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The Book Direct Roadmap: A Guide for Vacation Rental Hosts

Direct bookings are an essential part of building a more professional vacation rental business. Not only will you reduce your dependency on OTAs (online travel agencies) like Airbnb and VRBO,  but you will also be in charge of your own business.  YOU own your own website and domain; YOU control your rules and polices; YOU set your own rates without the addition of third-party fees that upset your guests. 

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Direct bookings are an essential part of building a more professional vacation rental business. Not only will you reduce your dependency on OTAs (online travel agencies) like Airbnb and VRBO,  but you will also be in charge of your own business.  YOU own your own website and domain; YOU control your rules and policies; YOU set your own rates without the addition of third-party fees that upset your guests. 

As a vacation rental business consultant, web designer, and marketer, I know firsthand how difficult it is for many hosts to attract direct bookings. It can be overwhelming to learn the business and marketing strategies, new tools and software, and all the other requirements for success. 

But, I’ve seen it happen many many times.  In fact, I’ve had clients who were able to book direct in their first year of business. So,I know that it can be done.  With effort, understanding, and guidance, you can start increasing your direct bookings (and in fact, you can even do this without a fully functioning website). 

In this 5-Step Book Direct Roadmap, I will walk you through the essential steps to start the book direct process.  Whether you’re a new host or a seasoned professional, these steps will help you optimize your marketing and operations to attract more direct bookings and maximize your revenue.

So, let’s get started on the journey to more direct bookings for your vacation rental!

Creating a successful book-direct hospitality business requires careful planning and execution. Here are the steps necessary for building a successful book direct hospitality business:

The Five-Step Book Direct Roadmap


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Step 1. Create A Guest Avatar: Get To Know Your Perfect Guests 

Many people generalize their niche or target market. They will state that they are marketing to families, or business travelers, etc.  But, that is a target market, not a marketing avatar. 

A guest avatar (I call this your “Perfect Guest Avatar)” is a detailed profile of the perfect guest for your hospitality business. It is a representation of your target market and includes information about their demographics, psychographics, and behavior.

The better you know your perfect or ideal guests and the more details you have about them, the easier it is to market your vacation home and attract guests who appreciate your home and give better reviews.

Spend some time figuring out who this person is and how you can market to them more effectively. Check out this blog post about how and why you should have a Perfect Guest Avatar and how to build your profile.

(Download the five-step guided workbook here—>)

Step 2. Create A Strong Brand – Values, Story & USP

Branding is so much more than visuals and a logo. In fact, that’s the last step you should take when you create a lasting professional brand. 

The point behind a brand is really to get to know your business and what you have to offer.  Now that you know who you are creating this business for, you want to hone in on the things that make you the best choice for this person. 

You need a memorable name, great imagery, and an understanding of how you are different and better!

Important parts of your brand strategy are: 

  • Defining the values your company holds such as safety, sustainability, honesty, family 
  • Defining your mission, or your “why.”  Why do you enjoy the hospitality and vacation rental industry? Do you love welcoming people to your town?  Do you want to create memories for families like yours?  
  • Define your USP, or what makes you unique and different from your local competitors and even your niche or area competition.  What do you offer for your specific Perfect Guest Avatar that others do not? 

Read more tips about how to brand a memorable vacation rental!

Step 3: Choose and use a PMS (Property Management System) for a seamless booking experience

Choose a PMS system that works with your budget and needs. There are many to choose from and some are easier to get started with than others. I typically suggest OwnerRez to my clients because it has most of the features needed for creating a seamless booking experience, managing guest communications, and managing additional channels. It also integrates with other tools, such as Touchstay, Superhog, and Remotelock. I love it and recommend it every day and also love that the team at OwnerRez is as committed to their clients as I am mine!

But, there are a host (haha) of other PMS companies to choose from including Lodgify, Hostfully, and many more.  I suggest looking at several and asking for a tour before making a decision.  If you are new to the industry you may not know the features you need.  You aren’t stuck with one forever, but some do incur upfront expenses that make it harder to leave when you are ready. 

Step 4: Invest In A Professional, Branded Website 

Your guest experience begins at the very first interaction, and often times that is when your users first encounter your website. So a branded, professional, and easy-to-use website is crucial to establishing a memorable online experience.    

When you have a website that is branded and designed to reflect your business’ identity, shares your unique value proposition, and showcases your properties, destination, and experience it instantly tells people how much you value professionalism.  Which says that they can expect that at every turn.   

Many people choose a templated site from a PMS company or something they purchase online.  Although these sites can be good as a starting point, ultimately, they are not customized for your audience.  To get started booking direct before you have a PMS in place, you can create a one-page landing page site using Leadpages, Wix, Canva, or even something like the phone app, Milkshake. 

With these sites, you won’t have the integration with your PMS without some additional tech knowledge, but you can direct people here for more info and to connect with you outside of the OTA’s.  I don’t advise you do this for longer than a few months while you get other plans in place. 

Your website will be the biggest upfront investment you make when you are on the road to direct bookings, so be careful about what type of site you choose and who you choose to build it. 

 As a website designer for the vacation rental industry, I can tell you that I’ve seen so many hastily built websites that were honestly a waste of time, money, and effort. 

Overall, a branded website is a powerful tool for establishing your business’s online presence and building your brand. By investing in a professional and customized website, you can differentiate your business from competitors, improve customer satisfaction, and drive growth and success for your business.

Step 5: Start Marketing your Vacation Rental Using Social Media, Email Marketing & Traditional Marketing Channels 

Marketing takes time, patience, and knowledge. I suggest you start with adding a Facebook and Instagram page and learning these tools slowly. Start sending regular emails to previous guests using Mailchimp, Convertkit, or one of the many email marketing tools.  Eventually, you want to add content marketing and gathering new leads for your email marketing to your strategy. 

But, ultimately, in order to generate new traffic to your direct booking website, you must actively market your business.  This is true of any business – even brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants need a comprehensive marketing strategy!  

You also want to be sure and remember traditional marketing strategies.  Insert brochures in your local visitors center, buy ads in travel guides, and network with local businesses and citizens to increase word of mouth. 

Don’t Forget – Provide An Amazing Guest First Experience

I think it stands to reason that the most crucial part of building a successful vacation rental business that stands out above your competition, is to create an unmatched experience for your guests.  Strive for amazing reviews not because of the bump in your Airbnb rankings, but because you truly care about the guest.  When you put your guest first in your communication, marketing, design, and business plan, you will have a network of returning guests and ambassadors for your business – and that is more than half the battle of building a book direct business!   

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In conclusion, building a successful book direct vacation rental business requires a strategic and holistic approach. By taking the time to understand your perfect guest avatar, create an unforgettable guest experience, establish a strong brand identity, develop effective marketing strategies, create a user-friendly website, and implement a reliable booking system, vacation rental hosts can attract more direct bookings, increase revenue, and build a loyal customer base.

It’s important to keep in mind that building a book direct vacation rental business is a continuous process that requires ongoing effort and adaptation. Hosts must stay up-to-date on industry trends, monitor their performance metrics, and continually improve their operations to meet the evolving needs and preferences of their guests.

However, by following the steps outlined in this article and remaining committed to providing outstanding guest experiences, vacation rental hosts can achieve success and build a thriving business that provides value to guests and hosts alike.

Tools Mentioned:

A few of my favorite tools and products mentioned in this article include:

Ownerrez – PMS | Channel Manager | Website Provider

Siteground – WordPress Website Hosting

ConvertKit – Email Marketing Platform

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Roadmap Guide

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