Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Suppose you have spent any time in Facebook groups dedicated to vacation rentals/short term rentals and their host. In that case, there is a very high probability the term direct bookings is a term you have seen quite often in recent times. The reason this term has gained popularity stems back to the beginning of Covid-19 in America. Many hosts were dissatisfied with how Airbnb and other OTAs(Online Travel Agencies) handled Co-Vid-19, and thus a push against them ensued.
The back story starts early to mid-March, where a majority of hosts faced an unprecedented number of cancelations. This was a scary time fraught with panic. Everyone was scrambling, including Airbnb, and decisions were made to override the cancelation policy of host and allow cancelations to all guests. Host were livid and felt shutout from any consideration of how they chose to manage their property. This added insult to injury for the host because these cancellations equated to a lot of lost income. Whether you agree with Airbnb's approach isn't essential, but the result was an awakening amongst hosts worldwide.
Host were quickly jarred into the realization that they do not control their Airbnb business. The fact is they are playing in Airbnb's sandbox, and their listing can be discriminated against by Airbnb at any time with no recourse. This lack of control over one's listings has led to a flood of people seeking a different approach. Some hosts have decided to boycott Airbnb by deleting their listings while urging other hosts to follow suit. This is where the direct booking idea has sprung to light.
If you ditch the OTAs platforms but would still like an internet presence, you must build your site where guests can find and book your property. Enter direct booking websites. The good news, many great options allow you to create a direct booking site quickly and affordably. Some popular ones are hostfully.com, boostly.co.uk, and lodgify.com
So should you build a direct booking site? I say yes! It's straightforward to do, and some options like Houfy.com, are FREE, so why not? BUT, there are a few things you must know before you go down this path.
It is essential to have reasonable expectations when you decide to build your site. Do not expect that upon completion and publishing it to the internet that your property will magically start booking like crazy. The complete opposite will likely occur. You will check your booking reports repeatedly refreshing every minute to find zero bookings and very little traffic. This has nothing to do with your website building abilities but instead the fact that a site on the internet is one of the millions and no one but you will know it exists. Airbnb, VRBO, and other OTAs spend a ton of money marketing their site and have the lions share of traffic of people searching for short-term rentals. You cannot complete directly, and therefore, your website will receive very little traffic unless you take a different approach. So before you build your site, you must have a plan for generating traffic.
There are many ways to generate traffic to your website, and deciding where to start can be overwhelming enough never to begin. So I will guide you based on my 14 years of experience in the marketing world.
There are two forms of traffic you will want to send to your site: past guests and new guests. The guests who have stayed with you previously are the low hanging fruit and your best opportunity. Of course, this is if you are an excellent host who keeps their place very clean and provides a spectacular experience. This scenario will have the guest yearning to return and freely sharing with friends and family how amazing it was. Staying in front of past guests and keeping them in the loop about your property and special offers will lead to many direct bookings. Put most of your efforts into communicating with the past guest to see quicker results and feel a sense of progress. Then you can move onto the next target audience, new guest.
Attracting new guests to your site will require more work and testing to figure out who is interested in your place. I would encourage you to first look at who your previous guest was and where they live. This will help in determining who to target when prospecting for new guests. The easiest way to reach out to this new target group is through Facebook ads. You can target people in major metropolitan areas within a driving distance from your property and show them how unique and beautiful of an experience you are offering. This will lead to a group of people who have never viewed your listing coming to your site and potentially booking with you. You will want to display fun and eye-catching photos of your property in the ad and consider making an engaging video as another ad. There is plenty of free info on the internet for creating Facebook ads, or hiring a professional is a great option.
Generating traffic to your site is a wonderful accomplishment that can greatly reward you, but I will caution you to think you can do with OTAs. The number of guests searching their sites is immense, and you will deprive yourself of many bookings if you don't list there. Instead, consider them a marketing arm of your Airbnb business and happily accept the new guest they send your way. Then have a plan for making those guests your long time customers.
Tom is Founder and CEO of Rent Sherpa, a short-term rental company partnering with real estate investors across the nation to maximize cash flow with a lucrative and technology-driven rental strategy.