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Legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” 

We feel the same about vacation rental occupancy rates. As a property manager, you may never reach 100% occupancy 100% of the time. But as long as you’re not there yet, you’re leaving money on the table and making it more difficult to scale your business successfully.

 

You probably already know that the easiest way to edge closer to 100% is by addressing your vacation rental distribution strategy. Because small actions here can lead to big results.

 

Because competition on Airbnb, Vrbo, or Booking.com is exceptionally intense. And you’re likely already aware that there are so many more channels and strategies you could try beyond these usual suspects.

 

But with a huge range of listing sites available, it can feel incredibly daunting to know where to start, and extremely time-consuming to build a successful new distribution action plan from scratch.

 

That’s why below we:

 

  • Explain why an intentional vacation rental management distribution strategy is so important
  • Round up a great shortlist of alternative sites to try, including channels for last-minute bookings, LGBT-friendly places, pet-friendly rentals, and even cannabis-friendly stays
  • Explore how automating your channel distribution with a dedicated tool can make managing your strategy a whole lot easier. Set it, forget it, and scale sustainably for even greater growth.

Let’s get started.

Read other chapters in The Reservation Recession.

Simplify operations as your distribution, bookings, and business grow.

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Direct bookings alone are not enough

Are your rentals a great example of a glamping hideaway? List on glamping sites!

As much as you’d like to have 100% direct bookings, it’s often simply not possible. This makes OTAs a necessary addition to your booking strategy.

 

But simply targeting the usual suspects of listing sites (Airbnb, Vrbo, Expedia, Booking.com…) is unlikely to be enough to cover the gaps. These platforms are so huge, their audience so wide, and the competition so fierce, that you can’t always rely on them to get results.

 

What’s more, using more niche sites allows you to target your ideal audience more precisely, enabling you to resonate more with them, increase outreach, and maximize occupancy potential and revenue.

 

For example, if your rental is particularly suitable for digital nomads (great coffee, fast Wi-Fi, desk space), a great example of a glamping hideaway (outdoors setting, bohemian decor, gorgeous views) or in a hiking destination (mountain cabin, close to trails), then targeting sites that appeal to these niches is a must.

 

This can help fill your calendar in different seasons, showcase the best of your rental’s specific amenities, and catch customers who may not otherwise have seen your listing.

 

Alternative channels you may not have thought of 

Whether you go down the specialist niche route, or simply choose to go off the beaten track of the usual listing channels, these alternatives could be a great place to start.

 

As part of your research into alternative channels, we recommend checking your existing listing sites to understand what their distribution includes. 

 

For example, by listing on Booking.com and Expedia, your vacation home is automatically featured on other channels under their corporate umbrella, as well as an extensive affiliate network associated with each.

 

HomeToGo

HomeToGo specializes in rentals especially for leisure vacations

HomeToGo specializes in offering rentals specifically for leisure vacations. As its name suggests, it aims to offer guests a “home from home” to ensure they have a relaxing break no matter the destination. 

 

The website puts its categories front and center, including everything from cottages to houseboats, villas, and castles. It also encourages guests to search by feature or amenity, such as pet-friendly, pool, good internet, or hot tub. This makes it particularly suitable if your rental fulfills these criteria.

 

HomeToGo is part of a wider distribution network that also includes Booking.com and Vrbo, as well as smaller sites such as Cottages.com and James Villa Holidays. 

 

Its rates start at 8% + service fees.

 

Holidu

Holidu encourages would-be guests to search by destination

Holidu is a simple website that offers properties in four core categories: Vacation lettings, villas, beach houses, and chalets. It offers rentals worldwide and lists its most popular countries as the US, Italy, Spain, France, and Puerto Rico.

 

The website encourages guests to search by category or destination, with listings arranged by country, US region, and US cities. If your rental is a particularly stand-out example of a villa or chalet, or showcases a popular region or city, Holidu could be a good option for you.

 

Hosts with 1-20 properties can list easily online, and those with 20+ properties can connect to Holidu via its API, or by using one of the many channel managers and PMSs that integrate.

 

Whimstay

Whimstay specializes in discount stays that are booked at the last minute

Whimstay, as its name suggests, caters especially to guests who are booking on “a whim” and offers discounted rates on last-minute rental bookings. This might work especially well for you if you’re looking to fill awkward calendar gaps or cover cancellations, and are happy to welcome short-notice stays.

 

Its featured categories encourage guests to search by popular US cities, followed by property styles (such as cabins, condos, family-friendly, and pet-friendly homes). It also encourages group bookings, so may work well if your property is well-suited to groups, reunions, or larger families.

 

It works with property managers who manage more than 10 properties.

 

Home & Villas

Homes & Villas builds on the Marriott International brand to list luxury properties

Homes & Villas is part of the global hotel brand Marriott International, and benefits from that prestige and brand trust to list “expertly curated” luxury properties with 24/7 support and professional cleaning.

