By The Hospitable Team
Building a direct booking strategy should be on every vacation rental host’s priority list.
That’s because direct bookings save you money on online travel agency (OTA) fees, let you build closer relationships with guests, boost your authority, and secure more consistent, repeat bookings.
But if you already have a direct booking website that isn’t working well, or know you want to create one but don’t know where to start, it can feel daunting to know where to begin.
From tech challenges to knowing what to write, and figuring out whether you’ve included all the right elements, to getting all the tech working and replacing everything that OTAs provide (like guest screening, payment processing, and listings)…well, it’s a lot to take on.
That’s why in this post, we’ve explained:
- Why you need a direct booking website (and why the learning curve is worth it!)
- The pages you must have, including About us, Reviews, Listings, and a Blog
- The property management essentials you need, including updated calendar and rates
- The creative content to include, including recommendations and insider tips
- The must-consider tools you need when switching from OTAs to direct bookings
And how including all of this helps to build trust with your would-be guests, and ensures your properties are protected and profitable. We’ve also included a section on how Hospitable.com can make all of this easier if you need some dedicated help to get started.
Get your direct booking website working for you
Why you need your own direct vacation rental website
How does saving thousands on online travel agency (OTA) fees, building authority as a host and creating great relationships with guests sound? What about having more control over your own business in comparison to relying on OTAs alone?
That’s what having a direct vacation rental website does for you.
Having a direct vacation rental website also:
- Drives guest loyalty and repeat bookings. Happy guests can book again straight through you.
- Enables you to build your direct booking strategy. You now have a solid online “home.”
- Demonstrates your authority. Show expertise via your blog and/or helpful listings
- Provides a place to send social media followers. You now have a link to your own site.
- Gives you control over how you display your properties. You can choose the design and features.
- Gives you more control over views. You’re not dependent on the whims of OTA algorithms.
- Lets you build your own database of loyal customers. You can more easily take contact details and send follow-up marketing and newsletters to loyal fans.
- Gives insights into guests’ consumer behavior. See where they might drop out of the booking funnel.
- Lets you advertise your own discounts. Share your own offers, events, or incentives for booking freely.
Business page must-haves
Your direct booking website should be simple, to-the-point, showcase your properties beautifully and accurately, and make it extremely easy for guests to book. But you don’t just want a single page with an availability calendar and a “book now” button.
This is your opportunity to build loyalty with guests, and give them even more confidence to book.
So make sure you include these direct booking website essentials:
An About Us page is your chance to connect with guests on a personable level. People buy from people, not businesses. Vacation rental guests typically want to know the people behind the brand, because they’re actively choosing a rental property, rather than a big-named hotel.
- Tell your story as if you were telling a friend. Why did you get into running vacation rentals?
- Why do you have rentals in the locations you do? Do you love the mountains or the beach too? Let your guests know. Chances are, they feel the same way.
- Ensure any text is easy to read. Break up big ‘walls’ of text with paragraphs, headings, quotes, and bold sentences.
- Include some good-quality photos of you and your life. This will help guests to “see” the real you.
- Keep it short and sweet. It’s an introduction to you, not your life story.
A common vacation rental host mistake here is to make your ‘About us’ section about you. But actually, it’s about how you can help the guest. Always ask yourself the question: Why do my guests care about this? This will keep your story on track, and build guest loyalty.
Including a page where guests can read previous guests’ reviews and testimonials is crucial. Guests are much more likely to trust you and book a stay if they can see that other people have had a great time at your properties. It shows that booking with you is not a risk.
You could include reviews (or the best ones) via a widget on your homepage, or set up a separate page for them. A widget will pull recent reviews from somewhere else, such as Google Reviews, but a separate page will also let you show more reviews and customize their appearance more.
- Show guests’ full names, and if possible, the date of their stay, so guests can see how recent the good experience was. Update it regularly.
- Include at-a-glance ratings too, such as a five-star system or marks out of 10.
- As a bonus, include a photo of the guest enjoying their stay at your property, or even a video!
