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Vacation Rental Marketing - The #Bookdirect Blueprint

Reinventing The Wheel

#bookdirect day won't bring you direct bookings - This article will

Tomorrow (February 6th) is #bookdirect day but there's a lot more to getting direct bookings than sharing an image on your website or social media once a year.

In this article, I outline a strategy that you can adopt that will bring you direct bookings.

I also share a case study and real data that shows that this strategy works. 

And I share why this is the only viable option going forward.

In many cases vacation/holiday rental businesses are unlike other businesses.

The majority of owners already had a second property that they used as their own vacation/holiday home before they decided to rent it out.

They read about the possibilities of earning extra income by joining the likes of VRBO and before they knew it, they were in the vacation rental business.

How we got to where we are now...

The first evolution of the wheel

As I said, most owners had a home and decided to list with a listing company. It was that simple 5 or 10 years ago - List it and they will come. People literally did just that. They joined VRBO, Stayz or Ownersdirect, paid the subscription and waited for bookings. And booking came. 'All you had to do' was deal with inquiries, meet and greet, handle cleaning and changeovers and you were in business.

The thing is, this isn't really a complete business model. All of the marketing was done through the listing site and if you don't control the marketing you don't control the business (as many have come to learn).

You can see this in the graphic below

The wheel represents the business and it's supported by a single spoke (in this case just one listing company).

Any wheel with just one spoke is vulnerable to bumps and potholes along the road and when Homeaway/VRBO introduced 'best match' and traveller service fees a lot of owners ended up with a bit of a business wobble caused by a buckled wheel.

The second evolution of the wheel

Owners quickly reevaluated their marketing strategy and they spread their offering by signing up with other listing sites and supplemented that with some social marketing.

These additional spokes made the marketing wheel more stable and less prone to catastrophic bumps in the road. They had spread the marketing risk but still didn't control any of the marketing itself. The marketing was just handled by more platforms.

This wheel was also pretty unsafe and as the big listing sites increased costs, added their own cancellation fees and took control of the money the wheel started to shake. Again, it became unsafe and it caused problems.

The third evolution of the wheel

By this stage, owners were beginning to see that this model of marketing was posing a danger to their businesses so many, if not most, started to add more and more spokes in order to spread the risks posed by any one platform changing it's rules or model.

The wheel below shows where many owners are today

The above wheel shows a mixture (clockwise from 12 o'clock) of Facebook marketing, email marketing (to past guests), booking(.com), Pinterest marketing, VRBO, Houfy, Local listing sites, Tripadvisor, Twitter, Airbnb, nurturing guests (with content marketing, extras and offers) and Homeaway.

Because this is a more stable wheel (with more spokes) it's a much safer to use than the two previous versions but it has a major flaw, and that's the hub.

The hub is the most important part of any wheel. it connects all of the other parts. It holds those parts together. It's where the power comes from.

The hub of any online business (and we're all running online businesses) is it's website and, believe it or not, around 50% of owners still don't have a website. The bad news is that even for those that do have a website the above wheel is flawed in a major way.

A lot of the spokes point outwards in a marketing sense and the main listing sites do everything in their power to stop any traffic arriving to your site.

Reinventing the wheel

There is a relatively new type of wheel that lends itself perfectly to this analogy. It doesn't have spokes and it has built in suspension that make rocky roads less bumpy.

It's called the Loop Wheel and whereas spoked wheels are constantly under tension, this wheel is relaxed and much more flexible.
Just as before, the hub is the most crucial part and without it the wheel will fall apart.

As you can see, by using the Loop Wheel approach we've broken the marketing channels into 4 sections. An owners or managers website is the hub of the marketing wheel. Nearly all of your other touchpoints point back to your website. This is key.

Your marketing channels break down into 3 categories.

Guest Nurture (GEO)

The most important of the 3 categories, by far, is the guest nurture category, after all, it's the guests that pay the rent.
I see lots of owners and managers talking about search engine optimisation (SEO) but very few are spending their time on GEO (guest experience optimisation).
GEO covers the pre-stay, in-stay and post-stay aspects of the entire guest experience. Most owners and managers currently spend their time chasing bookings through third parties and very few focus their attention primarily at the guest and this is a big mistake.


Pre stay marketing takes the form of content marketing. Owners spend their time creating articles that answer potential guests frequently asked questions. Once these are added to the website they sit in the search engines and drive traffic back to the site.

These can then be shared on our own Vacation Soup where we collect, collate and syndicate them for much-increased exposure (see the case study below for evidence of how this works).


In stay nurture takes the form of great customer service. This can take all forms from a stocked fridge to an extra change of bedding half way through the booking. You can provide fresh flowers on arrival or an interactive iPad guide. The simple idea is that you simply offer a higher service level than your competitors.

If you are on Vacation Soup, then you can refer guests to the content on your website and they can access your recommendations through a map-based experience while they are out and about (see here for an example of how this works).


The cheapest cost per guest marketing is repeat guests. So up your game by sending regular newsletters that tell guests about new content on your website, last minute discounts and what upcoming events are taking place in your region. These also point back to the website and keep past guests engaged with your brand.

Adopt some form of customer relationship management (CRM) system and send Christmas cards, birthday cards and the like.

