Direct Booking Sites: The Key to Making More Money

Let’s get the facts straight. You’re not just a host, you’re a business owner.

As a short-term rental business owner, you’ are taking on all the risk in exchange for what should be complete control over your business and the exponential rewards associated with providing an incredible experience for your guests.

If you don’t have a direct booking site (DBS) then this post is for you.

If you already have a DBS then you might want to consider upgrading, at the very least, your booking engine.

For any STR business owner who wants to increase their earning potential, keep reading…

WHY DO I WANT A DIRECT BOOKING SITE (DBS)?

We’ve all heard it before.

“Airbnb canceled all of my bookings during the pandemic, without notice or relief support.”

“My listings have been randomly suspended without cause and I can no longer accept bookings.”

“I just received a penalty and have no idea why.”

“My payouts are delayed… “

and on and on…

A direct booking site (DBS), gives you, the operator, complete ownership and control over every aspect of your short-term rental business. With a DBS, you can reduce your dependency on online travel agencies (OTAs) like Airbnb, own your guest relationship, become the merchant of record and earn more profit on every booking.

With more and more guests discovering your listing on an OTA then hunting for a DBS to avoid the astronomical fees, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you:

  1. Don’t have a direct booking site
  2. Have a direct booking site with a poor guest experience

Your direct booking site is the first and most important touchpoint. It’s your opportunity to convert a prospective guest and guide their experience by telling your host story.

Even if you want to rely on OTAs for demand generation, you can still use a DBS to increase profit by processing bookings through your DBS:

  • Every time you have a guest who wants to extend their stay
  • When guests want to rebook
  • When a guest wants to book directly with you and finds a way to share their contact info

WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN CREATING A DIRECT BOOKING SITE (DBS)?

Before deciding on how to create a DBS, you should consider the following:

Mobile First: The majority of guests search and book using their phones. Your DBS should be optimized for a mobile first browsing experience.

PMS Integration: Your DBS should integrate with leading property management systems (PMS) like Hostaway and Uplisting, enabling you to manage all of the most popular booking channels, including your DBS from one place.

Booking Engine: Your DBS should leverage a booking engine that is optimized for listing discoverability, speed and conversion.

Customization: A DBS is a guest’s first impression of your business. You should have the ability to elevate their experience by customizing your site to better tailor messaging and tell your brand story.

Payment Options: Allow guests to pay the way they want. Offering diverse payment options opens up your audience and increases conversion rates.

THE 3 BEST WAYS TO CREATE A DIRECT BOOKING SITE (DBS):

When it comes to setting up a DBS, there are some pretty good options out there. Let’s look at the top 3.

  1. Custom Build: A custom built DBS is tailored for your business. Priced between $5,000 to $20,000+, a custom built DBS is typically built with Wordpress and leverages a basic booking engine developed by a PMS. If built by an STR professional, your custom DBS should feature all of the plugins and customization features you need to successfully drive bookings. One thing to consider is ongoing developer, server and plugin fees. For custom builds, Boostly is the market leader.

  2. PMS DBS: Property Management Systems like Hostaway and Uplisting come equipped with a basic DBS builder, allowing you to be up and running with minimal effort. Your only cost here would be the monthly subscription to your PMS, domain fees and any other marketing techstack. Unfortunately, direct booking sites are not the core business of a PMS. Since a PMS is in the business of providing property management support, the free builders offered are often limited in customization, design and guest experience.

  3. Dtravel: Dtravel is an innovative direct booking website builder that allows hospitality operators to create a modern DBS without code or recurring fees. Similar to the way Shopify has changed the way businesses sell products online, Dtravel is changing the way short-term rental operators accept bookings. With Dtravel you get an easy to customize mobile first site on top of the industry’s most advanced direct booking engine. To use Dtravel, all you have to do is signup and connect your Hostaway or Uplisting account. Dtravel’s pricing is interesting. They take a small fee with each booking instead of charging monthly, but for early adopters, return this fee in the form of TRVL, a cryptocurrency. TRVL gives operators the opportunity to benefit from the success of a product they actually use. If you don’t want to hold the token, then you can simply exchange it for your local currency.