It’s good practice to set up a systematic process for guest reviews.
Ask guests for them every time, at the right time, and make it easy for guests to leave them (by including a direct link to a review form in your message, or with a QR code that goes directly to the review page, for example).
Your review requests can also include suggestions on what guests could mention (for example, ask them if they enjoyed the hot tub, great location, or fancy coffee machine). This boosts the chance that guests will mention these features in their reviews, and impress future would-be guests.
Without excellent property listings, you’ll struggle to get any bookings. Ensure your property pages include:
- Beautiful, appealing photos of your properties. Include exterior, interior, and view shots; as well as close-ups of details like kitchen or bathroom fittings, supplies, and amenities (For more help, check out these photography tips for vacation rentals).
- Honest but appealing description. Describe the property to your guest accurately but visually, so they can really imagine themselves waking up and relaxing in your space.
- Full list of amenities, gadgets, and supplies on offer. The more detail the better, so guests can see what’s there. You can even specify what isn’t available (e.g. iron), to make it extra clear and avoid the chance of disappointment.
- Clear instructions for how many people the property sleeps, and where. Are there three double beds, or one king-size and two twin bedrooms? What is your policy for children and pets?
- Answers to guests’ most common questions. The fewer queries guests have, the smaller your guest messaging workload, and the more likely they are to book.
- House rules. You’ll send a more comprehensive list of house rules after booking, but it still makes sense to be upfront at the listing stage for important rules, such as no smoking—again, this helps avoid disappointment and can save you from having a problematic stay
- Cancellation or alteration policy. Make this clear, or at least provide a link to a separate page on your site that details this.
- Be honest and accurate. It’s OK to say your property isn’t suitable for children, that there are steep stairs, and that guests may need earplugs on a Saturday night. The more accurate your listing, the less likely you are to get bad reviews from unpleasantly-surprised guests.
The more guests you have, the more you’ll learn what common questions they ask. Ensure you update your listings regularly to answer these questions, as it will make your listings more useful.
You can also rotate your photos every so often, to keep them up-to-date.
You might also want to change them up seasonally. For example, if you want to promote your short-term rental during the winter, display photos of your property looking cozy and decorated rather than focusing on that sweltering midsummer balcony shot.
Blogs can be an excellent treasure trove of information and build rapport with your would-be guests.
A regularly-updated, relevant, and interesting blog:
- Lets you build your authority. It shows you have expertise in your field.
- Is another opportunity for you to share your voice. Show your personality and story, to build rapport.
- Improves your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). This makes it easier for people to find your business if they search on Google.
- Gives you a destination link for your social media pages. Interested people can go straight to your direct booking site.
Wondering what to write in your blog? Anything that shows your knowledge and values, and could entice people to come to stay at your rentals. For example:
- Answer common guest questions or address common misconceptions.
- Provide personal reviews or destination guides to your area.
- Share local area news that will be of interest to your ideal audience.
- List 5 top reasons why your rentals are perfect for families (or whoever your ideal guests are).
- Explore what it’s like to run your business, and any challenges or big wins.
- Share behind-the-scenes stories of getting your properties ready for guests.
- Explain your priorities, such as why you provide locally roasted coffee or eco-friendly soap.
- Connect with local suppliers and explain why you use their products in your rentals.
Making it easy to contact you is a crucial part of your website. Providing helpful and prompt answers to questions shows your professionalism and builds trust with guests.
You might provide a contact us form, or a WhatsApp phone number. You could invite texts or a dedicated email address that guests can reach you on.
Hospitable.com also lets you set up automated responses that use AI to detect the content of the question and send super-relevant replies to guests 24/7, without any extra work from you.
Overall, the best contact method is one that you’ll be able to respond to consistently and promptly.
Hospitable’s Centralized Inbox makes it easier to keep track of your inquiries, as it brings all messages together in a single place. This avoids missing messages and saves you hours of stress compared to checking 10 different inboxes or devices a day.
