Working Towards Getting Direct Bookings for Short Term Rentals
A 15-minute read
So, you're running a holiday let/vacation rental and you are marketing it through major platforms such as Airbnb, vrbo, etc. But you would like to break free and let guests book directly with you instead of through agencies. This page is for you. It explains all the steps you need to take to gradually break free over a period of time.

The advantages are many:
  • You keep more of the income
  • Your prices can be more competitive
  • You can set your own payment terms and schedule
  • Your guests have more respect for you and your property
  • Your guests are more likely to become repeat guests
  • You are working for yourself, not a faceless corporation
Results are not instant. Expect it to take up to 2 years before you reach your maximum level of direct bookings.

About the author

I have been running a small number of self-catering accommodations in Scotland and the Canary Islands, starting in 1996. Back then, VRBO, and Airbnb all didn't exist. Every owner of a self-catering holiday property had to do it their own way and find places to advertise. That was the normal way to do it. The only other way to do it was to offer full management and control to an agency. With the world-wide-web maturing, advertising moved online. Listing sites were born, all charging an annual subscription.

That happy situation changed over a period of years when Homeaway (a US-based startup with millions of dollars of financial backing) started buying up the listing sites and Airbnb found a new business model to grow the market. Both of these companies used a commission model instead of subscription. That required keeping guests and hosts apart and this is where the problems began.
Naming your property
If you are seriously wanting to break free from the platforms, you will almost certainly need to rename your property. Here's why:
  • Almost every other thing you do depends on this step
  • A unique name makes it easy for guests to find you
  • In the early stages, your direct guests will find you initally on the platforms but will then google the property name
  • Your website will have this unique name as part of the domain name
  • Your Google Maps pin will show this name
  • It's your brand
Now, some people really don't get it and come up with names like "Lake View". Try typing that into Google and see how many hits there are. In contrast try typing "Maygern Villa" (I just made it up) into Google and you'll see the difference.

When you've thought up a unique name, test it in Google to see that there are no exact matches. That way, once your website is set up, your page is going to be #1 position on google for a search on that name. You'll see later, why people will be searching on that name.
Good name
Bad name
Why it's bad
The Knachan
Axtant apartment
Dunoon Blythe Cottage
Fred's blue apartment
Blythe Cottage
The phrase "Elvis lives" is too common
There are millions of Brooksides
There are no unique words there
Adding the placename into the name helps
Your own website
If you don't have your own website yet, that's great. You start with a blank canvas and can make it optimal. If you do have one already, you will almost certainly need some changes. Here are the features that your site must have:
  • It must be hosted under your own domain name like
    Note that I used my example name from the previous page and I'll continue with that. Having a ".com" isn't important. It could be a regional or .rental etc. Also, you can put hyphens in to make it more readable like
  • Content: Maximum photos, description, location map, T&Cs and ameneties
  • Local attractions and activities in great detail
  • Your live availability calendar
  • Instant quotes if possible or at the very least a rate table
  • An enquiry form or booking button
  • Reassurance: pages from your guestbook or anything else that proves that you are the real deal
  • Your contact details and any information to comply with laws in your region

But how, if you've never made a website before?

You may need a "turnkey" solution. That means you subscribe to a service that gives you all the tools and templates to make it happen including an online booking flow. There are several companies in this field. For a few examples, look at Logify, Bookalet, Guesty, OwnerRez, PromoteMyPlace, Hospitable, Uplisting and that's by no means an exhaustive list.

Then, there are the template solutions: look at Wix, Wordpress, Weebly, Wordpress, Webflow, Squarespace and similar. These enable you to build it yourself with the help of a template that you buy.

Or just get your kids to build it for you, from scratch. Building from scratch is a possible solution for people who have built a website before. But even then, you will probably need to link it to a commercial booking engine or "PMS" (e.g. supercontrol, freetobook or logify) to handle the booking flow and propogate your calendar and rates.

Buy your domain name

Domain names have a small cost - mostly around USD 10-30 per year. Have a look at the domain sellers: or (others are available) and you will see the prices. You can also use them to check the availability of names. Make absolutely sure that the name you get incorporates the name that you have given to your property. This is essential.


Hosting refers to rental of server facilities which will serve your website to the web. When you make a website using a template or a turnkey service, the hosting is generally included in the deal. Hosting costs vary a lot from free upwards. Avoid free hosting because the company that runs it might not exist next year!

But how will anyone find your website?

For a new domain, you do need to submit it to Google. For that, you need to use Google Search Console. Keep an eye on Google Search Console because it will eventually show information about whether your site has been indexed or why it has not been indexed. If you need help with this, just ask on the FB groups where owners discuss things.