 

Ultimately it aims to offer a hotel experience in a private home, and offer high levels of amenities to enable guests to travel lighter. Guests can also earn Marriott Bonvoy points upon booking, so it may attract regular Marriott customers looking for a cozy or last-minute break.

 

It features popular cities (Asheville, Park City) as well as far-flung international destinations (New Zealand, Croatia) easily visible on its site, as well as more unusual categories such as ‘Room to Connect’ and ‘Outdoor Entertaining’.

 

If your properties offer a luxurious-yet-homely experience and could appeal to guests who are more used to staying in a higher-end hotel, and you’re happy to conform to the standards and requirements of the Marriott brand, this may be for you.

 

Kid & Coe

Kid & Coe offers specially vetted accommodation for family vacations

A family-focused rental site specially designed for families traveling with young children (especially large families). 

 

It lists a wide range of properties from private homes to hotels, but each property has been prepared for kids, including child-friendly concierge services, baby equipment, books and toys on arrival, children’s sporting equipment rental, and specialized itineraries made with kids in mind.

 

Its categories include island getaways, luxury, countryside, and pools. If your properties are especially suitable for families, this could be a great option.

 

Hosts pay a one-off $99 fee to list. Private hosts pay 5% fees, while professionals pay 15%.

 

Pink Vacation Rentals

Pink Vacation Rentals is a website with a simple goal: To offer LGBT+ friendly stays

Pink Vacation Rentals specializes in offering vacations for members of the LGBT+ communities. Its property selection is broad, listing everything from condos to villas. 

 

A great example of a much smaller, but more targeted, listing site, its central promise is that every host is “LGBT-owned, gay-friendly or hetero-friendly”, and guaranteed to be welcoming to LGBT guests. 

 

It lists rentals across the US and the world, including everywhere from Amsterdam to Houston, Los Angeles to Palm Springs, Paris to Pittsburgh, Quebec City to Seattle, and Tampa to Zurich. Its booking website is very simple and encourages potential guests to search by region or destination rather than style or amenities.

 

Glamping.com

Glamping.com offers a huge range of glamping-style outdoors accommodation

This website does what it says on the tin—offers glamping rentals for people with, in its own words, “a deeply-held love of the outdoors”. 

 

Guests can easily search by country, state, or city, as well as by the more-unusual filters of Setting (beach, forest, jungle, eco-reserve…),  and Great For (adults only, corporate events, couples, honeymoon, disability access). 


Guests can also search by ‘Experience’, which includes such varied options as bird watching, archery, boating, biking, stargazing, massage, snowmobiling, and countless more.

 

If your properties include cabins, a ranch, canvas hideaways, caravans, lodges, or some variation on a wild theme, this listing site could be a goldmine.

 

BringFido.com

A screenshot of the Bring Fido website
BringFido.com has a section dedicated to pet-friendly vacation rentals

With more and more travelers wanting to take their furry friends with them, BringFido.com could be the perfect option for hosts with pet-friendly rentals.

 

It enables guests to search by accommodation, as well as restaurants and events, and has a simple search bar that encourages searching by destination. It categorizes its accommodation as hotels, but in practice also lists B&Bs, lodges, and cabins. 

 

In the small print, users can also filter specifically by “vacation rentals”, whose results bring up smaller properties, cottages, villas, beach houses, and condos.

 

It includes a “bone” rating (scoring accommodation out of five for dog-friendliness) and also lists how many pets are allowed, and whether there is a pet fee.

 

Boutique-Homes.com

A screenshot of the Boutique Homes website
Boutique Homes offers exceptional rentals for lovers of design and architecture

Boutique Homes is a specialist site offering vacation rentals for travelers who prioritize design and architecture, and it categorizes its properties as such. For example, users can search by ‘Chic and Cheap’, ‘By Architects’, ‘Extra Large’, and ‘Living History’. 

 

Its categories also include ‘Workations’ with properties that are especially suited to extended stays with good internet and even better relaxation options, ‘Travel for Two’ properties that work best for cozy couples, or ‘Stay in a Winner’, featuring properties that have won awards for their style and design. 

 

It also features ‘Stories behind the homes’ and stand-out property features, calls its hosts part of the “like-minded” community, and states that its properties are for the “creative class”. 

 

If your rentals would appeal to this clientele and have a design tale that would thrill any dinner party, this could be a great listing option for you. Listings are personally inspected and featured on approval only. There is no setup fee, but the website takes a commission for confirmed bookings.

 

Country-specific channels

A screenshot of the Gites de France website
The Gîtes de France website is a great example of a country-specific website

Many distribution sites are global, but it doesn’t hurt to target country-specific audiences, especially if your property can offer something unique or specific to that area (such as a mountain log cabin in British Columbia, a hacienda in Mexico, a cottage in England, or a countryside gîte in rural France).

 

All of these sites below specialize in the destination or style of property distinct to that country or area, offering even more opportunities to niche down and hone in on your ideal guest even further.

