Wondering about the power of vacation rental direct bookings? You’ve come to the right place! Damian Sheridan of the Book Direct Network elucidates the why and the how of driving direct bookings for your short term rentals.
Online travel agents (OTAs) had a tough year in 2020. A seismic global event followed almost overnight by an end to travel as we knew it. A lamentable knee-jerk reaction by some OTAs to trigger extenuating circumstance policies and refund all guests in full led to a fiery backlash from property owners worldwide, many of whom sadly lost their businesses.
Vacation rental companies were forced into action and proactively searched for other routes to bookings – their own direct bookings.
Travel trends immediately changed. Medical staff, digital nomads, domestic travellers – many of us were forced to shift our focus and identify new guest avatars.
Perceptions of safety in accommodation have changed and the last year has seen an unprecedented increase in travellers exploring vacation/short-term rental properties over traditional hotel stays. In many destinations rental supply is now struggling to match the demand.
It’s been the perfect time for the #BookDirect movement to take flight.
What is the #BookDirect movement?
#BookDirect is a hashtag you’ve most likely come across on social media over the last couple of years.
Property owners, managers and vendors use the hashtag across platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook to highlight the values of booking a property direct with an owner. Such benefits can include best price guarantee, early check in, late check out, free breakfast and so on.
There is even a ‘Book Direct Day’ each February. The initiative, created by Amy Hinote of VRM Intel several years ago, sees thousands of property managers from around the world take to social media to promote the many benefits of booking direct to travellers and prospective guests.
The #BookDirect Survey
Ahead of the 2021 Book Direct Show we conducted a survey of 133 short-term rental property managers to understand the common perceptions, obstacles and opportunities for property managers when trying to generate more direct bookings in 2021.
Survey respondents from 25 countries represented mostly vacation rental and bed and breakfast markets, with an average of 6.5 managed properties and 4 years experience in the business.
Why do property managers want their own direct bookings?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the leading motive to generate more direct bookings in the survey was to reduce booking commission payments to third party OTAs. This was followed by the ability to apply bespoke payment terms/cancellation policies and having unrestricted communication with guests.
Retention of control over properties was a regularly repeated opinion.
The obstacles to vacation rental direct bookings
When asked about the main hurdles that property managers encounter when trying to generate more direct bookings, the leading reasons were limited marketing budgets, OTA dominance, guest apathy/education, online visibility and a lack of guest trust.
The strategies that drive direct bookings
Of the scores of successful strategies that respondents said resulted in new direct bookings, the most common included targeting repeat guests, organic word of mouth, developing a great website with booking engine, SEO, social media engagement (esp Facebook), effective price management and on-going email marketing.
Data comes into play here, and having market visibility over OTA listings in your segment allows you to optimize your direct booking strategy across your portfolio. Align with and exceed the OTA market.
The tools that drive direct vacation rental bookings
The most popular tools noted by property managers to drive direct bookings are Facebook, Google, a direct booking website, review sites and email marketing tools.
The growth of vacation rental direct bookings
Many property managers have had to become more creative in their #BookDirect strategies over the last 18 months, and it would appear that this has been reflected in the number of direct bookings achieved over this time.
Speaking at the Book Direct Show 2021, Alex Caravitis of Syncbnb presented direct booking data of several thousands of global clients – The Data Behind Direct Bookings: Are They Catching Up?.
The results show very evident changes in booking sources over the last 4 years. We can see clear increases in the number of direct bookings processed in the US and even more significant rises across Europe and the UK.
The key findings are that Europe is currently far ahead of the US in direct bookings because of stricter Covid-19 restrictions and the need for European property managers to become more resourceful. The UK appears to be the champion of direct bookings across major markets. Furthermore the study found that hosts who accept direct bookings have had a better 2021 than 2019.
#BookDirect is here to stay
Property managers are becoming more proactive and understanding that there is significant additional revenue to be made outside of the major OTAs.
This is at the same time that guests are becoming more informed and savvy. More and more travellers are using booking platforms for research before checking directly on property websites for better options.
Will the movement to direct bookings fade away?
No chance. Property managers are more motivated than ever before.
Damian Sheridan is the director of The Book Direct Show and the founder of The Book Direct Network.
Damian is also a digital marketer, working predominantly with short-term rental property management companies on their search engine optimisation and organic online ranking.