Today Is Book Direct Day, But Does It Really Work?
The first Wednesday of February (today) is Book Direct Day. Today marks the 7th anniversary of its introduction.
It was the brainchild of Amy Hinote of VRIntel, and it’s a fabulous concept to raise direct booking awareness among the traveling public.
The trouble is, it isn’t working.
I did some keyword research into ‘Book Direct’ and the terms around it.
Here’s what I found…
The top-level term, ‘Book Direct,’ is searched for just 380 times a month in the US, 260 times a month in the UK, and 320 times in Australia.
But, you can book many things directly. The term could be used for hotels, flights, ferries, trains, and more. So those numbers don’t reflect the number of people looking to book a short-term rental. Far from it.
‘Book direct vacation rentals’ is searched for just 140 times a month in the US.
And you can guess what comes up when you search for ‘Book direct vacation rentals’.
Paid adverts from Vrbo, Hometogo, and Holidayhomes.com.
So, in the preceding 6 years, it would be safe to say that ‘Book Direct Day’ hasn’t achieved its goal.
Focus on being positive
I’m not writing this to be negative. I’ve written as much as anyone on the advantages of booking direct. I’ve posted all across social media every time it comes around. I’ve joined HiChee, a company with the best book direct messaging and goals in the short-term rental industry.
I’m writing this so that we can brainstorm together. We are a legion of smart hosts and clever property managers. What can we do, together, to increase the reach of our public-facing messaging because one day a year clearly isn’t having the impact that we desire?
Focusing on one day is wrong. It’s not going to move the needle
Here’s what I posted the day after Book Direct Day last year…
So yesterday was #bookdirect day.
But if you truly want to increase your direct bookings, you need to realize that EVERY DAY IS BOOK DIRECT DAY.
You need a strategy, and it takes work.
Look at websites that bring in direct bookings. See why they work. Copy them.
Look at sites that have a great content strategy. See what they post about. Copy them.
Look at hosts that are killing it on social. Copy them.
There are lots of examples out there. It’s doable. There’s no magic bullet, but you can do it.
Taking things to another level
Asking the Oracle
I asked ChatGPT a couple of questions to see if it could suggest strategies to help us.
- The first prompt and ChatGPT’s answers address what we can do as individuals.
- The second prompt and its answers address what we could do while working together.
Here’s the first question that I asked ChatGPT
Here are the suggestions… Many of us are already doing many of these things, but it’s a good idea to see a list of our options…
Raising awareness about direct booking as an alternative to using platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo requires a multi-faceted approach. Hosts and property managers can adopt various strategies to attract travelers, build trust, and create a seamless booking experience. Here are several strategies that can be employed worldwide:
1. Develop a Professional Website
- User-Friendly Design: Ensure your website is easy to navigate, mobile-friendly, and fast-loading. Include clear calls to action (CTAs) for bookings.
If you can’t do this yourself, find someone who can. Check out boostly.co.uk.
- SEO Optimization: Use search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to increase your website’s visibility in search results for terms related to vacation rentals in your area.
- Secure Online Booking: Implement a secure, straightforward online booking system. Highlight the benefits of direct booking, such as lower prices or personalized service.
This is critical. The OTAs have made the booking process seamless. You need to do the same.
2. Leverage Social Media
- Engage on Platforms: Utilize platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. Post beautiful photos of your property, share guest reviews, and highlight local attractions.
Especially Pinterest – It’s a search engine. Your posts are on there forever.
- Social Media Advertising: Consider paid advertising targeting your ideal guest demographic on these platforms.
- Influencer Partnerships: Collaborate with travel influencers who can showcase your property to their followers.
This can be very effective. A free weekend in low season can result in a lot of eyeballs. Make sure that you tell the influencer that your goal is to spread the word about the advantages of booking directly.
3. Offer Incentives for Direct Booking
- Exclusive Deals: Provide special rates, amenities, or services (like late check-out) for guests who book directly.