Property management essentials
The pages above are important for a vacation rental direct booking website, but also the design must maximize bookings with strategic calls-to-action (CTAs), accurate availability and pricing, and an intuitive booking process.
So you’ll also want to consider the following, too:
Availability calendar synced with all your channels
Make it easy for would-be guests to check the latest availability and rates, and book and pay directly. After all, that’s the main reason why your website exists.
- Make your ‘book now’ or ‘check availability’ button big and visible. Put it on your homepage and navigation bar so guests can see it wherever they are on your site.
- Show your calendar and rates for each property clearly.
- Avoid making guests scroll or click too many times before they can select a property, search by date, and book and pay. The fewer obstacles to booking, the better.
Make sure your direct booking website syncs with your calendar availability displayed on other websites too, to avoid the nightmare of double bookings.
It’s easy to do this with a tool like Hospitable’s Double Booking protection tool. This keeps your calendar updated in a single location across bookings from OTAs as well as your own website. That means that if someone books on Airbnb, the property can’t accidentally be booked from your site too.
Hospitable’s pricing update tool also syncs rates across sites, so your direct booking page will always be competitive compared to Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, or other OTAs you might use.
Hospitable.com also integrates with dynamic pricing tools PriceLabs and Beyond, which let you monitor hundreds of variables in the market to ensure that your rates are always as competitive as possible.
Call-to-actions above the fold on every page
In plain language, putting “call-to-actions above the fold” means making it clear what you want your guests to do in the top half of the page, so your guest doesn’t need to scroll down to see it.
- Call-to-action: What you want your guest to do (“act on”). This will usually be a “book now” or “check availability now” button.
- Above-the-fold: Don’t make your guests scroll down or hunt for the “book now” button, or “read more” link, or whatever it is you want them to do. Make it visible and easy.
You want your website to make it 110% clear what guests should do, which page they need, and what they’ll see if they click (such as a payment page, gallery, or availability calendar.)
Exclusive offers and special discounts
A major advantage of having your own website is that you can offer guests incentives to book directly, which aren’t available if they go through an OTA. This pleases them, and helps you to save thousands of dollars on OTA fees and commissions.
These offers might include:
- A free welcome bottle of Champagne for a couple
- A welcome hamper of dog treats if they’re traveling with their pet
- An extra night for free or 50% off if they extend their stay
- A dinner voucher for a popular local restaurant for a family
You can shout about these offers on your social media channels, and send updates in your email newsletter. This gives guests another reason to book through you. It engages your audience, keeps you top-of-mind, and creates new and creative booking opportunities.
Payment processing and automated confirmation
Guests want to be able to book and pay for their booking online, so having a well-oiled, secure, and effective online payment processor is a crucial part of operating a successful direct booking site.
You want to ensure that:
- Your website is connected to a recognized and respected payment processor. This includes a service like Stripe or PayPal, and means that guests can confirm their property booking in a few clicks, and will trust that their details are secure.
- Guests receive automated emails with a receipt or confirmation, once they’ve paid.
- You send a thank you and welcome message to thank them, let them know their booking is confirmed, and invite them to contact you with any questions.
Hospitable’s direct booking website functionality coordinates all this for you.
Engage guests and minimize cancellations with creative content
Now you’ve got the nuts and bolts in place for guests to see who you are, swoon over your properties, check availability and up-to-date rates, and pay online, you want to get them excited about their stay (or stoke excitement so they finally book).
This means sharing details about your properties’ local area to show them why they should visit. Most of these ideas are extra ways to share your insider knowledge on your blog or social media.
Consider adding content like:
Must-see local attractions
Any visitor to a great destination wants some kind of guide, whether it’s a map of local walks, historical landmarks, or insider tips on the best rides to try at the nearby theme park.
Whether you write one big guide to all the best, must-see things to do, or separate your guide out into different topics, ensure it’s all tailored to your ideal guest.
For example, there’s no point in writing a list of the “top 10 best places to go with kids” if your ideal guests are young couples without children. Don’t list your favorite nightclubs in the area if you know your ideal guest is coming to explore the best hiking spots.
