Do you feel like there’s something missing from your vacation rental marketing strategy? Are you struggling to drive traffic to your website, attract guests on OTAs and increase your revenue?
Marketing your properties is a complex task. The vacation rental industry is extremely competitive – it takes a lot of trial and error to find the best tools, tactics and overall strategy to outrun your competitors.
However, there are a few things that every successful vacation rental marketing plan needs.
Above all, you need to find your way to your target audience and make sure they convert. And that’s what we’re here to help you with today.
Whether your goal is to boost direct bookings, increase your conversion rate on OTAs or drive as much revenue for your homeowners as possible regardless of the source, we’ve got tips to help you.
Let’s get started!
- Find the right mix of distribution channels
- Optimise your listing content
- Encourage reviews
- Drive traffic to your website
- Get traction on social media
- Build a mailing list
- Boost your vacation rental PR
- Work on your pricing strategy
1. Find the right mix of distribution channels
If you take away one thing from this guide, it should be this: finding the right mix of distribution channels – bookings sites you advertise on – is key to effective vacation rental marketing.
Your vacation rental distribution strategy determines whether you can get your listings in front of your audience and convert them.
Relying on only a handful of channels is risky – algorithms can change, booking sites can go bust, and you could be putting your business on the line.
So, the first thing you should do is find channels that fit your rentals and target audience and get listed on as many as you can. (The second, equally important thing is to make sure that your listings are optimised across all your channels – we’ll talk about that later).
Using a vacation rental channel manager like Rentals United can help you manage your listings across your channels, no matter how many you get listed on, and keep your availability, pricing and calendar up-to-date at all times.
But there are so many channels out there. How do you know which ones are best for your business?
Below, we’ll look at the main types of distribution channels that drive bookings and why you should get listed on them.
Online travel agencies
If you’ve been managing short-term rental properties for a while, you’re probably already advertising on global online travel agencies (OTAs).
High-traffic sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, Vrbo, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Trip.com, and Agoda are an essential part of every property manager’s distribution mix. They can get your property listings in front of thousands, if not millions of travellers every single day.
And that’s not all. OTAs constantly make improvements to their platforms to provide property managers with new tools that they can use to increase their conversions and revenue.
For example, sites like Booking.com, Airbnb and Agoda allow you to set special discounts to attract potential guests. If you choose to apply a certain discount, OTAs will highlight your listings in search results. Sometimes, they’ll even present your listings on thematic pages – such as the Monthly Stays page on Airbnb – making them easier for travellers to find.
At the same time, competition on OTAs is at an all-time high. As of February 2020, Airbnb had 5 million listings worldwide. With so many hosts and property managers opting to advertise on the platform, it’s getting more and more difficult to stand out.
What you can do to combat this is to optimise your listing content (photos, descriptions, amenities, etc) and encourage guests to leave positive reviews. These tactics can help you score points with OTA algorithms and rank higher in search results. We’ll cover both later in this article.
Related: Airbnb SEO: How to Rank Higher on Airbnb
Related: How to Rank Higher on Vrbo: 10 Insider Tips
Related: Airbnb Pricing Strategy: 3 Ways to Maximise Revenue
But even if you’re committed to optimising your listings, it may take time to start ranking high on the big OTAs. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to start listing your properties on alternative vacation rental sites.
These channels may not get as much traffic as the big OTAs do, but there’s also less competition – which means it’s easier to rank high. Plus, they often target a specific type of traveller who’s looking for a rental with specific characteristics.
If you manage to find the channels that fit your properties and align with your target audience, they can be a great source of bookings.
Let’s take a look at the different types of alternative channels you should consider:
Vacation rental metasearch engines are websites that aggregate listings from thousands of different booking sites. Thus, they make it easy for travellers to compare prices and find the best deals out there.
Metasearch engines like HomeToGo (US) and Holidu (Europe) are very popular among cost-conscious travellers. In fact, they became one of the best sources of bookings for property managers during the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as travellers turned to metasearches to find the most affordable accommodation options out there.
Related: The Role of Metasearches During an Economic Downturn
Related: Exclusive Interview with the CEO of Holidu
Besides offering budget-friendly rentals, metasearch engines use the same tactics to attract travellers that OTAs do, like providing flexible cancellation options. This means that property managers have the opportunity to optimise their listings and, as a result, increase their conversions.
Local listing sites
Often overlooked by property managers, local or regional listings sites can be fantastic sources of bookings.
