In the beating heart of the booming short-term rental industry, smaller hosts often find themselves in the shadows of larger operations. Yet, it’s these very hosts that form the backbone of this dynamic market. The truth is, whether you manage one listing or several, professionalizing your operations is non-negotiable for success.
This was the central theme of our recent complimentary online conference. Titled “Small Hosts Unite: Dominating Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo in 2024,” we meticulously dissected the challenges that smaller hosts encounter and convened some of the most innovative thinkers in the industry to unravel strategies for small hosts to make a big impact on major booking platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo.
In a crowded marketplace, mastering these three platforms is not just an option—it’s the key to consistently attracting bookings and standing out from the competition. Here, we distill the key takeaways to empower small hosts to dominate in the year ahead.
Meet our incredible panel of speakers:
▪️ Mark Simpson, Founder, Boostly
▪️ Pierre-Camille Hamana, CEO & Founder, Hospitable.com
▪️ S. Philip Kennard, Founder, Futurestay
▪️Thibault Masson, Founder of Rental Scale-Up and Head of Product Marketing, PriceLabs
Do Hosts Need to List on More Than One Platform?
The short-term rental market is a dynamic ecosystem with multiple platforms vying for the attention of hosts. While some hosts prefer to stick with a single platform like Airbnb, others see the value in diversifying their listings across multiple channels. But why should a host consider being on more than one platform? What advantages do multiple platforms offer over focusing just on one?
Single Listing Hosts: The Case for Airbnb
For hosts with just one listing, it might be tempting to concentrate solely on Airbnb. Known for its user-friendly interface and massive customer base, Airbnb offers hosts a chance to maximize profits and maintain flexibility, even without using a Property Management System (PMS).
However, as appealing as this approach might seem, it comes with its own set of risks. Dependence on a single platform can make your business vulnerable to changes in Airbnb’s policies or algorithms. In addition, competition on Airbnb is fierce, with millions of listings worldwide.
Strategic Channel Addition: Timing is Everything
Adding an additional channel at the right time can open up new revenue streams. For instance, Vrbo tends to attract families and larger groups who are willing to pay more for accommodations. Booking.com, on the other hand, boasts a large international audience and doesn’t charge guests service fees, which could result in more bookings.
The key is to identify when and under what conditions it makes sense to expand your reach. It could be when your occupancy rates plateau, during off-peak seasons, or when you add more properties to your portfolio.
Learning Curve for New Platforms
While expanding to new platforms can be beneficial, it’s worth noting that each platform has its own unique features and requirements. It takes time and effort to understand how to optimize your listings, navigate the booking process, and manage guest communications on a new platform.
However, the effort can pay off in the long run. Multiple platforms can help you reach a broader audience, reduce dependence on a single channel, and potentially increase your overall bookings and revenue.
The Myth of Complexity
The idea that “more platforms equal more complexity” is not necessarily true. With the right tools and strategies, managing multiple platforms can be just as straightforward as managing one. In fact, if you’re relying on short-term rentals as a significant income source, it’s likely you’ll eventually need to distribute outside of Airbnb.
If short-term rentals are a significant income source for you, limiting yourself to a single platform might mean leaving money on the table. Embracing multiple platforms offers not only a broader reach but also a hedge against unfortunate events.
Understanding Platform Culture: Airbnb vs. Booking.com vs. Vrbo
Each booking platform has its unique set of rules, algorithms, and user demographics. Understanding these specifics can help hosts optimize their listings for maximum visibility and bookings. Here’s a closer look at the different cultures of Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com.
Airbnb: Catering to the Guest-Centric Approach
Airbnb emphasizes a guest-centric approach in its execution and product offering. It encourages hosts to provide not just a place to stay, but an experience that allows guests to feel like locals.
The platform notably attracts a younger demographic compared to other platforms. This means hosts might need to cater to a clientele that values unique, Instagram-worthy accommodations and local experiences.
Vrbo: Specializing in Entire Home Rentals
Vrbo, historically coming from HomeAway, grew by acquiring websites and consolidating vacation rentals. The platform is recognized for specializing in entire home rentals and is among the best channels for this type of listing.
Vrbo tends to attract an older, more brand-loyal demographic. These guests may value privacy, comfort, and family-friendly features over unique experiences.
Booking.com: Catering to a European Audience and Experienced Hosts
Booking.com, initially a hotel booking site, has successfully branched out into the vacation rental market. The platform appeals to a broad audience, but it’s particularly popular with European travelers.
Booking.com is known for being more “Enterprise” friendly, making it a good fit for experienced hosts and property managers.
Fresh content is the lifeblood of successful listings. Regularly updating your content not only keeps your property relevant but also signals to the platform that your listing is active and engaged. This can positively impact your ranking and visibility, ensuring your property stays in front of potential guests.
Hosting Tips That Are Truly Universal
While each booking platform has its unique culture and algorithm, there are certain strategies that hosts can apply universally to optimize their listings and operations. Here are some tips that are truly universal:
Seeding Reviews with a Property Management System (PMS)
Reviews play a crucial role in attracting bookings across all platforms. Utilizing a PMS can help seed your Vrbo, Booking, and Google listings with reviews, thereby enhancing your credibility and appeal.
