Vacation rental managers and hosts are increasingly realising the growing importance of getting more Direct Bookings. But getting more Direct Bookings is easier said than done, and some rental professionals are going about it entirely the wrong way. With the likes of Airbnb, Expedia and Vrbo all well-established sources of vacation rentals, and with Google and other companies moving into the space, it’s never been more important to get more Direct Bookings to complement your channel reservations. Here are 4 common mistakes rental managers make when trying to get more Direct Bookings and how to avoid them.
Direct Bookings refer to those that come directly from guests, for example through your own website, via social media or over the phone. This is different from Channel Bookings, which come through a third party like Airbnb or Booking.com. Whilst Channel Bookings are useful, and should definitely be part of your overall business strategy, they’re also subject to sales channel commissions and rules about things like refunds. Direct Bookings don’t rely on a third party, so you have more flexibility when it comes to booking rules and can keep a greater share of booking revenue.
Mistake 1: Not having a professional website
How to put this politely? Many independent vacation rental websites…suck. They’re just really bad. They look like they were built using Microsoft Paint and provide an experience for visitors which is about as pleasant as a COVID nasal swab. Booking a vacation should be an exciting, enjoyable experience but too many vacation rental websites make it actively painful. Too many websites rely on contact forms for guests to make enquiries. Some don’t even do this, instead just providing contact information and hoping guests will reach out of their own accord. The reality is, they won’t.
If you want to get more Direct Bookings you need to make it easy and simple for your guests to make a booking in the first place. Don’t force them to contact you and wait for a response. As a bare minimum, you need a Booking Widget on your website. Also known as a Booking Engine, this allows guests to select available dates for a given property and make a booking there and then. Just as importantly, they should be able to make an online payment too – you don’t want to be messing around with bank transfers or asking for cash on arrival. It’s time consuming for both you and your guests, runs the risk of fraud and many guests nowadays simply won’t trust a process that asks them to do such a thing. By providing a secure online payment platform you can get more direct bookings simply by allowing guests to trust that their money is safe with you.
Tip! If you already have a website (built with WordPress, Joomla, Squarespace, Drupal, Wix or others) you can easily install YR booking widget in minutes on your website with no technical skills required. Plus, with Your.Rentals your Booking Widget will be synchronised with your selected channels. That means whenever you receive a booking, we’ll block those dates on all the channels you use plus your own website, so you never need to worry about double bookings. Learn more about Calendar Sync.
Mistake 2: Failing to promote your Direct Booking options
When guests are looking for a vacation, how do they start? Most likely, they’ll either head straight to their favourite channel, or start Googling to see what comes up. Most of the time, the top results for these will be channel listings too, which is why it’s still really important to list your property on as many channels as possible, even when you’re trying to get more Direct Bookings.
What they won’t do is automatically come directly to you unless you let them know it’s an option.
How to get your website to appear in those search results deserves a whole article by itself (though we’ve got some tips on SEO and page indexing here), so right now we’ll instead focus on what you can do outside of that.
For starters, where do you send people when you do marketing or when they ask about booking your properties? If it’s to your website, great! (As long as your website doesn’t suck of course). But if you’re sending people to a sales channel like Airbnb or Booking.com, you’re missing out on a chance to get more Direct Bookings and throwing away revenue.
Instead, share your listings directly. Your.Rentals allows you to easily share your listing pages via Social Media, Email, Mobile Messenger, or anywhere with a URL. By doing this, your guests will be able to see your listing pages in all their glory, with full property details, availability calendars and booking options. This is especially good for property managers who don’t currently have their own website. You can share links to your listings via your existing marketing channels like WhatsApp, Messenger and email, and still capture online bookings and payments.
Additionally, you should hopefully have an email list of potential customers. At the very minimum, this should contain the contact details of those who have stayed with you in the past (a Guestbook in the property is an absolute must!), but you may also have some leads from elsewhere such as social media followers or acquired leads. Why not send them a link to your bookable pages to let them know Direct Booking is an option? If they know you and trust you, they’re more likely to be willing to book directly through you instead of a channel next time they’re looking for accommodation.
Mistake 3: Not competing properly
This brings us onto another common mistake. When it comes to getting more Direct Bookings, your main competition isn’t fellow vacation rental managers. It’s channels. Big, established brands like Airbnb and Booking.com make up over half of all vacation bookings today, and if you want to get more Direct Bookings you have to acknowledge that you’re in competition with them. Even when they’re also selling your properties!
Guests know these channels and trust them. Unless they’ve stayed with you before, they don’t know you and are going to take some serious persuading to book with someone they’ve never heard of when they have the security of the well-known brands as an option.
We’ve already explained why having a slick, professional online presence is an absolute necessity, whether that’s via your own website with a booking engine or sharing your online listing pages. You’re competing against these big brands with their huge technology budgets – you have to come across as professional and secure at the very least in order to stand a chance.
But it’s not just about the technology. Direct Bookings allow you to be much more flexible than channel bookings, so you have a real competitive advantage if you can make the most of it. All other things being equal, a guest will most likely opt for their trusted channel over an independent website. But what if you make Direct Bookings cheaper than channel bookings? Or what if you offer something extra, like free airport transfers or a complimentary welcome basket when guests book directly with you instead of via a channel?
These little things can make a huge difference. Your.Rentals allows you to create Promo Codes and special offers, so you can really reward your guests for coming directly to you. Remember, with Direct Bookings you’re not paying any sales channel commission, so you can afford to offer discounted rates and still maintain a greater revenue share. We’ve got more info on how to increase Direct Bookings with Promo Codes here.
Mistake 4: Forgetting the personal touch
One of the big advantages of Direct Bookings is that you can have more flexibility than you can with channel bookings. You don’t necessarily have to abide by the same booking and refund rules (though you should be careful not to inconvenience potential guests too much), and as previously mentioned you can offer unique discounts or additional extras that aren’t supported by channels.
Additionally, you can use Direct Bookings to create a tailor-made booking for your guests. A great way of doing this in Your.Rentals is by creating a personalised Booking Offer. This is when you create a booking for specific dates and send it to your guest. You can set your own prices and any other custom terms that you need to fit the guest in question. For example, if you usually have a rule about the maximum number of guests or length of stay, sales channels won’t allow bookings that deviate from this. But there are always exceptions, and if a guest makes a request that is too good to turn down, you can capitalise by creating an offer for a Direct Booking.
This personal (and personalised) approach can be a great way to get more Direct Bookings. By tailoring your offering to fit your guests you’re offering a service that channels can’t compete with, and you’re strengthening your personal relationships with customers at the same time. This means when it comes to securing those all-important repeat bookings, you already have existing goodwill built up.
Getting more Direct Bookings isn’t necessarily easy. But avoiding the most common mistakes can still make things significantly easier for vacation rental managers. The main thing to remember is that (for the most part at least) channels provide professional, largely painless booking experiences that delight customers. You need to do the same in order to get more Direct Bookings. Cutting out the simple mistakes will not only give you a fighting chance of competing with sales channels but also allow you to grow Direct Bookings as a significant source of revenue.