TLDR; SUMMARY - WHAT IS THE BEST DIRECT BOOKING SITE SOLUTION:

If you don’t want to break the bank on a complete custom build then Dtravel is the clear winner. There is zero risk to using the product. All you need to do is connect either your Uplisting or Hostaway account and you’ll be up and running in a few minutes. If you already have a direct booking site or custom build then you can still use their booking engine.

Dtravel is a modern and customizable DBS, but why is their booking engine superior?

  • Mobile-first and lighting fast, which improves the guest experience
  • Modern design and smooth user experience improves trust and drives conversion
  • You earn meaningful rewards with each booking
  • Ability to offer guests diverse payment options including cryptocurrency
  • When guests pay in crypto you receive instant payouts
  • You can control who pays the credit card processing fee
  • Offer upsells and add-ons at checkout to grow revenue on every booking
  • Attract a growing segment of digital nomads and crypto travelers
  • Access to a new demand channel through their partnership with Travala.com, the largest cryptocurrency online travel agency in the world

Dtravel has been working alongside professional short-term rental businesses to build their product. If you have any questions, want to test their product or need help swapping out your booking engine, then you can book a call with their team here.

7 Likes

Just a reminder to the new folks here: Cyn and Tom are the owners and admins for this forum. Their posts are not subject to the usual rules about spam or affiliate links. They are, of course, allowed to monetize their own site for their benefit.

Please don’t flag their posts.

8 Likes

An interesting post thanks for the information.

I was interested in understanding where the huge cost figures come from for developing your own website for direct bookings. I’ve used Wordpress with relevant booking plug ins and Stripe for payment including templates, plug ins and hosting it cost me around £400.

What’s the 5 to 20K figure based on ?

3 Likes

I’m reading that I can book a call with DTravel. If I do I’d ask these questions. Does anyone have suggestions for other questions?

How does this compare to using OwnerRez?
Is it either/or – OwnerRez or DTravel?
When I hear ‘crypto’ these days I cringe a bit, don’t understand it. If I go with DTravel will I get real money for everything?

2 Likes

This is for a custom built website where it’s built just for you and your brand. This is the premium end for property managers who might have more luxurious properties, or a larger portfolio. There’s the upfront fee plus ongoing maintenance.

For Wordpress, neither the templates nor the booking engine/widgets are optimized for short term rentals specifically so they don’t have a lot of customizations specifically for this industry nor are those templates focused on maximizing conversion, which is what a premium direct booking solution would do.

Hopefully that helps.

2 Likes

OwnerRez is a property management software (PMS) that offers a website builder. Dtravel would integrate with PMSs like OwnerRez that would make it easy for a property manager to create a direct booking site in minutes using all the listing info in the PMS. The difference between Dtravel vs. the direct booking sites that PMSs offer is Dtravel is focused on just direct booking sites and on designing with maximizing conversion and helping increase revenue from direct bookings. For example, they have add-on features that property managers can customize as an offering and guests can add to a booking (e.g. renting sports equipment, cars, extra cleanings, airport pickups, etc). They also have more payment options like Google Pay, Apple Pay and crypto, which appeals to millennials and Gen-Z who tend to prefer to book direct to save money.

Totally understand on the crypto payments. This is an option but you can choose to turn it off. There’s a Stripe integration so you can choose to only accept credit cards if you wish. All crypto payments are made in stablecoins, which are cryptocurrencies backed 1-1 by the US dollar that you can transfer to a crypto brokerage to sell and withdraw the funds into USD, the same way you would if you were buying stocks.

2 Likes

After years of hosting I have finally got my own DBS it’s not brilliant but’s a start, I have been marketing it on FB in the last couple of days and Im using a link tracker so I got a few hits, 48 I’m not expecting bookings just yet as my calendar is almost full into April,
I do keep all my past guest details in a Whatsapp group I’ll be posting it out to them,

2 Likes

How do we market the direct booking site? I think that’s the hardest part even more so than creating the site. I started an instagram for my direct booking site, have been posting on it every other day, still not producing leads. One way I did get a booking though is by putting the name of the site in the title of my listings. Someone googled the name and booked it that way.

I work in marketing and comms (over twenty years experience ). You start by clearly identifying your target guests, once you have this information review your listing to make sure your decorations/amenities/look and feel, copy etc are designed around the guest. @bigDeeOT

Then do some market research to understand the best channels to use to reach these type of guests. You can invest in advertising through these channels and promoting your listing to your target markets.