Imagine what you would like to know if you were your guest coming to the town for the first time, and share your local insight. Depending on your guest and area, this might include:
- Best walks or hikes in the area
- Best historical sites
- Best local history museums
- Best art galleries
- Best religious centers with visitor tours
- Best gardens or parks to relax in
- Best activities to do with kids
- Best beaches or national parks
Restaurants and food markets
It’s a rare guest who doesn’t want to explore the local area’s best cuisine. For example:
- Best cheap eats
- Best family-friendly restaurants
- Best dog-friendly cafes
- Best coworking coffee shops
- Best brunch spots
- Best romantic restaurants
- Best food markets for local produce
- Best food markets for special occasion meals
Again, tailor your recommendations to your ideal guest. Add helpful details where possible, such as where to park, which train line to take, the nearest bus stop to your property, what time they close, whether they accept pets, dress code, or how expensive each recommendation is.
Most guests choose a vacation rental because they want to feel at home wherever they stay, and that means knowing the best places to shop.
Whether your property is close to a fashion capital, a busy mall, or simply a drive away from basic grocery stores, make sure you show guests the best, easiest places to spend. This might include:
- Grocery basics
- Higher-end food produce stores
- Health stores or cosmetic counters
- The best local artisan outlets
- Fashion hotspots
- Traditional craft markets
These might not be the main reason that guests come to stay at your property, but showing that you know the area will prove that they can trust you—and that they can easily get what they need if and when they book.
Events, local updates and seasonal content
When enticing guests to go directly through you, you may need an extra reason or push to get them hitting the “book now” button.
Keeping them informed of local events is an excellent way to “hook” their stay to recent updates, or get them planning in advance. You might send them advance warning of a seasonal festival, or explain why a local event or update is the perfect excuse for a vacation.
- A local beach winning a clean beach award. Great for vacationing families.
- A wedding show coming to town. Perfect for newly-engaged couples.
- A traditional Christmas market. Fun for the holidays.
- A craft beer festival. Great for couples or friends.
- A popular gig. Perfect for music lovers.
- A regional food and wine festival. Tempting for foodies.
- A new art exhibition. A must-see for culture-hunters.
Anything that might entice guests to combine a visit with a stay at your property, and reminds them of the sights that your location has to offer, could be enough to keep your business top-of-mind and get them booking ahead for a special weekend or much-needed break.
Direct booking website content tips & tricks
The difference between a good website and vacation rental host, and a great one? Info tailored to the audience, succinctly and helpfully, with an extra flourish to convince the guest your property is something special.
Here’s how to add those extra touches:
Know your target audience
We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Know exactly who your target audience is, and tailor your entire website and content accordingly. This includes your descriptions, photos, and recommendations.
- Digital nomads: Show photos of and describe the working space, internet speed test, coffee machine, and great coworking coffee shops.
- Families with young kids: Show the different bedrooms and safety precautions (e.g. balcony railings and staircases). Provide kid-friendly local recommendations.
- Couples with pets: Show extras that you provide, such as dog treats or bedding. Provide recommendations for nearby dog parks, and make any extra charges fair and visible.
- Solo travelers: Emphasize safety and easy door access. Highlight your security system. Provide recommendations for solo-friendly restaurants or great local group classes or tours.
- Sports enthusiasts: Maximize upsell opportunities with easy equipment hire. Recommend local hiking trails, skiing slopes or surfing spots (or just the best bars with sports TV!)
- History buffs: Highlight how close your property is to the famous sights, recommend a guided walking tour, or share hard-to-spot local historical details.
Paint a simple picture
You want to show your style and personality, and give extensive listing descriptions. But you also want to ensure guests can find exactly what they want to know quickly while imagining themselves enjoying their stay.
Keep any flowery descriptions to a minimum. Introduce the property, say why it’s great or what the standout feature is, and how it will feel to stay there. Feel free to let your personality shine through.
But then get specific. Ensure your description is fair, accurate, and detailed. Follow our advice above on what to include in your listing, and how to make sure it’s 100% helpful to your ideal guest.
