Worldwide: Short-term rental industry leaders are today marking the seventh Book Direct Day [7 February], an annual campaign for vacation rental owners and property managers around the world to come together and actively educate guests on how they can find short-term accommodation options directly without going through third-party listing sites and online travel agencies [OTAs].
Taking place on the first Wednesday in February each year, Book Direct Day began as an initiative launched by VRM Intel founder Amy Hinote in 2018. It initially began as a campaign on Twitter whereby direct booking advocates would post using the #BookDirect hashtag in order to get trending and promote their message more broadly.
The aim of the initiative is predominantly to promote the advantages of bypassing third-party channels so that guests book directly with owners and their own website themselves, and how homeowners, hosts and property managers can achieve a higher proportion of direct bookings through email and social media.
Here is what a number of direct booking advocates said ahead of this year’s Book Direct Day:
“The urgency to invest in direct booking strategies is particularly important for smaller self-managers, who are most vulnerable to changing OTA policies and increasing fees. They tend to bear the brunt of these shifts, as a sudden delisting or change in fees can hugely impact their livelihood compared to the bigger managers with more properties. Over the last year, we’ve seen more small hosts prioritising direct bookings to safeguard their income against increasingly aggressive tactics from the OTAs.
“Direct booking websites have always been a part of the strategic landscape, but now they’re part of every discussion we have with new managers joining our platform. It’s about more than just reducing reliance on third-party channels, it’s about empowering property managers, especially the smaller players, to build a resilient, sustainable business model in what can be an unpredictable market.”
Mark Simpson, founder of Boostly, said: “Over the last year, there has been a real shift in the Book Direct movement. Hosts and property managers have woken up to the fact that relying on third-party platforms is damaging their profits and we’re seeing more managers than ever before stepping away from the OTAs.
“But this movement is about more than just saving on the hefty commission fees OTAs charge. The hosts we talk to every day are now starting to realise that they’re actually handing over ownership of the guest profile to third-party platforms, which means they’re missing out on rich guest data and opportunities to upsell or target repeat bookings. More hosts realise the value of owning the entire booking journey themselves.
“What’s really interesting is that we’re starting to see hosts from different geographical pockets join forces to create their own ‘mini OTA’ websites, a service we’re providing under the name ‘Boostly Communities‘. A website is created for one area, and individual hosts in that area can upload their listings. Travellers can then see properties in that area – just as you would on an OTA – but they can book without the commission fees. It’s expected we’ll see far more of these cropping up over the next year as hosts make an active effort to reduce their reliance on third-party platforms.”
Marcus Räder, founder and CEO of Hostaway, said: “For Hostaway customers, direct bookings as a share of overall have grown by 43 per cent since 2022. Part of this growth is a result of our users being able to publish their website and connect directly to Google Vacation Rentals and therefore get bookings right from the start. For managers and hosts, there’s a clear advantage in getting direct bookings – the direct communication between guest and property manager can help with upselling and setting expectations, and the money that is usually paid to OTAs can undoubtedly benefit the property manager and be re-invested into further marketing activities to fuel more growth.”
William Parry, general manager UK and Ireland at Joivy, said: “We have noticed a significant increase in direct bookings over the past 12 months, which has enabled us to build a relationship with our guests from the moment they book right through to check-out and beyond. This personalised approach gives us a better understanding of guests’ needs and preferences, so that we can provide an even better rental experience and enhance our retention rates. The data we capture from each booking informs our future marketing and communications strategy to further encourage repeat bookings.
“Financially, direct bookings have a significant impact on the way we invest too. Our reduced dependency on OTAs, and the associated commission fees, allows us to plough more money into our properties and services, and gives us greater control over our rates and availability. The flexibility that we have through direct bookings means we are also able to respond dynamically to market demands and occupancy pressures.
“While OTAs will continue to be a part of our booking strategy, the growth in direct bookings is a positive trend that we are keen to develop and grow further.”
Dave Payette, founder and CEO of 365Villas, said: “The growing trend for direct vacation rental bookings through independent websites is great news for property managers, allowing them to increase their profits, offer lower prices, and develop stronger relationships with guests to boost retention rates.
“Direct booking sites are valuable in other ways too. They allow property managers to emulate the relationship that travellers have with airlines and hotels, using deeper pricing strategies that breed greater loyalty, including cancellation indemnity and early bird discounts. ‘Flex-stay’ pricing tools that allows property managers to easily adjust prices in exchange for the right to cancel flexibly also puts many direct booking sites ahead of OTA channels.
“To capitalise on this move away from OTAs, it’s essential that property managers have a robust PMS with an integrated website that can facilitate easy booking while securely managing direct payments. A good PMS will also protect property managers from double booking their rentals, manage all communications, property maintenance, invoicing and payments, which is essential when taking bookings from multiple channels.”