Essential Steps to Creating a Website that Drives Direct Bookings

Creating a direct booking website

By The Hospitable Team

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already discovered that knowing you need a vacation rental direct booking website and knowing exactly how to build one are two very different things. 

From setting it up, taking great photos, showing calendar availability, taking payments, and sending confirmation emails—never mind making sure visitors actually see your site in the first place—it can feel like there are so many moving parts you barely know where to begin. We get it.

But pushing past the overwhelm can literally pay off. Having a direct booking website enables you to:

  • Save thousands on OTA fees
  • Encourage repeat bookings and build a great relationship with guests
  • Own your listings and avoid the whims of OTA algorithms
  • Build a great online brand and presence, boosting professionalism

The good news is, with a little planning, it’s possible to build a direct booking website that drives profit, without needing to hire a coder or developer—and even if you’re not a tech expert.

5 Essential Steps to Creating a Website that Drives Direct Bookings

And if you’re looking for an easier way, we’ve covered that too!

Scroll down to find out how our dedicated tool, Hospitable.com Direct, can set everything up for you, and make the process even easier and faster.

Hospitable.com automates nearly 100% of your guest messaging.

And now, we’re building an end-to-end direct booking solution so you can extend your exceptional hospitality to direct guests.

1. Create a unique brand

02_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_Photo of a balcony view with two chairs
Tailoring your website to appeal to your ideal guest, for example, honeymooning couples, will help drive bookings

Building a direct booking website helps you to “plant your flag” online, and give your business a solid digital home. This helps to build a reputable vacation rental brand that appeals to your ideal guest and makes your rental operation appear more professional and reliable.

The style, font, colors, photos, and amenities listed on your website are all key ways that you can better appeal to your ideal guest, stand out, prove your expertise, and home in on exactly what guests want, and how you can give them the perfect stay.

For example, if you’re appealing to high-end couples who want a coastal honeymoon, you might stick to light blues and whites, with images showing happy couples enjoying a romantic beachside dinner or sunset bedroom view. You’ll want an upmarket style font, and photos of cozy spaces and luxe finishes.

If your niche is parents of young kids looking for a family break, you might use brighter colors and a less serious font. You’ll want photos that highlight your high chair, parking space, and enclosed green garden space; and maybe embed a map that shows your rental’s proximity to favorite children’s attractions.

All of this helps to establish your brand as an expert in the area, builds trust with potential guests, and proves to your ideal niche that they won’t regret spending their hard-earned money by booking with you.

2. Set up your website

03_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_A screenshot of the WordPress homepage
WordPress offers hosting, domain names, and website building in one place

If you’re not a “techy” person, it can feel daunting to even understand how to get a website online. We recommend following these key steps for a simple way to get started.

2.1 Buy a domain name

Firstly, decide on your website name.

This is known as a domain name and includes everything that comes after the “www” of your URL address. Domain name availability can vary, and more popular names will cost more than others. However, many can be found cheaply on a wide range of hosting websites (see more in the next point).

Your website name should align as closely as possible with your brand name, and be as simple as possible so it’s easy to remember, search for, or type into a browser. This means limiting punctuation (such as dashes), numbers, or overly complicated phrases. 

It can also be a good idea to make your website name include key search terms or location. For example, rather than SallysVacationRentals.com, you could choose SallysVacationRentalsMalta.com. This makes it more likely that people searching will find you online.

This is because including the location as a “keyword” is good SEO (search engine optimization) practice, and will push your rentals to appear higher in search engine results, for example on Google.

Examples of sites that sell domain names include: 

  • GoDaddy – A domain hosting service that also enables you to build a website
  • Bluehost – A website hosting company that works especially well with WordPress
  • HostGator – A domain hosting site that promises unlimited storage and easy site transfers
  • Namecheap – A domain registration site that offers packages for a range of TLDs (the .com part of an address, which nowadays can vary considerably, such as .me, .inc, or .io)

Some of these sites also sell domain names as part of a complete hosting and website design or building package (including some of those listed below, such as WordPress). 

2.2 Choose a hosting service

To actually get your website online, you’ll need to choose a hosting service. This is where your website will “live” online. 