- Loyalty Programs: Create a loyalty program for repeat guests, offering discounts or perks for subsequent stays.
Both of the above are easy wins.
4. Utilize Email Marketing
- Newsletter Sign-Up: Encourage website visitors to sign up for your newsletter by offering a discount code for their first booking.
- Personalized Communication: Send tailored recommendations, seasonal discounts, and updates about your property to keep your rental top of mind.
These are both underplayed by hosts. Repeat bookings are the best bookings as they have next to zero marketing spend (in time or money).
5. Improve Your Online Presence
- Guest Reviews: Collect and showcase positive reviews from past guests. Respond professionally to any negative reviews to demonstrate your commitment to guest satisfaction.
- Virtual Tours: Offer virtual tours of your property to build trust and give potential guests a detailed view of what to expect.
Even adding floorplans will help here.
6. Network with Local Businesses
- Partnerships: Partner with local businesses to offer guests unique experiences or discounts. This can also lead to reciprocal marketing efforts.
- Local SEO: Optimize your online content for local searches, including your location and nearby attractions or events.
7. Content Marketing
- Blog Posts: Create content that showcases the advantages of direct booking, tips for travelers visiting your area, and highlights of your property.
This is hard work, but the gains in traffic are unparalleled.
- Video Content: Share videos of your property and local area on your website and social media channels.
This is the media that anyone under 40 is crazy about
8. Customer Service Excellence
- Immediate Response: Ensure prompt responses to inquiries and bookings. Consider using chatbots on your website for instant communication.
- Personalized Experience: Offer to customize guests’ stays based on their preferences, which can be gathered during the booking process.
9. Utilize Guest Feedback
- Continuous Improvement: Use guest feedback to improve your property and services.
- Word-of-Mouth: Encourage satisfied guests to refer friends and family, potentially offering a referral discount.
This is gold
10. Offer Comprehensive Information
- Travel Guides: Provide detailed travel guides and information about your area, including “insider” tips that guests might not find on mainstream travel sites.
Use a site like TouchStay to generate perfect guest books
Implementing these strategies requires effort and consistency, but by doing so, hosts and property managers can significantly boost their direct booking rates, offering a compelling alternative to booking through large platforms. This not only enhances profitability but also fosters a more personalized connection with guests.
Here’s the second question that I asked ChatGPT
To collectively raise awareness about the advantages of direct bookings, hosts and managers can collaborate through various initiatives that leverage their combined resources, networks, and influence. Here are strategies for collective action:
1. Create a Local or Regional Association
- Networking Group: Form an association of local hosts and property managers to share best practices, pool marketing resources, and collaborate on strategies to promote direct bookings.
- Certification Programs: Develop a certification or quality assurance program for members to ensure high standards, increasing trust among travelers in booking directly.
I suggest that owners and managers join I-PRAC as it helps build trust more than any other offering. A lack of trust is the biggest blocker to direct bookings.
2. Joint Marketing Campaigns
- Collective Advertising: Pool resources to fund advertising campaigns that highlight the benefits of booking directly with local hosts and property managers.
Is this something that maybe the VRMA could step up to?
- Social Media Collaborations: Create a shared social media platform or hashtag campaign to promote properties within the network, sharing the unique advantages of direct bookings.
The Book Direct Day fits into the hashtag idea here, but we need something far more structured and far more often. Maybe regional Book Direct Days could expand the concept?
3. Develop a Shared Booking Platform
- Local Booking Website: Create a centralized booking platform where travelers can book directly with a variety of local properties. This can offer an alternative to large OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) with a focus on local experiences and personal service.
This is where HiChee stands out. It’s one thing saying “Book Direct and save money”, it’s a whole new ball game where the guest can see the money that they are saving. It’s completely free to verify your property – So do so today.
- Quality Assurance: Ensure that all listings meet certain quality standards, reinforcing the value proposition of booking through this platform.
