website, you can potentially consider lowering your pricing as your costs and fees will be lower. For example, if you chose to increase your nightly rate to cover the Airbnb fees, you can now lower your pricing again to attract more direct bookings.
When you’re ready to start building your own vacation rental website for accepting direct bookings, you have a few options. You can use a vacation rental website builder, a third-party website builder, or a private website developer. Let’s take a brief look at these three options.
Some vacation rental management software solutions also include a vacation rental website builder feature. You can, for example, check out iGMS’s new website builder to have your own website ready in minutes. This new feature is free to every iGMS customer.
When opting for this route, you can essentially create your own vacation rental website in just a few clicks. Plus, you don’t need to boast any coding knowledge or have a developer on speed dial.
All you need to do is click on the “Create a website” button. The software will then convert your current Airbnb listing into a website. It will add all the photos, pricing, and descriptions straight from your listing.
Plus, you can still continue listing on third-party vacation rental sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo without worrying about double-bookings. Not only will it take care of the calendar synchronization, but it will also bill your guests and create invoices. Thanks to its ability to integrate with your Stripe account, everything is also kept secure.
A second option is to use a third-party website host. Though, this requires more time and web design knowledge.
When going this route, your first step will be to register with a hosting provider, like GoDaddy or Bluehost. Then, you will still need to buy your property domain too. Depending on your hosting provider, you will be able to do this via its page.
When selecting your own domain name, the secret is to find something that is unique, yet easy to spell and remember. It does not have to be your property name, but it should be relevant to the brand that you are trying to create.
Once you have your website host and domain name sorted out, you can finally start building your actual direct booking website. You can, for example, use WordPress or Wix that are intuitive to use. With the help of themes, plugins, and drag-and-drop editors, you can customize your website so that it fits in with your branding. Though, when selecting a theme, it is important to select a vacation rental theme.
Then, in order to be able to accept payments, you will need to select a booking engine plugin or widget, and payment gateway solution. You can, for example, use a Stripe account which is one of the most popular payment gateways.
While you can go this route, it just takes more time and skill. Plus, you will still need to invest in a vacation rental management software solution to help you sync your booking calendar to avoid double-bookings.
While tools like WordPress and Wix are relatively easy to understand and use, it does take some time to get familiar with how it works. If you do not have the time or still find it too difficult, an alternative is to get a private website developer from the start and entrust them with designing your website from scratch.
That said, it can be costly. Also, if you want to make changes to your website or upload new content, you will probably have to work through that person again.
Let’s compare these different options:
Vacation rental website builder
Website host & booking widget or plugin
Private website developer
Once your direct booking website is set up, you will still need to put work into attracting traffic to your site. Luckily, there are several ways that you can play around with to ensure that potential travelers discover your website.
In today’s day and age, more website traffic gets generated by means of mobile devices than desktops. So, it is key that your website is mobile-friendly. This means that your website must be optimized for mobile devices too.
Visitors should not have to zoom in to read content or struggle to click the correct button. After all, the last thing you want is for guests to be unable to click on that ‘Book Now’ button because the icon is too small.
Not only will it help you to cater to travelers who prefer using their smartphone over their PC, but it can also help you to rank higher in Google’s search rankings. Search engines like Google primarily use a website’s mobile version for ranking and indexing purposes. So, if your site is not as mobile-friendly as it should be, it will penalize you by dropping your site in its rankings.
Listing sites, like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com will already generate loads more traffic than your own direct booking website. To give you an idea, Booking.com attracts more than 100 million users per month to its website.
So, just imagine if you could tap into that traffic and drive some of it to your own direct booking website too?
One way that you can increase the chances that travelers using websites like Airbnb and Booking.com will find your direct booking website is to give your property a searchable name in its listing. This way, when travelers perhaps Google your listing’s title, they will find it in the search results.
Alternatively, if the OTA platform allows it, you can simply add your website address to your listing or share it in the communication that you send to your guests.
