Recent events have highlighted why property managers can benefit from using a direct booking website for their short term rentals. We experienced a turbulent period of pandemic cancellations with travelers requesting refunds. Those who had a direct booking website in place were able to control this unexpected situation and rescheduled many bookings rather than canceling them and losing the revenue. 

Even before, direct bookings offered a host of upsides to property managers, such as; ensuring control of their own businesses, providing potential higher profit margins and reducing reliance on online travel agencies (OTAs) which charge fees of up to 25%

The percentage of global travelers booking through direct websites doubled between 2019 and 2020 and is still on the rise, with a 3% increase in 2021. There has been a major shift in how guests in Europe are booking vacation rentals, with direct bookings tripling in the past couple of years, and the US is following suit.

Here at Uplisting, we released our direct booking engine product back in 2020 which helped our property manager members generate $2.9m in direct bookings. In 2021 we processed 5 times that figure with $14.5m in direct booking revenue.

How to make a short-term rental direct booking website
$14.5m in direct bookings through Uplisting powered direct booking websites in 2021

What is a direct booking website?

As the name suggests, a direct booking site is your own website set up for travelers to book short term rentals directly through you without going via traditional OTA platforms. 

Are there any negatives to using a direct booking website?

Your direct booking vacation rental listings may be less visible to potential guests as OTA’s generate much more website traffic than your website can hope to expect. It’s important to remember that for most of us, direct bookings are a strategy that takes time to implement and is also one that works side by side with traditional OTA’s. On top of traffic, you lose out on some of the features OTAs offer, including guest screening based on previous host’s reviews and similarly your host guarantee. It’s also much harder to get guest reviews and you’ll have to invest time and money into setting up the direct website. 

That being said, there are a host of key benefits from using a direct booking website: 

  • Guests are in communication with you from the start of their booking journey, making this a more personal booking experience
  • You can also personalize bookings. Having control over everything allows you to offer unique discounts or more competitive prices, since you don’t have to pay OTA fees, which should lead to increased bookings through diversified revenue streams. 
  • Details on your listings can be extensive, which most travelers look for but OTAs often limit on description space. Extra photos and a well detailed amenity description should lead to higher traffic from guests searching for specific properties of a rental. 
  • You’ll be in charge of rules, cancellation policies, the service offered to guests, and marketing of your listings. 
  • You can reinvest 15-20% usually spent on fees back into your properties. Any improvements made to your properties should increase guest satisfaction and the value of your rentals, meaning down the line you can up your prices. And so the cycle continues…
  • On top of all of the above, having your own website with a logo and tagline means you’ll be able to build strong brand awareness! This is essential to those wanting to scale their businesses.

How do I set up my own direct booking website?

Unless you’re a large enterprise property manager (who can invest $100k+), you have four realistic options to set up your own direct booking  website:

  1. Hire a web developer/designer to build a "cookie cutter" direct booking website using a content management system (CMS)
  2. Build a website yourself using Wordpress, Webflow, Squarespace or some other website tool
  3. Use a property and channel management software to build your direct booking website
  4. A mix of 1 or 2, with 3

More on the pros and cons of each option below.

1. Hire a web developer/designer to build a "cookie cutter" direct booking website using a CMS. 

In this instance, “cookie cutter” is not a negative. It means a website designer will use an existing theme (website design) to create your website. You’ll be able to change the colors, font, images, wording and determine the pages you want but your website will not be unique in design and layout. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing as most do not require a unique design. Our goal is a functional website which is pleasing on the eye and leads to more bookings. Don’t overcomplicate it.

What is a content management system (CMS)?

Examples are Wordpress, Squarespace and Webflow. A CMS allows you to add content, images, and pages which are then displayed on your website.


Expect to spend between $2k to $10k+ with ongoing costs of $20-$500 for monthly maintenance fees. 


  • You own the website and can make changes easily
  • Cost effective
  • Allows you to add content which is critical for SEO


  • Design and experience won’t be unique (however we’d argue most don’t need a unique website. A well designed website focused on converting visitors into bookers is more important).
  • Although you are outsourcing the majority of the work you will have to supply your website designer with all the relevant information they need, such as photos, logos and copy. And they will still look to you for direction on adjustments like how you’ll accept payments through the site. 