4. Organize Local Events and Open Houses
- Community Engagement: Host events that invite the community and potential travelers to learn about the benefits of direct booking. Open houses can showcase properties and offer a personal touch that large OTAs cannot.
This needs more thought and discussion.
- Travel Expos: Participate in or organize travel expos highlighting local accommodations and experiences available through direct booking.
This would need funding.
5. Leverage Local Tourism Boards
- Partnerships: Collaborate with local tourism boards to include direct booking options in their promotional materials and websites.
- Joint Promotions: Work with local businesses and attractions to create packages or promotions that can only be booked directly.
Book Direct and get a free dolphin tour (or similar incentives) (funded by higher margins made through direct bookings). These make for excellent promotions across social media.
6. Educational Workshops and Seminars
- Host Education: Offer workshops for hosts and managers on improving service quality, marketing, and the technical aspects of direct booking.
This is where attending industry events can pay dividends. See ScaleRentals, VRWS, VRMA, etc.
- Traveler Awareness: Conduct seminars or webinars highlighting the advantages of direct bookings for travelers, such as better rates, personalized experiences, and supporting local businesses.
This is a tough one to pull off
7. Cross-Promotion and Referrals
- Referral Networks: Create a system where hosts and managers refer overflow guests to each other, keeping business within the network of direct bookers.
This is a no brainer, but it takes effort and commitment.
- Cross-Promotional Deals: Collaborate with other local businesses (e.g., restaurants, tour operators) for mutual promotion, enhancing the value offered to guests who book directly.
8. Collective Bargaining
- Negotiate with OTAs: As a collective, negotiate better terms with OTAs or advocate for policies that support the direct booking ecosystem.
Ha, ChatGPT may be smart, but this is the real world.
- Supplier Discounts: Pool buying power to negotiate discounts with suppliers and service providers, lowering operational costs for members.
9. Share Data and Insights
- Market Research: Pool resources to conduct market research, sharing insights on guest preferences, booking trends, and effective marketing strategies.
- Performance Benchmarks: Share performance data among members to identify best practices and areas for improvement.
10. Public Relations Efforts
- Media Outreach: Collaborate on PR campaigns to highlight the benefits of direct bookings, sharing success stories and the positive impact on local communities.
By uniting efforts, hosts and property managers can more effectively promote the benefits of direct bookings, creating a stronger alternative to the dominant online travel agencies. This collaborative approach not only raises awareness among travelers but also strengthens the local vacation rental market, making it more sustainable and resilient against the challenges posed by large online platforms.
Conclusion and your feedback
As we hit the 5th anniversary of Book Direct Day, I think it’s fair to say that the public still doesn’t know it’s a viable (and cheaper) alternative option.
Should you still be posting about it today? Too right you should.
But you should take every step possible to drive as many direct bookings as possible. Day in, day out. Don’t give up. Many hosts and managers are moving the barometer of bookings toward more direct bookings.
Work your way through the first list of ChatGPT’s suggestions. Draw up a checklist and an action plan.
Go to HiChee.com’s host verification page and verify your listing.
If you list with Airbnb, Booking.com, or Vrbo, your property is already listed. If you cross-list, it already shows price comparisons and an estimated book direct price. Once you verify, travelers will see a button that takes them to your website. Even if you don’t have a website, potential guests can contact you via the messaging system.
It’s 100% free, and there are zero commissions.
Let’s kick some ass.
Have a second read through ChatGPT’s suggestions and my notes. Draw up an action plan checklist. Set yourself some goals
Let’s discuss how we can raise public awareness in the comments below. Which of the suggestions could work? Which of them are pipe dreams?
Alan has been working in the vacation rental sector since 2004, when he first created a listing site for his property management company. He has been helping short-term rental owners and managers to stand out in an over-saturated marketplace for over 12 years and has written thousands of articles in that time.
He has written books on vacation rental photography and was the first in the industry to create online marketing courses for hosts.
He has given keynote presentations across various subjects at The Vacation Rental World Summit, VRMA, VRMintel, Host, and The Book Direct Summit.