Also, after guests have booked with you via a vacation rental platform, you may have access to their email. This way, you can include your website in your email signature with the hopes that the next time they will book with you directly instead.
Social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram in particular, can be great avenues to explore. Not only can you use it to attract new guests, but it can also be useful for communicating with previous guests.
After you’ve created a business profile on Instagram and a business page on Facebook, you can invest in Instagram and Facebook ads. Alternatively, if you do not want to spend anything on additional marketing efforts at this stage, you can simply use these platforms to share special promos, blog posts, user-generated content, etc.
In short, being active on social media will show potential guests that you are actively involved in your property. What’s more, it can serve as another platform where interested guests can find more positive reviews about your property.
Online data shows that it is more cost-effective to keep a repeat guest happy than to focus on finding new guests continuously. What’s more, returning guests are also inclined to spend more. So, while a new guest might book only for a weekend, a returning guest might book for an entire week.
One of the best ways to encourage guests to book with you again directly is to use special discounts and promos. Plus, it does not necessarily need to be a reduced rate, you can, for example, offer an early check-in, late checkout, or possibly even an extra night free of charge.
Once you have hosted a number of direct guests, you can consider creating your very own referral program. While sharing posts and videos on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube can do wonders for business, word-of-mouth advertising still remains one of the best forms of marketing. After all, travelers will trust the experience of a friend or family member much easier than the experience you are trying to advertise online. So, use this to your advantage.
The easiest is to offer previous guests some type of incentive in exchange for recommending your place to people in their network. You can, for instance, offer a gift like a travel guide or a discount for their next stay.
It can get overwhelming using multiple channels on top of managing a direct booking website. Luckily, there are tools that can make this easier.
Many vacation rental software solutions offer calendar synchronization to eliminate double-bookings. iGMS, for example, offers a robust set of tools for vacation rental property managers and hosts. In addition to a website builder, it also offers integration with the leading vacation rental platforms. So, when a guest reserves your property through your direct booking website, the dates will get blocked on all the other platforms that you manage via iGMS. It is really a win-win!
Plus, it can also help hosts and property managers to automate many of their other routine tasks like:
No, creating a direct booking website is not compulsory and your vacation rental business can still be successful without one. That being said, it can significantly contribute to business success and growth.
Vacation rental platforms often change their policies and sometimes this can be to the detriment of hosts. However, when you have a direct booking website, you do not have to follow the guidelines set by these platforms, leaving you with more control over your business. Not only are you free to implement your own direct booking engine and payment method, but you can also potentially lower your rate as you won’t have to pay hosting fees.
The good news is that there is no need to choose between listing on OTAs and running your own direct booking website. These can work well together.
However, if you do decide to use both, it is strongly recommended that you invest in a channel manager or a comprehensive vacation rental management software solution that offers calendar synchronization to eliminate the risk of double-bookings.
If you choose to use a third-party hosted website or entrust it to a website developer altogether, it can take anything from 60 – 120 days to get a professionally designed direct booking website up and running. However, if you use a website builder like iGMS, you can create a stunning direct booking website in a matter of minutes.
The most important pages for a direct booking website are an about page, details of the property, a photo gallery, booking forms, and contact details.
It can also be a good idea to add a blog to your website. Here, you will be able to share interesting articles about your property and the neighborhood. Not only will potential guests find this information interesting and helpful, but blog posts can also help you to rank higher in Google’s search results.
Yes, if you use a website builder like iGMS, you can have a professional direct website for as little as $18 per month (along with access to the other award-winning vacation rental automation tools).
Plus, once it is up and running it will take little extra effort to maintain. All things considered, it is worthwhile in the end if it brings in additional booking revenue while saving costs and valuable time.
About the Author
Callan Riddles is the Content and Social Media Specialist at iGMS. Callan has a passion for finding new ways to help vacation rental businesses thrive. In her free time, she loves to travel, read, and experience all the new things that life has to offer.
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