Guests see these websites as specialists in a particular country, region or destination. Focusing on a specific geographical area allows these websites to tailor their inventory and offer a type of hyper-local expertise that global OTAs can’t.
In the past two years, local channels have played a more important role than ever before. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by governments in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, international tourism declined. In turn, domestic tourism saw an unprecedented increase.
Nearby, drive-to destinations suddenly became extremely popular as people looked for weekend getaways close to home, or countryside rentals where they can work remotely for a few weeks. Property managers who were quick to get listed on local channels inn response to this trend had a much better chance of attracting domestic travellers.
Related: The Rise of Local Tourism: Targeting Domestic Travellers
Related: Embracing Domestic Tourism: Webinar Q&A
To find the most popular local channels in your region, you need to do a bit of digging.
A simple Google search can be of great help: just type in “vacation rentals in ” and skim through the results for anything that looks like a vacation rental marketplace.
For example, in the US, SmokyMountains.com is the leading listing sites for the Gatlinburg,
Pigeon Forge, and Smoky Mountain region in Tennessee. FloridaRentals and Florida Rental By Owners (also known as FLARBO) are well-established booking channels for rentals in the state of Florida.
In Europe, Spain-Holiday.com specialises in vacation rentals located on the Costa del Sol, the Costa Blanca, the Balearic Island and other areas of Spain.
Similarly to local listing sites, niche channels also specialise in specific areas – but their expertise lies in something other than a geographical location.
Niche websites target specific groups of travellers with specific needs who don’t necessarily look for accommodation on OTAs. This is why getting listed on niche channels can be extremely lucrative: you can reach new audiences and target travellers who are looking for exactly what your rental has to offer.
There are two types of niche websites: those that create curated lists and those that respond to travel trends.
Curated lists select, organise, and present rentals based on their own criteria.
For example, they may focus on properties that are:
- Outdoor/close to nature
Related: The Top 18 Luxury Vacation Rental Websites to Get Listed On
Related: The Top 10 Inclusive Vacation Rental Sites to List Your Properties On
Related: The Top 5 Camping & Glamping Websites to List Your Outdoor Properties
The properties listed on these websites usually need to meet a specific set of requirements. For example, Glamping Hub only accepts listings that have access to nature, and Plum Guide requires property managers to fill out a lengthy questionnaire for their luxury rentals to get approved.
Then there’s the category of niche channels that address particular travel trends. These websites respond to emerging trends and fulfil specific traveller needs.
Growing travel trends that these websites address include:
- Sports tourism
- Responsible travel
- Micro-trips/Last-minute travel
- Digital nomads
- Cannabis travel
- Crypto travel
If you have rentals in your inventory that fit into any of the themes mentioned above, make sure you list them on the appropriate niche channels. There’s no better way to reach a highly qualified audience.
Related: The 30 Best Niche Listing Sites for You
Wholesalers/global distribution systems
For the longest time, wholesalers and global distribution systems (GDSs) were a prerogative of hotels. Vacation rentals had no access to business-to-business (B2B) distribution and were often left out of traditional brick-and-mortar travel agents’ offerings.
However, this is changing. There are platforms out there that aim to bridge the gap between vacation rentals and B2B buyers – which gives property managers another opportunity to diversify their distribution beyond the major OTAs. You can now extend your advertising scope to retail travel agencies, wholesalers, tour operators, airlines, corporations and more.
One of these pioneering platforms is B2Book, a company that operates on network agreements with travel agents and integrates with wholesalers who distribute to thousands of travel agents through their channels. This way, B2Book is contributing to levelling the field and providing vacation rentals with the same global distribution opportunities that hotels have.
Since this opportunity is so new, most property managers have yet to jump on board – which gives you an advantage. (Tip: Rentals United will soon integrate with two new B2B channels: Fastpayhotels and Inntopia. Make sure you’re ready to connect your rentals when the integrations go live!)
Related: B2B Distribution: How to Get Bookings from Travel Agents
One of the best sources of commission-free vacation rental bookings these days? Google.
Google has been the talk of the town ever since the tech giant first announced its plans to display vacation rental listings alongside hotels in search results.
However, as of yet, very few property managers have started taking advantage of the opportunity to advertise in front of millions of travellers who use the world’s number one search engine to find accommodation.
The main reason for this is that Google currently doesn’t allow property managers to list their properties directly (unless you manage more than 5,000 rentals and have a tech team to build a direct integration for you). The only way to have your listings appear in Google search results is by going through a software provider that Google has selected as a trusted connectivity partner.