You will soon start receiving emails or FB messages from people telling you that they can get your website to the #1 position in Google Search. These people aren't worth the air that they breathe. You can get your website to the top just as easily as they can. Their trick is to find a very particular search phrase that fits your page better than any other. But, isn't that what your property name and domain name are designed for? Yes. Of course. This is what we have been aiming at. Your unique property name is essential because it is the name the people will use when they have seen your property on other sites or on Google Maps. And, simply because it's unique, it's almost guaranteed that your website will be at least on the first page of search results. Job done!
It's generally not even worth trying Google's Adwords. The main reason is that guests looking to book a place want to look at a big range of properties, before narrowing it down to a shortlist and making the final choice. For that, the only convenient way is to use a site that has plenty of density of listings and allows search by availability among other factors. Using Adwords, you will get clicks (provided you bid high enough) but you won't generate enough interest. The costs quickly mount up.

A better way is to use a subscription listing site. There are hundreds of them, all over the world, usually restricted to a specific country or region. Before you commit, just find out where your nearest competitors are advertising. They've already found out what works and what doesn't, so just search for their property names and see what sites come up. I believe that, for the UK, is the leader by some margin. In other markets, it will be other websites.

Beware: there are also loads of listing sites out there which are scammy. They may have launched with good intentions but then found that the only way to make money is to get unsuspecting owners to sign up with no prospect of any results. Using you can check the traffic level of any website. Also, genuine effective subscription sites don't tend to phone you out of the blue. Be on your guard!

With subscription sites, you shouldn't sign up for too many because each one costs you and you only have 365 days per year available. Go for the best performer and perhaps one more.

Depending on where you are and how strong the demand is, you may be able to get bookings through subscription sites at 3 cents of advertising cost per dollar of income (or 3 percent as we mathematicians call it).

There are also sites like and which link your more visible online presence (e.g. on Airbnb) with your direct offering. At the time of writing, it's free to get onto those sites.

There are free listing sites too. In general, they don't get much traffic and their inventory is too thin, but if there's a good one for your area, there's no harm done in creating your listing.

Your regional tourist authority website possibly has an accommodation section. Entries on these are generally free and the entry can link to your own website.

Consider the activities that your guests come for. Are there websites associated with those activities? Do they have accommodation listings or ads? This can be a relatively low cost way to advertise selectively to your audience. For us, the activity is hill walking and the website that brings in a few enquiries every year is Find one that fits for your property.
There are a lot of map addicts out there. I'm one. When planning my next trip, I always start with the map and decide exactly where I want to be. You can get a pin on the public Google map for your property and the power of the pin is immense. A Google Maps pin is the most effective free marketing on the planet.

How to get a pin

While signed in on Google Maps, do a right click on the exact position of your property. On the context menu, you will see two relevant options:
Add a missing place
Add your business

Either of those (if successful) will put your property on the map and, in both cases, you can add your phone number and web link. On the first option, you don't get to own the entry so you can't make instant edits. On the second, you get ownership of the entry and only you can make edits to the information behind the pin.

Our only problem with this is that, officially, Google doesn't allow self-catering accommodation to have a pin. Their view is that Maps pins will be used as a guide to where you can just turn up to an open business. It's a shame. Anyway, the good news is that they are not at all good at enforcing this restriction. If you take the "Add your business" route, you need to apply a category and it's best not to make it sound like a single self-catering unit. Try Accommodation agency, Group accommodation, hotel or any other that you can find that is close enough. If you have successfully added your business, later you can head to: to manage the entry.

A Google Maps pin can collect reviews and guest photos and these are very reassuring for future guests.
Social Media
Create a Facebook page for your property. Use that page to draw attention to visitor attractions in your area and to businesses that your guests might use while staying. You need to post at least weekly, if not more often. Keep an eye open for events in the area and post about them. Post too, about your own website. Post about the weather, roadworks, traffic jams, celebs visiting the area or funny-shaped vegetables. I'm not certain about the vegetables, though. Put a photo in every post if possible.

At first, you'll have no visitors to your page. Don't give up. When you get a booking, even if it's through one of the agency sites, send a message to your future guest letting them know that all the latest news is on your FB page.

When guests come to the end of their stay, message them to ask them to post any pictures from their stay to your FB page.

Many of these guests will follow your page forever. They will see every post to your page in their timeline. It's a great way to keep in touch.

Note that FB attracts scammers like a candle attracts moths. For this reason, guests are very cautious about booking anything seen on FB. Therefore, your links to your own website have to be everywhere and the website itself needs to be littered with reassurances.

When your page has been active for a while, approach the local businesses that you have been mentioning in your posts and ask them to reciprocate.

