Short Term Rental

A Guide to Creating a Direct Booking Website That Will Drive Direct Bookings‍

From building your vacation rental website to ranking on search, here's how to boost your direct bookings.

April 10, 2024
Jared Levine


Direct booking websites allow you to take control of your online travel brand and become less dependent on online travel agencies. In this guide we are going to go over the main components that go into building your online presence. 

First we are going to explain the importance of having a direct booking website. Then we will explain how to build this new direct channel. From there we will go through the tools to increase your online presence, and in turn, your direct bookings.

This guide is meant to demystify the process of creating a direct booking platform, ensuring all vacation rental owners are equipped with the knowledge to reclaim control over their bookings and increase their profit margins.

Let’s get into it!

The Importance of Direct Booking Websites

What is a direct booking website?

To put it simply, a direct booking website is a place for you to list your properties, handle reservations, and process payments without the help of third-party online travel agencies like Airbnb and VRBO.

At the heart of a direct booking website is its booking engine—a powerful tool designed to automate reservations, synchronize with listing sites, and provide real-time updates on availability and pricing.

HostAI user Haven Vacation Rentals (

What are direct bookings?

Direct bookings occur when a guest reserves your rental property directly through your website, bypassing online travel agencies and their associated fees. Here’s an analogy to help explain. 

Direct bookings are like buying produce directly from a farmer's market, while indirect bookings through online travel agencies (OTAs) are like shopping at a supermarket. 

In the direct booking scenario (the farmer's market), guests (shoppers) directly engage with the property owner (or farmer). This direct interaction allows guests to bypass the middleman, in this case, the booking platform (supermarket), avoiding any additional fees that these intermediaries may impose. 

This line of direct communication opens up opportunities for special requests and tailored experiences, much like being able to request a specific cut of meat from the butcher at the market.

Why should vacation rental owners invest in a direct booking website?

It’s a win-win for you and your guests. With a direct booking website, you are able to offer guests discounts—improving guest satisfaction from the start—because you don’t have to worry about online travel agencies’ high commissions. 

This direct booking approach enriches the guest experience, enabling personalized interactions and cultivating repeat bookings. 

The numbers also back it up. Take average stay value by booking source, for instance. Freed from the constraints of listing sites and travel agencies, owners gain unparalleled independence, dictating their terms, policies, and prices. 

Taken from "The Value of Direct Bookings" report by

Guests who book direct also tend to stay longer. Operationally, this is a relief as vacation rental owners can spend less time managing the complexities of turnovers as you start to attract longer and longer stays. 

Taken from "The Value of Direct Bookings" report by

You might ask: “Can I still use OTAs after creating a direct booking website?” Yes, you can and should use OTAs in conjunction with your direct booking website. This multi-channel approach maximizes your property's visibility while gradually increasing your proportion of direct bookings over time. Make sure, however, that when it comes to some of your templated Airbnb Automated Messages, you migrate them to your PMS so that you can have the same scheduled messages for your direct booking guests.

Building your vacation rental website

Creating a direct booking website might seem daunting at first. Hurdles like high setup costs, technical complexities, and the challenge of attracting traffic away from established online travel agencies, is not easy. However, with the right website builder and a strategic approach, these challenges can be efficiently navigated.

What website builder should you use?

Look for platforms that offer ease of use, customization, and are optimized for vacation rentals. Tools that cater to the unique needs of vacation rental businesses, including customizable templates and secure payment gateways, are a must

Here are two of our favorite vacation rental brand website builders you can use for you rental business.

  1. Uplisting
    1. What it is: Uplisting's direct booking website is a tool for property managers to create their own booking channel for short-term rentals, bypassing traditional OTA fees.
    2. Key features/differentiating features: Mobile-friendly design, instant booking capabilities, Stripe integration for payments, and a no-code solution for easy setup.

Uplisting direct booking engine

  1. Lodgify:
    1. What it is: Lodgify provides a vacation rental booking engine designed to increase direct bookings for property managers.
    2. Key features/differentiating features: Integrated payment processing with major gateways, a booking widget for seamless integration into existing websites, flexible rate setting with instant quotes, and automated payment processing for efficiency.
    3. Who it is good for: This system is best suited for individuals or companies that already have a website for their online vacation rental brand and are looking to enhance it with a booking engine that includes a direct booking widget.

Lodgify direct booking engine builder

What to Expect from Your New Direct Booking Engine

Expect functionalities that simplify the booking process for your guests, such as secure credit card transactions and an intuitive user interface. At the end of the day, the goal of a direct booking website is to drive direct bookings for first-time guests and turn them into repeat bookings. The best way to drive repeat bookings is with good hospitality and great experiences. Your vacation rental website and your guests’ experience on your listing sites should reflect that.