With social media such as IG you need a content plan so you have regular content of interest to your target market such as promoting local festivals, favourite restaurants, hidden spots, improvements to your amenities, guest reviews, quirky facts about your area. Use relevant hashtags, follow relevant accounts.

5 Likes

Your site should be built with marketing in mind from day one. @Helsi’s advice is splendid.

Any social media isn’t going to produce great results unless you are posting new content on a regular basis. Social media posts have to be informative and interesting. They have to make people want to click through to your site.

For example, every week (same day if you can) write a quick article on your site about your area. Sights, where to eat, pet-friendly businesses near your rental, a great deli nearby, watersports available - anything at all that might interest potential customers.

Imagine someone looking at IG and seeing a gorgeous photograph of something related to your article (a great view, a local attraction, a lovely view etc) and a link through to your article.

“Oh” thinks the viewer “that’s an article on the top five places to eat in XXX. We were thinking about going to XXX so I’ll have a look. And they have a rental too! Let’s see, it looks great, Could be worth booking…”

You have to give people a reason to click, then a reason to book with you. On every article page, you have a call to action to your details and booking page.

6 Likes

@Helsi’s suggestions are spot on. You need to think about your business like a brand. Who is your target persona? What are they doing while staying with you? Your direct booking site is the first time a guest interacts with your business so the experience should be catered to them. Everything from your logo, your photography, styling, and of course content.

What is your target guest searching for in addition to accommodation options in your area? You can think of a list ideas yourself or use tools like Google Keyword planner (free), ubersuggest (free), SEM Rush (Paid), or Ahrefs (Paid), to lookup search volume for keywords related to search queries and plan your content around that. What you want to do is get in front of potential guests by creating content that provides information your guests are looking for when planning a stay. Don’t have time to write / not a great writer? Use ChatGPT. With the right inputs you can create incredible website content in under 5 minutes.

Your website content doesnt need to be all written by the way. For example, if you are located near a ski resort or surf spot then your guests may want a look at the conditions. Purchase a webcam and provide a live feed on your website. I could go on for hours, but hopefully this gets some ideas flowing. Don’t forget YouTube is 2nd largest search algorithm in the world. Do you have hikes near your stay? Go for some of your favourite hikes and film the entire hike, first person. Post a series of these hikes to your YouTube channel. Make sure the videos are branded, the titles and description not only speak to the hike but your business.

Here are a few other (free) quick wins to drive direct bookings:

  • Brand your OTA listings. Adding your business name (not your website URL) in your description, title and first line of your host bio will signal to prospective guests that you have a direct booking site.
  • Create a Facebook, Instagram, and maybe even Pinterest account. Complete each profile with a link to your direct booking site. Again, you want the content to speak to your ideal guest. Yes, social media is a lot of work, but consider what happens when a prospective guest Google’s your brand / business name. You will now have three profiles/accounts that come up in the search results with your brand name and a direct link to your DBS.
  • Capture your guest’s email through email-gated wifi or one of many other techniques. Use your PMS or an email marketing tool like mailchimp to trigger an automated send 24hours before they checkout to see if they would like to extend their trip, letting them know if they book directly using the link available then they will save on OTA service fees.
  • Use your PMS automated responses to convert an OTA guest into a direct booking guest. This strategy is a little more controversial as it requires the guest to cancel their OTA booking before booking direct. I could describe this in more detail if anyone likes but will leave it at that for now.

By the way, Im with Dtravel (mentioned above), and we are 100% focused on driving the direct booking movement forward by helping operators start and grow their direct booking business.

How do we do this?

We make it easy for hosts to quickly create a professional and modern direct booking site powered by our advanced booking engine that improves conversion and increases profit potential. We also make it easy for operators with an existing direct booking site to swap their booking engine for our industry leading booking engine.

We also provide complimentary onboarding and free marketing consultation. If you’re interested in using Dtravel to power your entire direct booking site, want to swap out your booking engine for Dtravel’s booking engine or just want to talk direct bookings then we’re here for you!

Apologies in advance for the long post and Dtravel plug (admins feel free to remove if not appropriate), but one other thing I should mention that will drive you more direct bookings is our partnerships, the first of which being with a major blockchain-based OTA. Anyone with a Dtravel powered site or using the Dtravel booking engine will appear in search results for this OTA. Once the integration is live (coming very soon), you will have the option to opt-in into showing up in search results and get free traffic to your direct booking site without paying commission.