Your host should also enable crucial “behind-the-scenes” aspects, such as your security certificate (so your website appears secure on web browsers and doesn’t trigger alerts. One way to tell is that secure sites have “https” at the start of the URL, rather than the unsecured “http”).

Your hosting service may also offer you access to a simple branded email address, which can also help improve the professionalism of your brand. For example, [email protected] looks more professional than [email protected].

In fact, many companies now offer all-in-one services, where you can buy and register your domain name, host your site, register an email address, and create your site using templates. Most are designed for people who have no tech experience, so they should walk you through the process.

Some examples include: 

  • Wix – Easy, customizable website builder with blog and payment capabilities
  • Squarespace – Builder that specializes in pre-built templates and a drag-and-drop function
  • WordPress – The original website builder that offers a higher level of customization
  • Weebly – Beginner-friendly with a drag-and-drop editor and select range of simple templates
  • Shopify – Designed especially to enable you to take payments for services or products

2.3 Build out your website

Now you’ve got a domain name and a host, you’ll actually want to start creating your website. We recommend starting small and simple, and working up as necessary.

Even a simple, one-page homepage or landing page website will need:

  • Information about who you are and your location
  • Your calendar availability and rates per night
  • Type of rentals or rooms
  • Photos that show your rentals, including exterior, interior, and up-close shots
  • A way to select a check-in and check-out date to see availability and rates for specific nights
  • A way for guests to, pay, and confirm

Your website should be user-friendly, simple, have a clear button reading “Book Now”, and include great photos and descriptions. 

You can take cues from OTA websites (such as Airbnb) to see what they include on their listings and make sure your pages have similar information. 

It should also be easy for guests to select dates and pay easily, within a few steps. Including credit card logos and a guarantee that you’ll keep guest data safe will also help build trust and drive bookings. You will likely need a direct booking widget (a tool embedded on your page) to enable this. 

Your website will need, at the very least:

  • Homepage – Great photos and videos of your properties and location, with a snappy summary of your rentals and your mission as a company.
  • Booking page Include a bookable calendar, secure payment portal, and/or booking widget.

You might also consider some or all of the following pages:

  • Reviews or Testimonials Show glowing reviews of your place from social media or Google.
  • About Include more on your company or family, how you came to be running rentals, and why you’re a great host. Keep it short and sweet and always relevant to your guest.
  • Listings List all of your listings or rentals in one place, perhaps searchable by location, number of bedrooms, or other key criteria.
  • Gallery page – A place for more beautiful and useful photos of your rentals.
  • Location – A space to list nearby attractions or reasons that people come to stay in the area.
  • Social media widget – All of your most recent Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok posts.

Your website should also look just as good on a mobile or tablet as a full-sized computer screen (as 

2.4 Connect a payment processing platform

04_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_A screenshot of the Stripe payment processing homepage
Stripe is one of the most popular payment processing platforms

As we’ve said already, even the most basic direct booking website needs to have a booking and payment capability. Without this, your website won’t be able to take bookings and will be nothing more than a fancy brochure.

Many of the hosting sites we mentioned above will enable you to embed some kind of payment widget or portal, and these will likely connect with one of a few available payment platforms.

Depending on your location, you may have access to just a few of these (for example, Venmo is not widely used in the UK). Most payment platforms enable guests to pay you via PayPal or credit card, and will then store the amount in your dedicated account (e.g. your Stripe account).

Some will hold the amount indefinitely until you make a withdrawal, others enable you to arrange deposits straight into your bank account, while others can be set up to make automatic transfers from your payment account to your bank. 

Some leading payment processors include:

  • Stripe – Well-known, powerful payment tool that enables you to take credit cards.
  • Amazon Pay – Online payment process tool from the retail giant, and works on external sites
  • Venmo for Business – The instant payment platform, designed for commercial operations. 
  • PayPal for Business – The well-known digital payment platform via email and credit card.

Fees can vary depending on the system, transaction, and location—for example, Stripe fees start at 2.9%, Venmo for Business fees start at 1.9%, and PayPal’s start at 3.40%.