All of this keeps you and your property front of mind.

Social Platforms

The second part of the wheel applies to getting your message out on the social platforms. Each of these also point traffic back to your website.

I spoke about Facebook in a previous post so won't cover it here.

Youtube is much underused by owners and managers but you don't need to be a big marketing agency in order to leverage traffic from it (it's the second biggest search engine).

We all carry a smartphone that can take video, so consider shooting short recommendations (less than 3 minutes) when you are out and about. Just include a "For more information visit (yourwebsite).com" - Add the videos to your website content.

Pinterest is another great source for driving traffic back to your site. Create a business account (this is quick and free to do) and create boards for your location. Base your board titles and content around things to see, things to do, places to eat, photos, guides, etc. Include your destination in each boards title.

Every time that you share your website content to a board, Pinterest will automatically add a link back to the article on your website.
You can drive a surprising amount of traffic this way.

3rd Party Sites

I recommend trying to wean yourself off of the big listing sites due to over saturation, fees, cancellation policies etc. That, and the fact that in reality they sit outside of the marketing wheel as they bring no traffic to the hub.

Local sites generally offer fewer properties so you have better odds of getting a booking. Many, if not most, don't add service fees so you will appear to offer better value and most allow direct communication with potential guests.

Many new sites like Vacation Soup, although we aren't a listing site per se, provide direct links back to your website, the same goes for Houfy, Florida rentals by owner, Emerald Coast by owner and others also link back to the owners' websites.

Proof Is In The Pudding

A case study

Meet Laurie,

Laurie and her husband, Jeff, own a condo on Maui.
Before we go any further I should mention that there are over 21,000 competing rental properties on Maui and the island isn't even 40 miles long.
There's a hell of a lot of competition.

Anyway, Laurie has adopted the Loop Wheel approach to her marketing and she created a website via our free website giveaway and video course.

She then followed our destination marketing course and started adding great articles to her website.
Laurie has been kind enough to share her results with us and you can see them below.

First off, let's look at some examples of what she's been doing

Read 1,879 times on Laurie's website
Read 1,560 times on Vacation Soup

Laurie's Post Views On

Laurie's most popular post has been read 1,879 times in the last 6 months.
Her 5 most popular posts have bought 5,878 visitors to her site in that same time.
All of her posts have resulted in over 18,000 site visitors

Laurie's Post Views On Vacation Soup

Laurie's top 5 articles on Vacation Soup have also been read another 3,150 times in the last 6 months.

So, just her top 5 posts on her site and the Soup have been read over 9,000 times.

It's also worth noting that the average time spent reading each post is over 8 times longer if it's read on Vacation Soup.

You can also see (below) how traffic to these articles is growing, month on month, as the articles rise in Google's organic search. This graph shows traffic for the 'Best happy hours, Maui article which currently sits on the first page of Google in +/- 5th place.

Best happy hours Maui Traffic growth

Laurie's Overall Traffic For The Last 90 Days

Here are Laurie's stats for the last 90 days. Once again, you can see how this is growing.

Site Visitors

Here's a list of site visitors by channel.

As you can see, aside from Google there is a lot of direct traffic.
As a brand grows this direct traffic grows as people search directly for the site by name. This is the advantage of building a Loop Wheel with everything pointing to your website.

You can also see good numbers coming from Pinterest and Facebook underlying the value of these social channels.

People coming from Vacation Soup spend more than double the time on the site than the average visitor. These leads have already been browsing Vacation Soup, and have looked at her property, so by the time they come through they are genuinely looking to book.


Here's the proof that all of this works.

Laurie doesn't list with any of the big listing sites.

Laurie's had 46 Bookings in 18 months from a standing start

Laurie's website was launched 18 months ago today

Here is the breakdown of bookings taken, by channel

You can visit Laurie's Maui Guide here

The real reason that you need to do this...

You don't need to adopt this method because I say so.
You don't have to adopt this method because it works.
You have to adopt it because the method that you are currently using is failing - and it's going to get a lot worse.
I'm not scaremongering here, this all comes down to simple math(s).

When I started a villa rental company in Algarve, Portugal in 2003-4 there were 3,000 competing properties in the area.
There are now 59,000.

That's a 20 fold increase in competing properties in 15 years

Tourism to Portugal has 'only' doubled in that time.

The fact is, that only five years ago there were between 3 and 6 million rentals worldwide (depending on which data source you believed).

There are now 16 million rental properties listed on Hometogo alone.

I think it fair to say that that number could well double again in the next 5 years so no matter how you look at it that's going to result in fewer and fewer bookings per property.

There is NO escaping this fact

In Summary...

Those of you that don't have your own website really need to do something about that. You'll really struggle to get direct bookings without one.

If you have your own site then make every effort to point all of your marketing back to it.

You can't get direct bookings without traffic - Traffic doesn't just arrive at a website, you have to drive traffic and the most successful way of doing that is to produce great content. The more traffic that you drive to your site the more booking you'll get.

Don't focus on SEO too much because as you add more and more content to your website the SEO will come with it.

Pay attention to GEO instead. Great GEO will bring direct bookings, repeat bookings and social word of mouth.

I would love to know your thoughts on this subject so please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Read more of our articles here

Written by alan egan
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