Your short-term rental business is underway. Your accommodation is furnished and decorated, your listings are set up on the Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and now you are waiting patiently… excitedly, for the first bookings to roll in. 

Each morning and afternoon you check your inbox but no enquiries and no bookings have come in. You scratch your head and wonder, “just where am I going wrong?”

This can be a very real and disheartening scenario for both experienced short-term rental hosts and those of you just starting out in the industry.

Achieving a healthy volume of guest bookings takes time and the right balance of pricing, presentation and placement. 

Let’s take a look at seven reasons you might not be receiving bookings and how to fix them:

1. Is your pricing strategy attractive?

Setting up your short-term rental pricing is an art. You have to balance covering costs, and staying competitive, whilst coming out on top and making a profit. 

After all, that’s what all this hard work is about!

If your rates are far higher than the local competition, you will have to have a compelling USP to receive bookings. If your rates are lower than the competition, guests will question why. 

Hot Tip: Never compete on price as there will always be someone that will undercut you and you’ll find yourself in a downward spiral of price competition.

Focus on a mid-price strategy to launch

Choosing a pricing strategy isn’t just picking a rental rate out of the air or copying competitor pricing. You’ll need to take into account monthly and yearly outgoings, local demand and competition.

A mid-range pricing strategy is commonly used in mass-market consumer goods. Seek to find a middle-ground between all of your competing factors – i.e. costs vs profit, quality vs. good value, and demand vs. competition. 

Unless you have a particularly low budget short-term rental or at the other end of the scale, and ultra-luxury vacation rental, then a mid-term pricing strategy will attract guests who are looking for quality at a reasonable price and most consumers believe that a mid-priced product or service is going to deliver on both quality and value.

2. Be everywhere: don’t be reliant on one short-term rentals channel

The quickest and easiest way to launch your short-term rental marketing strategy is to set yourself up on Airbnb, VRBO or Booking.com, or any one of the OTAs that offer a global marketplace of short-term rentals. 

And whilst it is absolutely necessary to use these platforms when starting out, you shouldn’t become reliant on any one platform or channel. There are many OTAs in the short-term rentals market to choose from: international, regional, and niche channels. 

Choose 2-3 and then analyse enquiry and booking data for each. At the end of each season, you can drop the ones that aren’t working for you and add channels, until you end up with the perfect mix.

It’s easy to get complacent and stick to the OTAs, but by doing so, you are missing out on attracting guests before they are thinking about accommodation. 

The answer is to focus on a holistic approach to your marketing strategy. Mixing up your OTA listings, with niche channels, and your own direct marketing channels, such as your book direct website, email and vacation rentals specific social media marketing strategy.

You’ll benefit in three compelling ways:

  1. Book Direct Websites & Social Media will help you to build your own brand and direct bookings, which means you pay less commission to the OTAs
  2. Niche channel marketing will help guests find you who are looking for a specific experience – pet-friendly, outdoor adventure, cycling holidays
  3. OTA listings will deliver your first enquiries and bookings and help launch your business, whilst you work on your book direct and niche strategy.

3. Do you need to be a more responsive host?

Your Airbnb response time and response rate are both vital to the visibility of your vacation rental listing in search results, and in converting enquiries into bookings. 

Airbnb monitors hosts with a low response rate or who are slow to respond may find their accommodation way down the list in the search results.

If your enquiry to booking conversion rate is low, one reason could be that you are not responding within a reasonable time and the guest has booked with another host. 

You have a 24-hour window to respond to guest enquiries, but an optimum response time is within 2-6 hours. Take over 24 hours to respond at your peril, as after 48 hours Airbnb can pause your listing.

Improving response rates have never been easier than with Your.Rentals!

You can greatly improve your response rate by using the Your.Rentals messaging feature in our channel manager. The system allows you to manage and respond to enquiries and bookings in one universal messenger. 

You will delight both booking guests and the OTAs with your quick and professional response.

4. Review your photography – does it make your vacation rental bookable?

Staging Vacation Rentals

Ok, I am going to say it…  

“A picture tells a thousand words” 

If you are not receiving enquiries or bookings, perhaps it’s time to take a look at your photography. Scroll through your photos and tell me, would you want to book your accommodation based on your vacation rental photography?  

What can you do to improve your images and make your home more bookable?