Highlight the USP
A “USP” means “unique selling point,” and that means the one (or two, maximum) memorable detail about this property that sets it apart from the rest.
What makes it a must-stay place? What will guests immediately rave about to their friends and family when they get home? Make sure this detail is front and center of your listing or even your entire website.
- A glorious fire pit surrounded by cozy chairs and an incredible view of the night sky
- A sunrise view to die for as you drink your morning coffee
- A wood-fired hot tub and sauna in the middle of the forest
- A quiet, sandy beach right on your doorstep
- Super-easy access to the city center and unparalleled central location
- A private pool with flume slide and swim-up bar
- The perfect starting point for famous hikes in a national park
Whatever makes your property different in all the right ways—highlight it in your descriptions, photos, amenities, and your featured reviews.
Direct bookings and property management
Despite its upsides, direct booking brings major challenges that using OTAs alone does not.
Consider the following:
- Technology and payment processing. How can you build a website and ensure it all works?
- Guest vetting and insurance. Without OTA profiles, support, or verification, checking guests’ backgrounds is all on you, and you need to be covered if something goes wrong.
- Reviews. You need to collect reviews systematically and display them on your site.
- Data collection and marketing. In the absence of OTA forms and million-dollar campaigns, you need to collect all data safely in-house and get the word out yourself.
But you’re not alone. Hospitable’s platform is designed especially for hosts who want to develop their direct booking strategy alongside their use of OTAs.
Its Direct Booking tool integrates with the rest of the Hospitable.com platform to make taking direct bookings as seamless and stress-free as possible.
For example, with Hospitable Direct you’ll be able to:
- Easily create a website from a range of templates. No building or coding from scratch. Just beautiful listing pages that showcase everything you want the guest to know.
- Embed automatically-updated widgets. Ensure your availability and rates are always up-to-date with synced, real-time tools.
- Automate guest screening via our Autohost integration. Check backgrounds and vet guests.
- Save time and money with our payment processing solution. On our Premium offering, we act as the payment processor for you, so that only we are charged any processing fees for cancellations. With our Basic offering you can connect youw own payment processing account (e.g. Stripe).
- Get covered for each reservation with insurance by SUPERHOG. Ensure your property and business is safe even when unknown guests come to stay with $5M in damage protection.
- Automate reviews and publish them automatically. Ask for reviews at the exact right time, send your own, and manage bad comments.
- Schedule messages and take care of guests before, during, and after their stay. Send automated responses to the most common questions. Never miss a message or a chance to send a helpful reply.
Hospitable also includes useful tools for hosts no matter where your bookings come from, including task and team management for effortless cleaning and maintenance; and remote lock management.
So you can focus on all the benefits of direct bookings, without opening yourself to all of the risk and stress.
A direct website: From branding to booking
Having a direct booking website is crucial for vacation rental hosts who want to grow their revenue and industry authority—and take back some control from the fees and algorithms of OTAs.
It drives guest loyalty and can save you serious money too. You want to make sure that your website shares your story, builds your brand, and shows guests why they should trust you and book directly. This also means including reviews; and clear, accurate, and beautiful property listings.
Show your expertise with a blog, and make it super-easy for guests to book. Ensure you have an updated availability calendar, up-to-date rates, and incentives to go through you. Provide local insights and insider knowledge, and show guests you’ve thought of everything they need for a great stay.
Using Hospitable.com makes this much easier. As well as ensuring you have a great-looking website that works, and converts browsing the public into paying guests, it also offers integrations with must-have safety tools like guest background screening and insurance.
It coordinates reviews, and even automates guest messaging and communication, so you can please direct booking guests right from the start.
Get your direct booking website working for you
How can you make sure happy guests come back to you directly, so you don’t have to pay OTA fees over and over for the same guests? Especially when you’ve already done the hard work of building that good rapport and offering them a great stay?
From setting up a direct booking website, 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.
Get industry insight from short-term rental hosts in this step-by-step guide for taking direct bookings without the stress.