2.5 Take out vacation rental insurance and start guest screening

Taking direct bookings makes protecting your rentals even more important. While their coverage has its limitations, OTAs do at least offer some modicum of protection if guests damage your property, or suffer an injury or accident during their stay. 

Similarly, most OTAs require some form of ID or verification to ensure that guests are who they say they are, and create a paper trail of their booking in case something goes wrong.

With direct booking, all that coverage—however scant—is completely gone. 

This means that as a host, you’ll need to take out some kind of damage protection coverage, whether that’s a damage waiver policy, or full-blown vacation rental insurance to protect yourself, your properties, and your business in case the worst happens.

Some examples include: 

  • Autohost.ai (integrates with Hospitable.com) – AI-powered guest screening
  • Superhog (integrates with Hospitable.com) – Guest screening and damage waivers
  • Safely – Vacation rental insurance with fast payout times
  • Proper – Vacation rental insurance with a wide variety of properties covered

3. Optimize your website

05_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_Photo of a laptop showing Google
Optimizing your website for optimum SEO (search engine optimization) can help it be found more easily

“Optimizing” your website is web-speak for “making it easy to find and use”, and making it more effective for its intended purpose (in this case, driving more bookings for your rentals).

Key ways to do this include: 

  • Excellent photography – This will help your rentals stand out and entice guests to book.
  • SEO (search engine optimization) – Put strong keywords that guests will search in page titles, and distribute them throughout your pages (such as “vacation rentals malta”).
  • Descriptive listings – Make your listing descriptions easy to read, and make sure they respond to what a guest may be looking for, such as key amenities, check-in policies, and location. 
  • Updated listings – Keep your listings updated to showcase popular amenities, as you learn more about what your guests particularly appreciate or enjoy. 
  • Strong, simple CTAs (calls to action) – Encourage guests to book with frequent invitations to book or find out more.
  • Guest testimonials – A TripAdvisor survey found that 72% of respondents said they wouldn’t book a rental without reviews. So show them off, for yet more proof that booking with you is a good decision that guests won’t regret! Revyoos.com has a plug-in that brings your ratings together.

4. Get more visitors to your site

Even the creator of the best, most beautiful website in the world can’t just sit back and hope that people find it. In today’s saturated market, you’ll need to go out and bring ideal guests to you.

You’ve put all this work into creating an attractive, functional, and useful website—now let’s make sure the right people actually see it and book!

As well as following all the above steps to optimize your site, great tips include:

  • Build a social media presence – This will draw people to your site. For example, video tours of your rentals can have huge reach on TikTok and Instagram, while static images still work well on Pinterest. Put your website as your profile link and invite people to click.
  • Create a Google Business Profile This is crucial for local SEO and helps guests find you via the search engine and location maps.
  • Collaborate with others – Sharing expertise or tips on other blog posts, news websites or podcasts can help raise your profile and boost your authority.
  • Diversify your media – Depending on your skillset or what appeals, you could start your own podcast, YouTube channel, or blog (see below). Visitor numbers may be low but it all helps. 
  • Helpful blog content – Writing regular, helpful blog posts can push your pages higher in search results. A good example might be “5 Must-Do Things in Malta”, with a CTA to book your rentals.
  • Share news on your LinkedIn – Posting about relevant industry news helps to build your profile and establish authority in your niche.
  • Google, Facebook or social media ads – These can be expensive if you wade in without experience or direction, but they can pay off, especially if you start with a free offer or useful content that eventually brings people to your site.
  • Mention your brand name on OTA websites – Some sites may not let you put direct links to your website, but you can include your brand name in listings (and, depending on the OTA, on your photos). This means that if guests are curious, they can Google you and find your page.

5. Continue to improve your website and draw guests to it

06_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_Photo of Christmas decorations in a house
Updating your listings with seasonal photos can keep your website looking fresh and relevant

Unfortunately, you can’t just throw a website online and then forget about it (well, you can, but we don’t recommend it for good results!). The best websites that appear the highest in search engine results are regularly updated to keep them fresh and relevant.

5.1 Keep your site up-to-date

Be sure to keep adding or refreshing things on your site to avoid it looking old or stale. 