 

  • Canada – Try CottagesInCanada.com, VacationRentalCanada.com, Rentals.ca
  • Mexico – SayulitaLife.com, SeaSideMexico.com 
  • Brazil – Matuete.com, RioExclusive.com, Brazilluxuryrentals.com
  • UK – SykesCottages.co.uk, NationalTrust.org.uk, IndependentCottages.co.uk
  • France – Gites-de-france.com, PureFrance.com, FrenchConnections.co.uk
  • Spain – RusticalTravel.com, SaturdayRentals.com, Spain-Holiday.com
  • Italy – HolidayHomesinItaly.co.uk, In-Italia.com, VillaRentalinItaly.com
  • Germany – Fewo-direkt.de, E-Domizil.de, Atraveo.de
  • South Africa – Reservationsplus.co.za, Vacations.capetown, HomesofAfrica.com 
  • Australia – Holidayrentalsaustralia.com.au, Madecomfy.com.au, Beachesandbush.com.au

 

Automating your channel management

A photo of a man on a laptop to show that automation makes things easier
Automating your channel management via a digital tool makes expanding a lot easier

You probably already use some kind of channel manager to oversee your distribution, but if you’re reconsidering your strategy, now might be a good time for an upgrade. 

 

And if you’re planning to scale your business, then you’re also likely thinking about investing in (or changing up) a new property management software (PMS) and guest management tool to handle your increased bookings and the extra coordination needs that come with a larger operation.

 

That’s because the best way to design an intentional channel distribution strategy is to make it part of your overall business management and see it as an integral part of your operations. 

 

Targeting more ideal guests via a specific channel is the first step in niching down even more in your business, and is a key part of designing your rentals to offer experiences that truly cater to your guests’ particular needs.

 

Digitizing and automating the entire process—from updating listings to coordinating calendars, to smart lock access and check-in, guest communication, and turnaround cleanings—also frees up your time and keeps operations running predictably with relatively little manual management.

 

Taking a digital-first approach, by using specialist tools that offer the functionality you need and integrate (such as a PMS with a channel manager like Hostfully or Hostaway, or a hospitality automation and guest experience platform like Operto) enables you to scale and optimize your portfolio without also increasing your workload or requiring a huge team.

 

This positions your booking channel management strategy as a core part of your sustainable and profitable growth, enabling you to expand without compromising the guest or host experiences.

Make your channel distribution part of your property management strategy.

Automate and simplify operations with Operto, which integrates with a wide range of PMSs for seamless coordination.

Vacation rental distribution success: Branch out and automate

A screenshot of Opertos integrations
Operto integrates with a wide range of hospitality platforms so you can make your distribution a key part of your overall rental business strategy

Branching out to less-common vacation rental distribution channels can spell success for your property management company. 

 

Although fewer people may look at the more niche sites, those that do are likely to be highly engaged potential customers, who know exactly what they want and are more prepared to buy into the experience you’re offering. This means you have a golden opportunity to reach guests that match your ideal profile.

 

Tweaking your vacation rental distribution strategy via new websites, and automating it via dedicated tools—such as connected PMSs with Channel Managers, which integrate with other specialized tools such as Operto Connect and Operto Guest—can help you put your strategy at the heart of your vacation rental business and use it as a key driver of success as you scale. 

Simplify operations as your distribution, bookings, and business grow.

Bring together the guest, manager, and service providers under a single operating system with Operto Connect.

Frequently asked questions about vacation rental distribution

How do I get a direct booking?

Direct bookings for vacation rentals are usually obtained via the host or property managers’ own website. They are bookings managed directly without vacation rental listings on OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Airbnb or Vrbo. However, they may not be enough to reach 100% occupancy. Using more niche listing sites may help you connect with more ideal guests and cover awkward gaps in your calendar. 

 

What percentage does VRBO take from hosts?

Vrbo takes 5% from hosts on rental amounts and any extra fees charged. Vrbo is just one example of a vacation rental channel distribution website that helps users search for vacation rentals according to a set of criteria. However, it is an international, widely-used site with millions of searchers. Hosts and property managers may have more luck in reaching 100% occupancy if they niche down and list on lesser-used but more specialist sites, whose fees vary.

 

Should I have a website for my short-term rental?

Having a rental website for your short-term vacation home can be an excellent idea to help boost your direct bookings, and sidestep the fees charged by OTAs such as Airbnb, Vrbo, or Booking.com. However, direct bookings may not be enough to reach 100% occupancy. Hosts and property managers may be leaving money on the table if they don’t niche down and list on lesser-used but specialist sites to attract more ideal guests.

 

What is a realistic occupancy rate for Airbnb?

Occupancy rates for vacation rentals such as those listed on Airbnb can vary considerably, but if you are still not reaching anywhere near 100%, you may be leaving money on the table. The easiest way to edge closer to that 100% is by going for the lowest-hanging fruit: Your vacation rental distribution strategy. Niching down and listing on lesser-used but more specialist sites may help boost bookings.

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