I have 4 rentals that share a beach area on a small lake in NH, USA, ranging from $500-$1700/wk in summer, totaling ~$70,000 in bookings last year. Repeat business is about 50%, maybe more. I had been using vacationrentals.com annual subscription, and occasionally other 10% off the top places, craigslist, and some more localized cheaper spots. I think HA bought VR, and then was bought by Expedia ... And, it keeps getting worse for customers and owners, it seems.
I just got a communication from vacationrentals.com about a change in their policies, which was clear that they are pushing more towards taking 10% of everything, AND selling their undercoating. This, combined with a recent phone conversation with a tenant who bought all their undercoating, really got me ready to move on. I'd happily pay 10% advertising fee for new bookings if I could do the paperwork through ownerrez.
My cabins happen to be 1BR, 2BR, 3BR and 4BR. The 4BR is booked from June 10- Sep 11, without a single day gap. The 1BR has 45 days available in that timespan, but often fills much closer to the travel date (2 people can make decisions more quickly than a family/2families).
@Jacques: Greetings! Congrats on the great rentals and being able to fill so well. You're 100% right about the direction of the industry. HomeAway/Escapia have made a lot of bad decisions (at least for owners, maybe good ones for themselves). Customers are super unhappy.
There are some great looking independent sites that have sprung up (eg. HomeEscape.com) but they don't have a lot of market penetration yet.
I would suggest two things:
* diversify as much as possible by putting listings on HomeEscape and other smaller listing sites (and then direct guests there when you get the chance to build that audience)
* build and run your own small website for your properties
We're coming out with a new Hosted Sites feature that will make that 2nd one easy pretty soon. But you don't even need to go with us. You can set up a pretty cheap Wix or Wordpress website. The key is to start building your own brand. You'll be surprised how many inquiries and bookings you get directly, at your own website, over time. We have widgets you can drop in that make inquiries, calendars and booking really easy. You just need a website to stick them in.
Doing your own website gives you a place to hang your shingle so that you can start directing guests there or sending emails from that domain name. Over time, your guests will come back to you and you'll build your own repeats. When people search for your town name in NH on Google and "beach house" your website will start popping up in search results.
Some of our smaller users who have done their own website now get a TON of inquiry/booking traffic directly to their own website. As much as half or more of their traffic. Link to your website from anywhere you can. Some of the listing sites let you link to your personal website from your listing.
Bottom line: diversify away from VRBO/HA any way you can. If you use them as the only (or primary) channel for everything, you'll sink with them when they make bad decisions.
I wrote a blog post on the topic awhile ago with some ideas: https://www.ownerreservations.com/blog/7-ways-to-promote-your-vacation-rental -- it's been a few years since then (and I should update it), but most of the ideas still apply there.
Thanks! We've actually had our own website since 2008 (incorporated the booking widget last year), and it does seem to generate some independent inquiries, in addition to a large percentage of repeat customers (one sent me a pic from when he was there as a kid in the 1950s). The HomeAway family seems to be less useful and more annoying every year...
I hate seeing the few gaps in our calendar, but last year I was a little too busy to push a lot of CL ads, and vacationrentals.com discounts, etc and we did end up filling pretty well at full price. The people who book at a steep discount at the last minute rarely become solid repeat customers who book early... Maybe the best move is to do nothing :).