Updates might include: 

  • New listings or properties
  • A fresh set of seasonal images (think updates for winter, Christmas, and summer)
  • Periodic renovations that deserve updated descriptions and photos
  • Regular blog posts on news, ideas, events, or seasonal recommendations

Even old listings or pages can be updated for a fresh look. Tweak titles or descriptions, showcase different amenities to see what works better, or rotate images or videos to keep the page looking new.

5.2 Use remarketing tactics for repeat bookings

The easiest way to bring people to your website is to invite people who’ve visited before (and it’s even easier if they’ve stayed at your rentals before!). 

This means working to drive repeat bookings via classic remarketing tactics such as collecting email addresses from existing guests and asking for consent to add them to your email list. 

By all means, send regular sales emails inviting them to rebook, or with discounts or other offers — but you can also send past guests notice of new posts or listings, behind-the-scenes insights, or details of local events to keep them interested in your area. 

You can also time emails to send 10-11 months after their first stay (as many people’s stays are annual), or send offers or a special booking deal for events such as their birthday, Mother’s Day, or Valentine’s.

Always include a clear link to your website in your emails, whether you’re asking for a direct sale or not. This will get people visiting your site and keep your rentals top of mind. 

You could also offer existing guests incentives to rebook or to refer your rentals to their friends and family, for even more ways to spread the word.

5.3 IRL networking and word-of-mouth

Your website may be digital, but never underestimate the power of IRL (in real life) marketing to really make an impact. 

Sometimes the best way to spread the word about your business and website (your digital “home”) is to use old-fashioned marketing techniques such as going to industry events, speaking to industry figures, and attending shows (or even putting yourself forward to speak or exhibit at one!). 

Print flyers, stickers, bags, hats, or T-shirts with your rental logo, social media handle, and website printed on them, and wear or distribute them wherever you go. Give a show-specific special offer or deal to get people interested straight away.

Talk about your rentals online, to friends or family, and don’t underestimate the effect of local events to drum up interest. Word-of-mouth marketing is still super-powerful.

5.4 Collaborate with local brands and businesses

Collaborating with local complementary businesses is also a good way to get your rentals in front of a wider audience. 

For example, you might work with a local festival or food event to advertise your rentals there (or on their marketing material), in return for shouting about the event to your guests. 

You could also start using local products in your rentals (such as local honey, soap, towels, or roasted coffee) and in turn leave business cards or flyers in those brands’ stores or coffee shops.

Is there an easier way to create your direct bookings website?

Get a direct booking website within minutes!

Our system will ensure your calendars stay synced with OTAs, and your guests get the best experience.

Short answer: Yes. 

The above tips are some tried and true ways to build a direct bookings website that actually gets visitors and converts them into guests. But there’s no denying that it may sound like a LOT to handle for someone who just wants to sell vacation rentals and give guests excellent stays. 

That’s why we created Hospitable.com Direct. It’s our dedicated service to help you build a fully-functioning website quickly and easily, without having to worry about any of the back-end tech. 

Building your website via Direct (or switching to Hospitable from another provider) is a major alternative to duct taping each part of your website together. No more spending hours wrestling with hosting websites, finding the best booking widget, waiting for images to upload, or wondering why your security certificate isn’t working (cue head → wall)!

Designed especially for vacation rentals

Unlike most other website templates or builders, a Hospitable.com Direct website isn’t based on a platform that could also be a food blog, a graphic design portfolio, or maybe an influencer’s online makeup store.

It is designed for one goal alone: To drive direct bookings to your vacation rentals. 

This means that it has been created to showcase your rentals beautifully, to make your descriptions clear, and to get guests checking availability and booking, as seamlessly as possible.

Comes with a direct booking widget

The crucial part of your website comes baked into our Direct booking websites, so you can handle bookings with ease, and there’s no need to search for an external tool or figure out how to get it to play nicely with your website.

Payment capabilities are also coming later this year, so you’ll be able to use us for processing payments too. We’ll take care of credit card fees and data regulations, for one less thing to worry about.

Automatically syncs across calendars 

There’s no risk of accidental double bookings with OTAs, so you can use your direct booking website alongside other platforms, to get the best of both worlds.