Groups you should join

Do join any relevant FB groups where you can learn from other hosts. Also, search for FB groups relevant to visitors to your area. Some groups are specifically set up as a way to advertise accommodation. Frankly, FB is next to useless as a way to search for holiday accommodation but people still do it. It works best when you have last-minute availability or a cancellation and can promote a discounted deal. Post the deal on your own page but also post on any relevant groups.

Here's a short list of groups that I've found useful (mostly for discussion but a few for publicity):
VRBO Alternatives
Holiday rental owners chat
Say No to VRBO Service Fee
AirBNB / VRBO / HomeAway / Short Term Rental Discussion
Holiday Let Owners Help & Chat
Airbnb Hosts UK
Dog friendly holiday cottages UK

FB Advertising

You can advertise on FB using Sponsored Posts. It's nice because you can start at a very small scale and measure the results. It's not so nice when the costs mount up and you've got no bookings from it. So, use it with caution. One of the best uses is to gain more followers. People following your property are probably either potential guests bearing it in mind for the future or your competitors! Here's a link (opens in new tab) which explains the process of advertising on FB.

Restrict indirect bookings
Imagine that you get a booking for a 3-night weekend in high season and it came from, say, Airbnb. It's great that you have the booking. It's not so great that you're working under Airbnb's rules, with risk of late cancellation and possibly unsuitable guests. In high season, there's every possibility that you can fill the calendar with your own direct bookings and that booking may have prevented a direct booking for 2 weeks in high season. So, in this case, you've been snookered.

The way to avoid this is to set a "booking window" on Airbnb. Not all the platforms allow a booking window, but there's always a way to prevent your peak periods getting clogged with low-value bookings. You can do it by manually setting dates as unavailable or by setting crazy-high prices. Then, if you've still got availability nearer the time, you can free them up so that you use the platforms to fill in your unbooked dates.

This strategy is key to getting a decent proportion of direct bookings.

With Airbnb, you can set a 3-month rolling window so that nobody can book more than 3 months ahead.

Fine-tune your platform listings
Your listings on booking platforms like Airbnb,, vrbo etc cannot include any web links, phone numbers or mentions of Facebook pages. The platforms make these rules to prevent what they call "leakage". However, it's in your interest to maximise leakage. But you have to do it within the rules of the platform. So, here's the plan:

  • Keep repeating the name of your accommodation (the unique name that's so important)
  • You can use a "business name" as the name of the host
  • That business name can be a close relative of your domain name
  • If you don't want a business name, put your full name in there
  • Make sure that your full name finds you easily on FB
  • If your name is too common, go from like "John Smith" to like "John Smith-Skirovsky" for this*
  • Never allow instant booking**
* Look at Facebook Profiles. You can add profiles with variants of your name or your business name. Your aim is to ensure that a guest finds either your website or your FB page just using the host name from your listing on any of the platforms.

** Switching off instant booking puts you back in control. It's your opportunity to find out more about the guests and their proposed trip. Allowing instant booking on the platforms can lead to double-booking when you are also taking bookings directly.
Taking direct payments and deposits
If you are using a commercial booking engine, you will configure your receiving account bank details as part of the setup process. This will allow you to take card payments. Some will have an option for bank transfer payments too. Using bank transfer is the best option from the host point of view because it's free and there is no risk of chargeback which can happen if there is a dispute on a card payment.

Each booking engine would be tied into a particular payment processor. A payment processor is the company that enables you to take card payments. Different payment processors have different charges ranging between 1.5% and 3.5% and the costs are usually slightly higher when you take a payment from a foreign card.

If you have freedom to choose your own payment processor, then I recommend Stripe. It is relatively easy to set up and its charges are very low in Europe.

You choose your own payment schedule. Commonly, there's a deposit taken on booking and then the main payment is scheduled for 4, 6 or 8 weeks prior to the stay. Consider your cancellation terms when setting the schedule because it's not usually possible to collect any funds after a cancellation. So, if you take the payment at 4 weeks prior, but your cancellation terms state that cancellation within 5 weeks costs 25% of the rental, then you are at risk of not getting paid for a cancellation that occurs at just over 4 weeks.

Some hosts use the initial deposit initially as a show of faith to hold the dates but later as the damage deposit to be returned after the stay. Onsite hosts who require a damage deposit often take the deposit as cash on arrival. There's more than one way to do it.