By connecting to Google via a channel manager like Rentals United, you can advertise your listings for free, with no commission fees.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every property manager should jump on – before it makes its way into the mainstream.
Related: Google Vacation Rentals: What Is It & How Do You Get Listed?
2. Optimise your listing content
Getting listed on a variety of websites is not enough. You also need to make sure that your listings do well – meaning that they rank high in OTA search results and have a high conversion rate. Otherwise, you won’t see the results you expect.
The best way to do this is by crafting impeccable listing descriptions, writing catchy headlines, uploading high-quality photos, and showcasing your rentals’ most in-demand facilities and amenities on your listing page.
At Rentals United, we’re obsessed with helping property managers showcase their listings in the best possible way. To help you do this, we’ve created several tools within our platform to help you health-check your listings, from The Quality Checker to RU Data Studio Property Health Cards. Check them out!
Images are an essential component of every vacation rental listing. How you present your property in photographs has a direct impact on your revenue. If your photos aren’t compelling enough or you haven’t uploaded more than a handful, guests will be less likely to book your rental.
You need to have as many high-quality photos as possible – and they need to showcase your rental for the dream house that it is.
Here are some surefire ways to make your vacation rental photos stand out:
- Hire a professional photographer. The investment will be worth it since better photos can get you more bookings.
- Think about the type of guest you’re trying to attract. For example, if you’re targeting mid-term guests who’ll be using your rental as a home office, take photos of the best spots to set up a workstation and use props like a laptop or a cup of coffee to help guests visualise themselves working there.
- Include images of your local area – you can use stock photos or hire a photographer to take pictures for you. Location is one of the main reasons why guests pick a rental, so why not show off nearby sightseeing attractions or the beautiful nature surrounding your rental?
Related: Vacation Rental Photography Secrets
Just like your photos, your descriptions should be targeted to the type of guest you’re trying to attract. Keep in mind, this could vary by channel – you may need a few different variations of your property descriptions (and photos).
For example, you could target business travellers on a niche channel that specialises in corporate stays, but market the same rental as kid-friendly on a channel that targets families.
Think about what your target persona needs and what would stand out to them. Make sure those things are at the top of your description.
Tailor the language of your description to your target audience (i.e. write the way they talk and in a tone that appeals to them). Answer the most commonly asked questions and detail your unique selling points (USPs).
It’s also a good idea to consider current travel trends when writing your descriptions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, hygiene and safety are top of mind for most travellers. To address their concerns, make sure you highlight the enhanced cleaning measures you’ve implemented and let guests know if you’re doing contactless or self-check-in.
However, be sure not to include phrases like “COVID-free” or “quarantine-friendly” – making such claims is not allowed on OTAs.
Related: Vacation Rental Copywriting Tips
3. Encourage reviews
Reviews should be an essential part of every vacation rental manager’s marketing strategy. They give you credibility and inspire trust in travellers, most of whom want to read about the experiences of other guests before booking a rental.
Positive reviews can not only get you more bookings but they’re also a great source of feedback from guests to help you make improvements to your business.
The best way to encourage guests to leave reviews is by using a review automation tool built into your property management system (PMS). These tools let you leave an automated review on your guest’s profile and send them an email asking for a review in return. In case your guest doesn’t respond to your review request within a couple of days, you can send them a reminder email or text message.
You can also use your digital guidebook or a vacation rental welcome app to ask your guests to leave a review if they enjoyed their stay.
Reviews can serve several purposes other than increasing conversions on OTAs. You should always curate your best reviews, display them on your website’s testimonials section (which can give you an SEO boost!) and share them on social media.
If guests are saying good things about you, why not flaunt it?
Related: How to Use Vacation Rental Reviews to increase occupancy in 2022
4. Drive traffic to your website
If you manage more than a handful of properties, you probably already have a vacation rental website.
Your own website enables you to accept online bookings and become less dependent on OTAs, so it should be an important pillar of your vacation rental marketing plan.
Direct bookings deliver a higher profit margin because you don’t need to pay commissions on them. But in order to get direct bookings, you need your target audience to find your website first.
Here are the top ways to drive traffic to your website:
In order to increase organic (unpaid) traffic to your website, you need to become an expert at search engine optimisation. Improving your SEO is the only way to make sure that your website pages show up in search results when potential guests type in the relevant keywords.