Our Double Booking protection enables you to sync calendars across a variety of OTAs, including Airbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo, Abritel, and Stayz. There’s no way you’ll have to let guests down or risk poor hosting scores due to double-booking accidents.

Hospitable.com also syncs prices across platforms, so everyone gets the latest, correct rates.

Taxes calculated automatically

When you take direct bookings through your Hospitable.com website, we’ll take care of calculating any taxes due (for US-based properties). 

Through a partnership with Avalara, taxes are calculated automatically and included in the overall booking fee, for another financial load off your mind and to-do list.

Has automated guest communication built in

With a Hospitable.com Direct website, you get our platform’s specialty guest communication solutions as standard. That means that you can pre-schedule messages, send automated responses; unify communications in a single, centralized inbox for fast answers; and reply to common questions using AI. 

You’ll make more money via direct bookings (no OTA fees!), and save hours on guest chats.

Plus, Hospitable.com’s messaging capabilities make it even easier to get back in touch with guests after their stay. 

For example, if you automate your booking confirmation message with Hospitable.com, the email address your guest provides will be automatically stored in the guest’s file so you can use it for remarketing purposes later. 

Guest screening included in your package

08_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_Screenshot of Autohost tools
Autohost.ai is an AI-based guest screening tool that integrates with Hospitable.com to help you “know your guest”

Hospitable.com doesn’t just let you secure the guest’s booking, it also helps you secure the guest, and is a major way to prepare for direct bookings

Via our integration with AI guest screening platform Autohost, we can help you background check your guests after they book, so you can avoid most problems before they even happen. Guests submit a selfie and an ID document, and then Autohost performs a background check on your behalf. 

This helps to root out any risk of fraud, criminal background, or simply previous bad behavior, so you can avoid the risk of damage, injury, unauthorized parties, excess noise, or confrontation (or worse) at your rentals. 

Vacation rental damage protection included

Hospitable.com can also help offer an extra layer of protection for your rentals, in the form of damage protection via Know Your Guest by Superhog.

Our partnership means that reservations are insured against property damage up to $5m.

Task management

Hospitable.com’s task management feature is designed to help you manage your rentals remotely, and/or with the help of a dedicated team. This means you can assign staff new tasks, and keep them automatically updated if anything changes. 

Cleanings and turnarounds for new bookings are scheduled automatically upon check-out (and created even in the event of a last-minute booking too). You can also share calendars with team members so everyone’s on the same page.

Data and operational metrics

Working with Hospitable.com also gives you financial and operational metrics so you always have access to guest data and staff tasks instantly. 

You can see your reservations, names, details, and payout amounts at a glance, making it even easier to run your rentals at a great profit, and contact guests for remarketing offers down the line.

The secret to a direct booking website that works

07_Hospitable_DirectBookingWebsite_

Sidestepping OTAs to build a direct booking strategy can be a savvy move, but it needs a few intentional steps to be successful.

Start by thinking about your unique brand and how to attract your ideal guest, and then move to the nuts and bolts of your site. Next, consider which vacation rental insurance provider and guest screening tool will offer the best protection, and then get to work driving traffic to your site via digital and IRL marketing.

But, we get it. It can all feel like a lot for someone who just wants to get on with running rentals. So if you’d rather concentrate on managing listings and delivering excellent guest stays than hiking up the website creation learning curve, Hospitable.com Direct could be the solution for you. 

With all the key tools baked into our specially-designed templates—plus our intelligent messaging and task management capabilities too—your Hospitable.com Direct website will act as a seamless part of your overall operations.

So you can get all the benefits of direct bookings, without the headaches or frustrating tech wrangling. Go direct, and watch your business boom.

Hospitable.com automates nearly 100% of your guest messaging.

And now, we’re building an end-to-end direct booking solution so you can extend your exceptional hospitality to direct guests.
Guest screening

How to Make Guest Screening Part of Your Direct Booking Strategy

While creating a direct booking strategy lets you sidestep OTA fees and rules, it also means going without their profile verification tools and background checks, and significantly increasing the risk of major issues. Faced with such risk, reliable and robust guest screening tools—such as Autohost, which integrates with Hospitable.com—are more important than ever.

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