Hire a professional photographer: Hiring a professional photographer to take photos of your short-term rental accommodation might seem like an unnecessary upfront cost but it will undoubtedly increase your future bookings. 

Have a look through similar Airbnb listings in your local area to see which stand out. I can  guarantee that those which you would want to book have professional photos with good lighting and which are shot at the right angle to make the most of the accommodation space.

Stage your vacation rental: Setting up a terrace table with breakfast or with a bottle of wine, glasses and tapas, is a good start to staging your home. 

Guests want to be able to visualise themselves in an accommodation, so the more you can do to help them imagine themselves on holiday in your vacation rental the better. Models and video are even better!

Include destination and seasonal photos: Guests don’t book a bed they book an experience and that is what you have to deliver through written and visual content. Including photos of your destination will help guests to visualise a stay with you and mix up your images through the season. 

Don’t make your headline photos depict blue skies and swimming pools when you’re trying to increase bookings over the Christmas period. 

Instead, stage your home with Christmas decorations and add photos of traditional Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in your local region. This is a great way to increase low and shoulder season bookings.

5. Focus on your USPs and create wow-factor headlines

Two bedroom condo in Sarasota. Is this your vacation rental? Is this your headline?

If it is, you are probably sharing it with a high percentage of competitors, and heck that is NOT going to help you stand out within the crowded OTA marketplace!

Your headline is where it all starts. There is no point in paying for professional photography, or writing a fantastic description, if your headline is dull with no impact. You need a teaser which will motivate potential guests to want to click and read on. 

Remember: Nobody books a bed, they book an experience! Your USPs or ‘Top Experiences’ provide great headlines. 

Here are my tips to get you started with a wow-factor, clickable headline: 

Keep it short: People’s concentration span is shorter online and they’re probably reading your headline on a mobile screen. 

What’s more your headline should be short enough to be completely visible on Google and OTA search results, example:

Google: maximum 56 characters

Airbnb: maximum 50 characters

Information-rich: The headline should summarise your description and the main USPs. Start with keywords, as guests tend to scan the search listings, so you need to get the most important features seen first.

Keep it logical: Headlines on listings sites and in search engine results will appear with a short teaser, so make them predictable. If it’s the only thing they see, it will match the guest’s expectations when they click through to read more.

Here is an example:

Forgettable: Two bedroom vacation condo in Sarasota 

Bookable: Sarasota sunsets: two-bed condo with hot tub

Here you’ve told the guest where your Airbnb is located, how many bedrooms it has, and your USPs are the stunning sunsets and hot tub.

6. Turn your top features or USPs into top experiences.

You’ve created a wow-factor headline, so why stop there? To really draw a potential guest in and increase bookings, you need to gear up your Airbnb description from purely functional to inspirational. 

How do we do this?

Turn your top features or USPs into top experiences.

Similarly, to staging your photography, you need to stage your description, so that your guests can imagine themselves living the experience, rather than just reading a mediocre description about the functional elements of your vacation rental.

It’s all about the guest: Stop talking about you and start putting your guests directly into the picture: 

  • Your children can run around to their heart’s content in our magical garden with play area 
  • You’ll love our little suntrap balcony where you can enjoy your morning coffee
  • Cosy up on our oversize sofas by the crackling fire

Let’s put this into context and look at what’s forgettable and what’s bookable:

Forgettable: Our guests can go horse riding from the local stables.

Bookable: You’ll enjoy an unforgettable experience, horse riding across the cliffs and through stunning countryside.

If your short-term rental enquiries and bookings could do with a serious boost, follow these five steps to inject a dose of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) into your marketing and start to enjoy the bookings you deserve.

Put these strategies into place and write to me and tell me how you get on. And if you have other tips on how you increased your bookings, write here and we can include them in the article!

7. Switch on Instant Booking for your OTA listings

If bookings and enquiries via your OTA listings and you haven’t switched on Instant Booking mode, then it’s time to consider adding the functionality. 

A high percentage of guests choose to use the Instant Booking feature. According, to statistics published by TripAdvisor,  at least 40% of travellers EXPECT to book rentals instantly. So, if you don’t have it switched on, you won’t appear in search results.

Read our Complete Guide to Instant Booking for Vacation Rental Hosts and find out more about the pros and cons using it.