As vacation rental owners, we've experimented with many different ways to promote our vacation rentals. Each method takes a different mix of time investment and monetary investment to set up and run. Some, like the big listing sites such as VRBO, VacationHomeRentals, HomeAway, FlipKey, etc., take a relatively large cash investment to set up but provide a lot of inquiries and bookings. Others, like running an email newsletter for your guests, take a bit more time investment but are relatively cheap in terms of cash.
We've found that a mix of various sources is the ideal way to create a strong booking stream. Paid listing sites are your bread and butter -- they will drive most of the inquiries. They're also the most expensive, and beyond optimizing your listing on each site, there's not a whole lot you can do to increase inquiries from that source. A personal property website allows you to engage more directly with guests, become involved in the local community, and build and individual brand for your vacation rental. Email newsletters and a Facebook page provide a way to maintain a connection with former guests and increase your repeat booking rate.
|National paid listing sites||High||Medium||High|
|Local paid listing sites||Medium||Medium||Medium|
|Free listing sites||Free||Medium||Low|
|Personal property website||Low||High||Medium|
|Local property management companies||Free to Low||Low||Medium|
|Email newsletters||Free to Low||Medium||Medium|
|Local Search Listings||Free to Low||Medium||Medium|
1. Listing Sites
Listing sites are the first thing you should set up. They're straightforward -- write a description, add some pictures, and set up information about rates and amenities. Once you set up a listing, you can use OwnerReservations' inquiry email handling to automatically pull the inquiries into OwnerReservations, generate a quote, and let the guest book right away.
There are three major categories of listing sites, with a descending order of price and return:
National paid listing sites
These sites have the most traffic, but also cost the most -- around $300 per year, per site. A listing on one of these sites will typically get you a good 5-10 inquiries per month. The major listing sites are:
Local paid listing sites
Most areas also have local paid listing sites. These sites are typically built by small local entrepreneurs, and are optimized for the specific area where your vacation rental is located. To find these sites, google for vacation rentals in your area. If a local listing site pops up in the first few pages in Google, it probably ranks well and is worth purchasing a listing.
Free listing sites
Free listing sites typically have lower inquiry rates than the paid sites. Still, they are worth spending the time to set up listings. Every little bit helps. If you have your own property website, adding listings to free sites is a good way to get additional links to your site. This will help your ranking in search engines like Google.
Here are some of the bigger free listing sites. Additionally, some googling can turn up local sites in your area, such as sites listing local attractions, chamber of commerce sites, and local government sites.
2. Personal property website
A personal property website gives you a central location to manage your brand. It may not generate many bookings at first, but it's a central hub for several other marketing avenues -- like email newsletters, local search listings, and Google AdWords. A website is an easy URL reference to give people so to get directly to your listing, rather than the unpronounceable gibberish you typically see on a listing site.
If you accept inquiries through email on your website, you can use OwnerReservations' inquiry email handling to automatically pull the inquiries into OwnerReservations, generate a quote, and let the guest book right away. We're currently working on an inquiry widget you can drop on your site to give guests an inquiry form that will fill directly into OwnerReservations.
3. Local property management companies
Cost: free to low
Many local property managers have an option to list your vacation rental in their advertising, even if they aren't fully managing the property. They'll manage the booking and cut you a check. The way they typically make a profit is to charge the guest an additional amount over your price. Depending on the manager, and depending on how many bookings you're getting from other sources, it may or may not be worth using them. You can find local property managers by googling for vacation rentals in your area and noting the management sites that come up on the first couple of result pages.
4. Email newsletters
Cost: free to low
One of the first things you want to do is keep a list of the email addresses of people that inquire and/or book your property. This allows you to get in touch with them over time, give them updates on any upgrades you might make to your property, information about events in the area, or offer them discounted stays. There are many ways to go about this, from monthly newsletters to seasonal newsletters (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), to targeted discount offers (a free days stay for stays of over three days, etc.). Some people even offer groupon style discounts, where a former guest can purchase credit to be used for a future rental at a discount.
You can email people from your personal email address, but this method doesn't look as professional and gets difficult once you have more than a few people to email. Instead, we'd recommend using an email marketing tool like MailChimp. MailChimp is free if you have less than 2,000 people in your email list, and has very reasonable rates for larger lists.
5. Local Search Listings
Cost: free to low
Local search listings are a powerful way to connect with people looking for vacation rentals in your area using search engines like Google. With a local listing, people googling for vacation rentals will see more detail about your listing right inside Google, things like pictures, descriptions, and reviews. You can also connect the listing back to your property website to allow people to get in contact with you directly.
6. Facebook page
A Facebook page is a nice way to interact with your guests and keep in touch with them after they leave. Facebook has a lot of hype surrounding it right now, but a Facebook page typically won't generate many bookings. It's still worth setting up a page because its simple and fast to create.
7. Google AdWords
Google AdWords allows you to purchase ads that show next to Google search results based on the keywords someone is using to search. With AdWords, you write a short text description for your ad, and pay for each time someone clicks your ad and goes to your site. AdWords can be a good way to get people to your property website, but they also take a lot of effort and expertise to set up properly. If you're not careful, you can spend a lot of money learning what ad copy works, and honing down the ad targeting to people that are actually interested in booking your property.
What are your experiences with promoting your vacation rental? Have you used other methods? We'd love to hear what you have to say -- let us know in the comments.