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.
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.
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:
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:
More on the pros and cons of each option below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Uplisting is a short-term rental property and channel management software built specifically for helping managers scale their businesses.
We’ve built an all-in-one property, channel management and automation tool to help property managers scale seamlessly.