Top tip

We recommend Boostly if you are looking for a short term rental focused website designer as we’ve had great feedback from members who have used Boostly in the past.

2. Build a website yourself using Wordpress, Webflow, Squarespace or some other website tool.

If you have the ability, building your own website can save you on startup and ongoing costs. There may be the cost of a website theme of up to $150 and monthly hosting fees will range from $5-$50. You could dodge fees altogether for any changes, like adding new listings, as you can do this yourself where a developer would charge $100+ for every single alteration! If you don’t think you can build a professional looking and functioning website yourself, don’t choose this option as poorly made websites can actually decrease conversion rates and make your brand look unprofessional.


Expect to spend $150 on a theme with ongoing costs of $5-$50 for monthly hosting fees.


  • Very cost effective
  • Do it yourself. You could have a well designed website up and running in a few hours.
  • Great for showing off your properties and to showcase images and content.


  • Static websites - build it yourself tools may have a lot of out-of-the-box options, but a solution like Squarespace can’t handle the customizations needed to show dynamic content such as up to date rates, availability and restrictions. 
  • Can’t take direct bookings unless you link to a direct booking engine (like Uplisting). 
  • Some (many!) self-built websites look terrible. If you don’t have an eye for design, or don’t know the ins and outs of laying out a website effectively, don’t do it. 

Top tip

Squarespace, Wix and other simpler "out of the box” solutions will never be able to handle the customizations needed when thinking about hosting listings and connecting to a database to show availability, rates, etc. Most property managers would end up increasingly frustrated with the mess that it creates (which inevitably leads to more development time).
With that said, if you have no intention of ever managing more than 20 properties, you probably don’t need to worry about this advanced level of customization.

3. Use a property and channel management software to build your direct booking website. 

Property management software can remove the hassle of setting up and maintaining your website by taking over the process for you. With their expertise, they can create a website that both looks great and increases conversion rates. So, although there will be initial costs of partnering with a vacation rental management software company, the long term benefits far outweigh this. 

Not all of these are created equal, though. Buyers need to ensure they're getting a high-quality experience for customers that won't create double-bookings or more issues for owners and property managers. Plus, it should be easy to create from the platform. 


Expect to spend $20 to $100 per month per property but you also get a number of other features as part of the price (such as automated guest messaging, channel management, payment processing and more).


  • Dynamic content - Rates, availability, restrictions, images, content etc should always be up to date and accurate, automatically.
  • Book direct - Guests can book directly from your website and pay for their reservation.
  • Synced to property management platform - Guests can automatically enter into any automated flows the platform offers (such as automated messages, guest identification verification, eSign rental agreement).
  • In Uplisting’s case, your direct booking website is automatically synced to Airbnb, Vrbo and Google Vacation Rentals


  • Not great for SEO. 
  • Limited themes (at Uplisting, we focus on ensuring your website is fast loading, looks good across desktop and mobile, and is focused on converting visitors to bookers). 
  • Not necessarily a long-term solution. If you intend for direct bookings to be a key part of your strategy (you should!) we recommend you own your website entirely and utilize the direct booking functionality of your property management platform slightly differently (see option 4 below). This means you can switch property management solutions relatively easily without wiping out your entire website and all the SEO value that comes with it.

4. A mix of 1 or 2, with 3. 

When looking at the long-term direct booking strategy of your business, one of the most important elements is for you to own your own direct booking website. When we say ‘own’, we mean you control the domain name, and you control the content management system (CMS) that displays pages on your website. 

Say the property management software you start with doesn’t scale well, or isn’t performing, or is too costly, you want the flexibility to change software without taking down your entire direct booking website. When you control the infrastructure behind your website you can add and remove booking engines with relative ease. 

We recommend either hiring a website designer (like Boostly) to build you a website that you control but is also powered by your property management software (like Uplisting). A website designer can integrate with software such as Uplisting so your properties are added automatically to your website, along with their images, content, amenities etc (all synced by us). Not only that but all your prices, availability and other restrictions can also be synced, which means your visitors see accurate information and can book and pay instantly.

How to take payments

A common question is how to take guest payments. There are a few options, however, from a guest to booking conversion rate perspective the best performer is credit/debit card payments made directly on your website. Online payments offer the least amount of resistance. 