For example, the property management company Hills of Texas Lodging has optimised their website to rank for “vacation rentals in Texas Hills”, which is a high-intent keyword that has the potential to bring the company lots of direct bookings.
Good SEO starts with a mobile-friendly website that checks all the technical boxes, is structured clearly and has a great overall user experience – and, it doesn’t hurt if it’s translated into multiple languages.
By working with a web development agency or your in-house developers, you can make sure that your website is easy to crawl for Google and enjoyable to browse for visitors.
But if you really want to leverage the power of SEO, you need to regularly serve up content that adds value to your target audience. In other words, you need to start a vacation rental blog.
A blog can not only help you rank for keywords that potential guests search for but it can also help establish yourself as an authority in your area. This kind of inbound marketing can be extremely beneficial for vacation rental businesses as it’s cheaper than outbound marketing methods and can provide a steady stream of leads.
Another important SEO factor is backlinks – links pointing from other websites to yours, which tell Google that your website is considered a credible source. Backlinks are not easy to come by, but there are some things you can do. For example, you can write guest articles on other blogs and ask them to link back to your website.
Paid ads (also called PPC or pay-per-click ads) can be a great complementary source of website traffic – if you have the budget.
You can create PPC ads on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, or you can have your ads appear on top of the Google search results page via Google Ads.
However, be aware that running ads for in-demand keywords can get expensive very quickly. It’s best to seek the help of a digital marketing consultant who can help you with setting up ad campaigns and make sure that your ROI makes sense.
Besides organic and paid search, you can also drive traffic to your websites from your mailing list or your social media channels. We’ll cover these next.
5. Get traction on social media
Social media is a great tool for vacation rental marketers. It can help you create a community, build brand awareness, and drive traffic to your website.
The most important questions to think about when it comes to social media are where to post and what to post.
Finding the platforms that work best for you will take a bit of experimentation. In general, Instagram is a good place to start for most travel brands, including vacation rental businesses. It’s a visual platform, which makes it great for sharing photos of your properties and area to entice potential guests to travel to your destination.
Pinterest can be a lucrative source of traffic and bookings. Twitter and Facebook are worth experimenting with, too. And property managers who want to attract a younger demographic (such as Gen Z) should also consider TikTok for vacation rentals.
Related: 5 Examples of Social Media Marketing for Vacation Rentals
As for deciding what to post: you need to get creative and monitor your social media analytics to identify which types of posts are doing well and which ones aren’t.
For example, you can run promotions and giveaways to get more engagement, share customer testimonials to inspire trust and provide tips for trip planning to become a valuable resource in guests’ eyes. You can also share links to your website or blog and drive traffic to it.
Social media groups are also a great way to get the word out about your properties – just make sure you respect all their rules, or else you’ll get kicked out. Some groups are strictly for sharing insights and having discussions with industry peers, not for promoting your properties.
Related: The Best Social Media Groups for Vacation Rental Professionals
6. Build a mailing list
While social media is great, it can take a while for your efforts to start paying off. Algorithms work in strange ways and it’s difficult to reach a relevant audience if you don’t already have a large following.
So, you also need to incorporate other marketing channels that you have more control over into your strategy. And one of the most effective ones is email.
Email marketing lets you target travellers who have expressed interest in your services – for example, they’ve signed up to a newsletter on your website or agreed to receive marketing communications from you in some other way.
These qualified leads are much easier to sell to than travellers whom you have no relationship with it. And while not everyone will open the emails you send them, the chance to appear in the inbox of your target audience is not something to be squandered.
To start doing email marketing, first, you need to build a mailing list. This means collecting email addresses and consent from guests to send them emails. There are a number of ways to do this, starting with a simple signup form on your website. We recommend trying an innovative approach developed by the vacation rental startup StayFi (available in the US).
StayFi lets you create a branded wifi splash page. When guests arrive at your rental and connect to the wifi, they’re asked to type in their details (name and email). This way, you can collect guest data from every guest, not just the booker, and email them later to drive repeat bookings.
Once you have a mailing list, you can send your subscribers special discount codes, invite them to join your referral programme or loyalty programme, ask them to fill out NPS surveys, and much more. You can also send links to your blog posts and drive traffic to your website. The opportunities are endless.
And, if you use an email marketing platform like Mailchimp or Klaviyo, it’s easy to monitor the performance of your emails and optimise accordingly.
7. Boost your vacation rental PR
Have you ever thought about getting the word out there by sharing your story with a publication?