Tailored Optimization Strategies
Optimization is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Strategies should be tailored to each host’s specific needs and goals. For instance, if you’re content with your current setup and aim to increase your Average Daily Rate (ADR), your optimization strategy would differ from someone looking to expand their number of properties.
Selective Manual Updates
While it’s important to keep your listings up-to-date, you may choose to manually update your primary channel only. This approach can save time and avoid the need for frequent adjustments across multiple platforms.
The Power of Instant Booking
Instant booking provides a seamless experience for guests and can boost your visibility on platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com. It’s preferable to request-to-book systems, which can deter potential guests due to the additional wait time.
Real-Time Calendar Integration
To avoid double bookings and ensure availability accuracy, real-time calendar integration is essential. This feature is typically offered by most PMSs and can streamline your operations significantly.
Unified Inbox for Communication
A unified inbox can simplify communication management across different platforms. Most messages from guests tend to be similar, regardless of the platform they book through.
Managing Different Pricing Strategies
Understanding and effectively managing different pricing structures and mark-ups is crucial. Some platforms allow hosts to set their own prices, while others suggest prices based on market trends and demand.
Simplify Listing Descriptions
Guests appreciate straightforward, concise listing descriptions. Highlight what guests will love about your property and be upfront about any potential drawbacks.
Unique Listing Names for SEO
Adopt unique listing names that are easily identifiable across channels. This strategy can enhance your visibility in search results and potentially drive traffic to your direct booking website.
Active Channel Management
Setting up your listings and then forgetting them is not an effective strategy. Actively managing your listings, understanding the platform’s features, and staying updated with changes can significantly improve your performance.
Optimizing for Direct Bookings
Optimize your listings to direct potential guests to your own booking website. This strategy, known as the ‘Billboard Effect’, can increase your direct bookings and reduce your reliance on third-party platforms.
Encourage friends or family to share your listing on social media. This can increase your visibility and potentially attract more bookings.
Regularly Update Content
Regularly updating your listing photos, descriptions, and availability can help maintain your listing’s freshness and appeal. This can improve your ranking in search results and attract more bookings.
Platform-Specific Tactics Small Hosts Can Use
While universal strategies can help optimize listings across all platforms, it’s equally important to understand and leverage the unique features of each platform. Here are some platform-specific tactics that small hosts can use to enhance their performance:
Airbnb: Harnessing the Power of Reviews and Photos
Airbnb’s algorithm values high-quality photos and positive reviews. To improve your listing’s visibility, focus on capturing eye-catching photos and encouraging guests to leave reviews. Experiment with different elements of your listing to see what works best.
Airbnb offers a range of host tools that can help track earnings and manage bookings efficiently. Prioritize quick responses and positive guest feedback to enhance your listing’s appeal.
Consider disabling Airbnb’s Smart Pricing feature, which many hosts criticize for not being variable enough. Instead, set your own prices based on market trends and demand.
Adding amenities like WiFi speed and smart locks can improve the guest experience and make your listing more appealing.
Booking.com: Leveraging Promotional Opportunities
Booking.com’s Genius program can increase your visibility and attract more bookings. The platform also offers various promotional opportunities and discount tools that you can leverage to attract more guests.
Consider offering geo-targeted discounts to international guests interested in your area. This can elevate your listing in search results for specific regions.
Whenever possible, allow Booking.com to process payments on your behalf. This can streamline your operations and improve the guest experience.
Vrbo: Capitalizing on the Flywheel Effect
Success on Vrbo is heavily influenced by your performance in the first 30 days. Consider lowering your prices initially to attract more bookings and get the ball rolling.
Vrbo users are generally less sensitive to price changes, so you can consider setting your prices higher than on Airbnb.
Sharing your listing on social media platforms can drive views and bookings. Vrbo also has a loyal customer base, which you can leverage to build a steady stream of bookings.
Be aware that certain universal strategies may not work with channel managers, particularly in the context of Vrbo processing payments. Adding amenities that appeal to potential guests can also improve your listing.
As we navigate the intricacies of platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com, and Vrbo, it becomes evident that success lies in the details. It’s about understanding the unique cultures of each platform, implementing both universal hosting strategies and platform-specific tactics, and continuously adapting to changes in the market.
Optimization, agility, and a commitment to delivering exceptional guest experiences are key to standing out in a crowded marketplace. Whether it’s leveraging Airbnb’s host tools, utilizing Booking.com’s promotional opportunities, or capitalizing on Vrbo’s loyal customer base, small hosts have numerous resources at their disposal to elevate their listings and attract more bookings.
However, it’s crucial to be mindful of the challenges that lie ahead. The short-term rental market has seen increased regulation, a saturation that has led to a correction, and an underperformance compared to the COVID times. Despite these obstacles, data shows the vacation rental industry remains stronger than expected, presenting opportunities for those willing to adapt and innovate.