1 Like

Usually this would be flagged by someone and mods would probably remove it. However, Cyn, one of the forum owners, is clearly promoting Dtravel and her posts aren’t removed when they are flagged.

3 Likes

@Cyn or @jsoulo

Nice to see Dtravel progressing along and excited to see it will be part of Google Vacation rentals.

I would like to present Dtravel to a group of Book Direct hosts as another means of increasing direct bookings. Here are some questions I anticipate receiving:

  • Keep in mind some in the group want to be on Google Vacation Rentals but do not use a PMS that has partnered with GVR.

  • Some are new to book direct and would 100% see value in having Dtravel as their book direct website (they feel safer going through a 3rd party with the benefits of saving $$ on guest and host side). And they would love the 5 Mil insurance.

  • Some have an established repeat clientele with their own website and even though they invoice manually (they may not find value paying a 3% commission to send their repeats through Dtravel, - this group would have no need for the insurance, etc. But they would find value in paying commission for exposure via Google Vacation Rentals, Travala, the upcoming MetaSearch etc.

Questions:

  1. Can any PMS/channel management software build towards your API or are you selective? Many single property owners use Host Tools and I didn’t see them on the TBD list. Should I reach out to the owner and recommend he add Dtravel as a channel partner? Host Tools is very reasonably priced for those who don’t need all the bells and whistles of pricier PMS software.

  2. RE: a community call from 3 weeks ago. It wasn’t clear if Dtravel is working on it’s own channel management system so ind. owners (who don’t use a PMS, etc) can still list. Which brings me to my next question…

  3. When Dtravel integrates with Google Vacation Rentals, will hosts still need to have some sort of PMS/channel manager of their own in order to qualify?

  4. Is Google Vacation Rentals all instant book or does it depend on which PMS a host uses? For example, once OwnerRez has completed their GVR integration, will GVR work differently with them, vs being listed on GVR with Dtravel?

  5. Is Dtravel like BDC where all properties are instant bookable?

  6. RE: booking widgets…if an owner with their own website already has an established repeat clientele, and currently accepts checks and Stripe (and invoices manually). IF they were to use the booking widgets, does the traveler have to create an account on Dtravel and owner pays 3% commission to Dtravel?

Does host have the option of creating a separate listing on Dtravel (for the Dtravel exposure), and handle their established repeat clientele directly through their own website?

  1. Has the early adoption phase to receive 3% back in Dtravel currency already passed? How long do you expect it to last?

  2. For those who do not use Stripe…for example Owner Rez users who use a CC processor that charges less than 3%… will they be able to keep this once OR is integrated with Dtravel?

Thanks!

@cyn or @jsoulo

I just had someone ask me about possible chargebacks if a host offers Stripe and other options. If the guest checks out using Stripe, would a traveler chargeback operate the same way it currently does with Stripe?

Thanks.

thanks for the info.

I love all these questions @cabinhost! Also so happy you’ve been joining our community calls!

Here are the answers to your questions.

  1. Can any PMS/channel management software build towards your API or are you selective? Many single property owners use Host Tools and I didn’t see them on the TBD list. Should I reach out to the owner and recommend he add Dtravel as a channel partner? Host Tools is very reasonably priced for those who don’t need all the bells and whistles of pricier PMS software.

Yes we have an open API and are open to anyone building to us! RentalWise was the first PMS to build to us and we hope to have many more do the same. We’d love if you could recommend Host Tools integrate with us! We’re always looking for more connectivity, especially if this is a tool that a lot of owners and operators are using.

  1. RE: a community call from 3 weeks ago. It wasn’t clear if Dtravel is working on it’s own channel management system so ind. owners (who don’t use a PMS, etc) can still list. Which brings me to my next question…

Dtravel is not building out a PMS nor does it ever intend to be a PMS. We want to continue to parter with PMSs. We’re building out the ability for anyone to use Dtravel without a PMS (i.e. adding their listings directly to Dtravel to create a direct booking site). This will be launching very shortly. As a second phase, we’re adding channel manager functionality to that so that owners and operators can sync their rates and availability to all channels easily instead of using ical which only syncs availability.