Other options are bank transfers (which involve back and forth messaging with guests), Venmo (in the US) and PayPal (which can be used on your website).

When using property management software, direct booking online payment processing should be part of the package. Uplisting, for example, takes care of all payment processing via your Stripe account.

Top tip:

Guest payment plans
Implement guest payment plans to increase bookings. You can, for example, collect 10% of the total booking amount at the time of booking and the remainder 7 days before check-in. Payment plans reduce friction to book and encourage guests to book further in advance.

My advice on where to start with a direct booking website

I believe your direct booking strategy should evolve over time. If you are just getting started with direct bookings and already use property management software like Uplisting, use the direct booking website they offer initially (assuming it’s not awful). Your first goal should be to have the ability to accept direct bookings today.

As you grow your business and refine your direct booking strategy and before investing heavily in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it’s time to invest in your own website. When doing so you need to prioritize integrating your website into the property and/or channel manager software that you use so you can scale automatically and your guests can book and pay instantly. You don’t want to be in a position where you need to manually add every new property to your website, or you need to manually add new bookings to your calendar (or worse, require guests to contact you to book). Streamline your operations and guest booking flows.

What essentials does a good booking website need?

  • Domain name - something short and easy to read, tailored to what travelers are searching for.
  • Clear layout, easy to navigate - clarity is key, keep your site structure simple.
  • Detailed listings - take advantage of the extra content and photo space to really sell your property.
  • Attractive design - you are competing with Airbnb. An amateur designed website is not going to cut it nowadays. 
  • Instant booking - most property managers need to streamline operations. Rather than the old method of asking guests to email you with dates and the back and forth that comes with that, make your direct booking website instantly bookable. Otherwise it’s easier for the guest to book on Airbnb or another OTA.
  • Prices - a very important feature, don’t hide the price or potential guests will look elsewhere.
  • Availability calendar - again, essential for guests to find with ease.
  • Location maps - travelers want to know what’s around them - integrate with google maps.
  • Responsive pages - slow loading websites can lose customers and reduce conversion rates.
  • Data protection - this is a legal requirement.

How can I get customers to book through my website?

Firstly, increase your brand awareness through marketing. Get your company and rentals in front of your target consumers through advertisements on various platforms including social media. Other ways of driving traffic to your website include optimizing SEO in your website’s copy and word of mouth. Ask an expert to help!

The personal booking experience of guests should increase repeat visitors, as guests will appreciate the extra effort or add ons you provide through your site. Remember, most repeat travelers tend to be those traveling for business or remote workers, so convenience for them is a bonus. And many believe cutting out the middleman, in this case OTAs, can get them a better deal - so make the most of this opportunity. For context, you should aim for around 30% repeat bookings.

Better deals and incentives are a strategy that many have used to improve their direct booking rates. Other strategies include having a trustworthy website and minimizing the number of clicks consumers have to use to get to their booking. By streamlining their process, searchers are more likely to complete their booking.

Optimize the additional space you have to make your listing stand out. In the description and photos, highlight any unique features of the properties. For example, those looking to travel with pets will search for this specifically at the beginning of their journey. 

Get your listings on Google Vacation Rentals. Google has a global distribution and can put your listing at the forefront of traveler’s searches from the start. If you want to reap the benefits of this booking tool, partner with a vacation rental management software that is connected to Google. 

Further reading

Here is our step by step guide to setting up a direct booking website - it’s a straightforward process which can be completed quickly and efficiently, to great results! Sign up to your chosen platform, such as Uplisting and connect other platforms to your account - for example, we can transfer all your listings from Airbnb in minutes.

Here is our guide on how to get more direct bookings from your website which includes Search Engine Optimization, social media and repeat business.

How else can I benefit from connecting with software like Uplisitng?

We mentioned that a negative to using a direct booking site over an OTA is you don’t have access to guest screening and may struggle getting reviews, but if you were to set up your site with the right property management system that uses vacation rental software, screening and review features, then it will be built into the services they offer you. So, are there actually any negatives to setting up a direct booking site? Not if you do it right!

With property managers realizing there’s additional revenue to be made from direct bookings, and guests becoming more aware of direct benefits, we don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Watch this space!

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