You will always have a few bookings through the platforms and, of course, these side-step your booking engine. However, the booking engine should allow you to manually store the booking details so that you have all your data and, importantly, your accounts and booking statistics in a single place.
Here are some random bits of advice to help with running your rental independently. Click on the headings to view the details:

You just might have been relying on "Aircover" if you have been hosting just on Airbnb. Even if you remain just on Airbnb, that is not sufficient. You need regular buildings and contents insurance as well as liability cover. Most home insurance policies are invalidated by commercial use of your property so you need a specialist policy for short term lets.
Email tracking
Email tracking is the ability to tell when an email that you've sent has been looked at. If you send your routine emails through one of the "booking engines" it is sure to have an email tracking facility. Be sure to use it and be ready to send a follow-up text if your emails go unseen.

If you send emails manually, you should incorporate a tracking service. Have a look at (others are available).
Referer tracking
In order to know how visitors find your website, you use tracking and there are loads of tools around that provide this. However, the really valuable bit of information is how the visitors who enquire or book originally found your website. That's a trickier one to answer because they will often visit your site several times before making an enquiry. You need to know how they found it the first time. I guess that the modern way to do this is using Google Tag Manager. However, I have never got to grips with it, so I use a piece of Javascript code of unknown origin that has been kicking around for decades. Here it is:

// JavaScript Cookie Code - create cookie on first visit, saving referer info.
// This info is then available in the script's variable: cRefer.

var cDomain = self.location.hostname;

// Strip any "http://www." so we just get the domain name of OUR PAGE
if(cDomain.indexOf(".") < cDomain.lastIndexOf(".")){
  var domainOffset = cDomain.indexOf(".")+1
  cDomain = cDomain.substr(domainOffset);

// If referrer is not this domain and not blank and cookie not already stored:
if(document.referrer.indexOf(cDomain)==-1 && document.referrer!="" && 
var expDays = 90;
var exp = new Date(); 
exp.setTime(exp.getTime() + (expDays*24*60*60*1000));
var refdate = new Date();
// gup function gets a parameter from the user's URL. 
// This is a secondary method of tracking.
// but there's no need to use it.
var refparam = gup( 'ref' );
var ref = document.referrer;
if (refparam.length > 0) ref = refparam;
ref = ref.substr(0,30);
document.cookie = "referrer=" + escape(ref + "&&&" + refdate.toGMTString()) + 
	"; expires=" + exp.toGMTString() + "; path=/" + "; domain=" + cDomain;

var allCookies = document.cookie;
var cPos = allCookies.indexOf("referrer=");

if(cPos != -1){

var cdstart = cPos + 9;
var cdend = allCookies.indexOf(";", cdstart);
if(cdend == -1) cdend = allCookies.length;
var cookieContent = allCookies.substring(cdstart,cdend);
cookieContent = unescape(cookieContent);

var cdatestart = cookieContent.indexOf("&&&", 0);
var cdateend = cookieContent.length;
var cRefer = cookieContent.substring(0,cdatestart);
cRefer = cRefer.substr(0,100);
var cDateRef = cookieContent.substring(cdatestart +2,cdateend);
var cRefer = "No referer";
var cDateRef = "No cookie";

function gup( name )
  name = name.replace(/[\[]/,"\\\[").replace(/[\]]/,"\\\]");
  var regexS = "[\\?&]"+name+"=([^&#]*)";
  var regex = new RegExp( regexS );
  var results = regex.exec( window.location.href );
  if( results == null )
    return "";
    return results[1];
Drip-feed information
Guests have implicit and often misplaced trust in the platforms. For example, the last place I stayed went silent in the weeks leading up to our stay and finally responded to our messages 15 minutes after we had been standing outside waiting for the arrival instructions. That wasn't the platform's fault ( but it just goes to show how the "arms length" communications can fail dismally.

With a direct booking, you've got the phone number, email address and possibly whatsapp connection. To make sure nothing goes wrong, you need to let your guests know what communications are coming up and when. If you provide the entry instructions a week before they go, tell them that when they book. If you receive a payment, acknowledge it immediately. You should have all the routine emails saved as templates so that it's little effort for you to keep the guest informed.

In each email you send, make sure that the arrival and departure date are shown. Also check-in and out times. When you show a date, make sure that it's in a format that's understood worldwide (e.g. 11 October 2023, not 11/10/23) and include the day of the week. That way you avoid having guests turning up on the wrong day or cancelling just a few days before a stay because they had put the wrong date in their own calendar.
Plead for reviews, photos and feedback
Your guests need to be sure that you are the real deal before they book direct with you. Plenty of visible interaction between yourself and your previous guests is the key to this. Ask departing guests to write in the guestbook at your property and show photos of the guestbook pages (hand written) on your website. Ask departing guests to contribute to your FB page with photos and any comments. In your own posts, make it clear that you know the area really well and invite questions.
Join an organisation to help you keep up with regulations
There are associations of accommodation providers in most parts of the world. Join up to keep informed of best practice and any changes in regulations.