  1. When Dtravel integrates with Google Vacation Rentals, will hosts still need to have some sort of PMS/channel manager of their own in order to qualify?

No this will be part of the channel manager functionality so that’s one of the huge benefits of us adding the channel manager functionality as well!

  1. Is Google Vacation Rentals all instant book or does it depend on which PMS a host uses? For example, once OwnerRez has completed their GVR integration, will GVR work differently with them, vs being listed on GVR with Dtravel?

I’m not sure how GVR works specifically with each PMS to be honest. I suspect it’s based on the integration but they probably either strongly suggest or even require that it be instant book because otherwise it might be challenging to keep rates and availability up to date. From my understanding, most GVR integrations tend to be pretty similar but the benefit of using Dtravel is you don’t have to use a PMS going forward.

  1. Is Dtravel like BDC where all properties are instant bookable?

Dtravel is a direct booking website builder, not a channel. However, we don’t currently support request to book so if you use Dtravel to power your direct booking website, all active properties will be instant book.

  1. RE: booking widgets…if an owner with their own website already has an established repeat clientele, and currently accepts checks and Stripe (and invoices manually). IF they were to use the booking widgets, does the traveler have to create an account on Dtravel and owner pays 3% commission to Dtravel?

Yes they would need to sign up for an account and pay 3% on each booking if they want to use Dtravel to power their direct booking website and/or booking engine. We’re going to be adding distribution as well so the benefit for having a Dtravel powered direct booking website is getting more exposure through these distribution channels (like Travala, Google VR, and more to come).

Does host have the option of creating a separate listing on Dtravel (for the Dtravel exposure), and handle their established repeat clientele directly through their own website?

Yes that is absolutely possible and we recommend this as well since it’s free to set up a direct booking website with Dtravel. You can also use it for crypto payments which expands the type of customers you can potentially attract.

  1. Has the early adoption phase to receive 3% back in Dtravel currency already passed? How long do you expect it to last?

No it’s still going on. We don’t have a date but with enabling anyone to use Dtravel without a PMS, we expect a lot of people to sign up and we also have 5K people on our waitlist so we will be keeping a close eye on this.

  1. For those who do not use Stripe…for example Owner Rez users who use a CC processor that charges less than 3%… will they be able to keep this once OR is integrated with Dtravel?

We only support Stripe and crypto payments right now but we’re always looking at additional payment options and we have a features board where people can add requests like this. I’d also recommend that as you suggested, owners and operators can choose to keep their current direct booking website as well as a Dtravel powered one for the distribution benefits and to accept crypto.

For chargebacks, because we integrate with Stripe, chargebacks are handled the same whether with Dtravel or another provider. This is one of the huge benefits of accepting crypto - there is no chargebacks possible because all payment settlement is final.

2 Likes

Excellent, excellent info. Thank you @Cyn!

So, I am going to share this info this week (to give my small audience a heads up) and will likely come back later with other questions.

Btw: regarding a mention of 7.5% possibility (this was back in late 2021 I heard it first mentioned). Can I eliminate that and it is 3% moving forward?

Or was the 7.5% referring to something else? (btw… I follow the industry so it was random that I came across Dtravel and just found in my Dec 2021 notes a mention of 7.5%). I found community calls on youtube only recently so was trying to piece together most recent info so I do not misspeak. I think it is great you are sharing them on youtube btw.

I have a question about Google Pay, Apple Pay, Crypto, etc. (which is not important for the moment).

Personally, I am familiar with setting up a PayPal Business account, Square, Stripe but have never used the others (and have never paid with them). I wasn’t sure if Google Pay, Apple, Crypto are accounts I need to create (the way I submitted info to Square and Stripe so they can approve) and study their T &Cs…

Or if this is something where I click a check box during Dtravel setup and allow travelers to select their method, then Dtravel does their magic, and I just receive my payment… lol

The main issue I have been running into is we use pricelabs and I can’t find any way to sync or upload their prices to a direct booking site. Got excited about Dtravel but it doesn’t appear they’re able to, either. Anyone have a solution for this?

OwnerRez (OR) integrates with Pricelabs. I don’t use Pricelabs, but we have our own website (not from OR) and OR pushes the prices I set in OR to our site, so I believe it would work for Pricelabs.