A strong public relations strategy can help your brand stand out. If you take the time to build relationships with journalists – which not a lot of property managers do – the exposure you get will support your sales and marketing efforts.
Strategic PR helps you create trust between your brand and your customers. Other benefits include reaching new markets, increasing the authority of your online presence, attracting targeted and quality leads, growing your reputation and developing your vacation rental brand.
You can pitch stories to both consumer-facing and business publications. But keep in mind that they each have different audiences and will want to cover a different angle of your story.
For example, consumer-facing publications might include you in the “where to stay” segment of a longer piece on your destination, while business publications will be more interested in industry insight, data and business growth stories.
For the best publications to pitch your story to and the top dos and don’ts of vacation rental PR, go to this article:
Related: Vacation Rental PR: How to Get Press Coverage for Property Managers
8. Work on your pricing strategy
While setting rates may seem like an operational task, it actually has a lot to do with vacation rental marketing.
Pricing helps you position yourself and set expectations. It’s one of the first things that travellers look at when they search for accommodation on OTAs. It’s an important pillar of your vacation rental listings, just like your headline, photos and description.
If your pricing is off – i.e. your rates are too high or too low compared to your competitors – you’ll lose out on bookings. Keeping your rates competitive at all times is critical. What makes that difficult is that demand is extremely volatile – it fluctuates constantly, from high season to low season, from weekdays to weekends.
When you have more than a handful of listings, it becomes impossible to manually adjust your rates in response to the ebb and flow of demand. That’s why most property managers use dynamic pricing tools: software solutions that allow you to optimise your rental’s performance by frequently adjusting your nightly or weekly rate based on real-time market data.
Dynamic pricing tools like Beyond Pricing, PriceLabs and Wheelhouse use algorithms to automatically generate price adjustments. They analyse your competition and take into account multiple factors like real-time demand, occupancy, performance, etc. And, they integrate with channel managers like Rentals United so you can make sure that your smart prices are updated across all your channels.
Finding the best rates for your vacation rentals is crucial to staying competitive. And, it can prevent you from pricing too low and leaving money on the table or pricing too high and missing out on bookings.
In fact, leading dynamic pricing providers claim that their data-driven solution can increase your revenue by as much as 40%.
So, if you’re serious about stepping up your vacation rental marketing and optimising your listings on OTAs, start using dynamic pricing now.
Related: The Best Dynamic Pricing Tools for Vacation Rentals
Related: The Case for Dynamic Pricing: Experts Share Recovery Strategies
Related: Vacation Rental Revenue Management: How to Optimise Your Strategy
Conclusion: The key to upgrading your vacation rental marketing strategy in 2022
Vacation rental marketing gets more and more challenging every year as competition increases and consolidation moulds the industry.
Whatever strategies you choose to implement, it’s crucial to understand that vacation rental marketing does not stand on its own. It goes hand-in-hand with other fundamental elements of property management such as listing distribution and revenue management.
If you can get these departments of your company working together, you’ll have a much better chance at effectively increasing your bookings, occupancy and revenue in 2022 and beyond.
FAQs about vacation rental marketing
What is the best way to advertise a vacation rental?
The best way to advertise a vacation rental is to list it on multiple distribution channels. These should include the big OTAs – like Airbnb, Vrbo/HomeAway, Booking.com, etc – as well as alternatives channels such as local and niche booking sites. Don’t forget about periodically auditing your listings to make sure they’re displaying correctly and putting their best foot forward on sales channels.
How do I get more bookings for a vacation rental?
A well-planned vacation rental marketing strategy can help you get more bookings for your vacation rental. Such a strategy involves effective listing distribution and optimisation, review management, SEO and content marketing, paid ads, social media, email marketing, PR and smart pricing strategies.
How do you market a short-term rental?
There are many ways to market a short-term rental, from listing it on popular OTAs and niche booking sites to advertising it on social media. What strategies you choose to focus on will depend on your budget and the size of your team. We recommend that you build a solid distribution strategy first and then use a variety of marketing techniques to drive traffic to your direct booking website, such as SEO and email marketing.
How do I advertise my vacation rental on social media?
You can advertise a vacation rental on social media using organic and paid strategies. Social media helps you build a community of loyal followers and drive traffic to your direct booking website. As a result, social media is a great marketing tool for property managers – but you may have to experiment a bit before you find the right platform that works for you.
Are you ready to build a tech-based distribution strategy? Discover how our enterprise-level Channel Manager can get you more bookings.