Steps to take when creating your direct booking platform

In a market crowded with generic listings, letting your vacation rental brand shine through your direct booking website becomes your strongest asset. A unique brand identity not only distinguishes your rental property from competitors on online travel agencies but also creates an emotional connection with potential guests.

  1. Define Your Brand Identity and tell your story: Focus on what makes your vacation rental unique to stand out in the short-term rental market. Share the inspiration behind your vacation rental business, the unique attributes of your rental property, and what guests can expect. This is the hospitality business—make it personal.
  2. Build a Professional Website: Choose a reliable booking engine that facilitates easy direct bookings and integrates with your website. Ensure it's user-friendly, mobile-optimized, and showcases your properties with high-quality images. Finally integrate a trusted payment gateway to process credit card transactions securely. 

HostAI user Rove Travel (

  1. Leverage Social Proof: Encourage guests to leave reviews to build credibility and trust for your vacation rental brand. Positive guest reviews are a powerful endorsement of your property and service. Featuring these reviews prominently on your site can boost credibility and reassure potential guests.

HostAI user Koti Host (

  1. Cultivate Guest Relationships: Engage with your guests through personalized communication like offering tailored recommendations through the website, enabling easy communication for any inquiries or needs during their stay, and gathering feedback with post-stay surveys or messages.

Chat widget on Rove Travel

Ways to increase your direct bookings

Okay, you made your direct booking website for your vacation rental business. Now what? If you’ve reached this point in building your online presence, you’re probably frustrated. You have a direct booking site but you’re not getting direct bookings. You can’t push guests to your new direct booking engine because Airbnb flags those messages and you can’t rank high on Google for guests who are looking vacation rentals in your area. Was all of this a waste? No. The other half—and arguably the more important half—of your digital vacation rental brand is building your online presence on the internet. 

Enhancing online presence through SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, is a set of practices designed to improve the appearance and positioning of web pages in organic search results. Because organic search is the most prominent way for people to discover and access online content, a good SEO strategy is essential for increasing traffic and, in turn, more direct bookings. 

Positional Keyword tracking tool (

At a glance, there are 5 steps to start your SEO strategy for your online travel site. They are as follows: 

  1. Set up Google Search Console: Essential for SEO, Google Search Console acts like an analytics tool, giving you insights into your website’s traffic and technical status. 
  1. Submit Sitemap: Sitemaps are like blueprints for your website that search engines use to find and index your content efficiently. 
  1. Make blog CMS: A Content Management System (CMS) allows you to easily manage and update your website content.
  1. Hire content writer (optional): Consistent, high-quality content is like regular store announcements and updates, keeping customers informed and engaged. Hiring a professional can be done through platforms like Upwork.
  1. Build list of keywords to rank for: Investing in a keyword tool like Positional, AhRefs, or SEM rush will give you insight in what your potential guests are searching and what you can rank for. 
  1. Write good content: Create engaging, valuable content for your audience, as if you're crafting compelling product descriptions that highlight the benefits and solve customer problems.

Positional Content Analytics tool (

SEO audit of Vacation Rental Website example

Some of our users at HostAI have a direct booking site but they are not getting much traffic or direct bookings. Recently, we started offering free audits to our users who want to improve their listing sites. This is an audit we did for the HostGenius team.

Reach out to us if you want an audit of your SEO!

Remember, SEO is an investment in time. There are going to be times when it feels like shouting into the abyss but it takes about 3 months (or ~20 posts) to start seeing the results, which will start out as more traffic to your site and funnel into more bookings.

Use SEO to attract more homeowners

Another thing to consider too is to apply the same SEO tactics toward increasing traffic from homeowners / clients whose properties’ you can manage. It’s the same playbook—just different keywords. 

Other marketing strategies to drive traffic to your vacation rental website

Apart from blogs, platforms like Instagram and Facebook are perfect for showcasing the allure of your property and destination. Engaging with your guests through these channels can drive traffic to your website and increase direct bookings. The audience on these platforms will likely be guests rather than prospective homeowners, but that’s an assumption you would have to test. 

Additionally, the content that you put on these channels will be video-based and might require effort as well so be sure to experiment with both and proceed with the strategy that drives the most traffic to your booking engine. 


What have we gone over? First, we went over the importance of direct bookings and why vacation rental owners should try to take advantage of booking direct versus solely listing on online travel agencies. Then, we outlined how you can build your direct booking website with the tools available. From there we emphasized the importance of building your online presence and visibility in Organic search and the tools available to get you started. 

This comprehensive strategy will take time and effort but will result in better guest experiences and increasing your bottom line. As the vacation rental market continues to evolve, establishing a strong online presence and brand identity through a direct booking platform will be key to staying competitive, profitable, and unique.

Try out HostAI for yourself.