Multi-Channel Distribution for Vacation Rentals: Why It Works for Hosts of Any Size
Do you rely on a single channel like Airbnb or Vrbo for all your bookings?
While these booking sites can work wonders for hosts, becoming too dependent on them could put your business in jeopardy.
Adopting a multi-channel distribution strategy is more lucrative and less risky. And that’s true for hosts of any size.
If you’ve considered getting listed on multiple channels, there may still be a few things holding you back. For example, you may be worried about:
getting double bookings,
struggling with managing guest communication on multiple channels, or
figuring out your pricing for each booking site.
The good news is, there’s a simple solution to all of the above. And in this blog post, we’ll tell you exactly what it is.
Let’s explore why adopting a multi-channel strategy could be the right choice for you, and how to do it.
Want an intuitive and inexpensive channel manager for your small vacation rental business? Try Host Tools for free for a whole month!
What is multi-channel distribution for vacation rentals?
Multi-channel distribution means listing your property on more than one booking platform to expand your reach and diversify your sources of bookings. For example, a multi-channel strategy could involve advertising your rental on Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, Tripadvisor, and your own website.
You can do this regardless of how many properties you manage. Multi-channel distribution isn’t just for large property management companies: vacation rental hosts with only one or a handful of listings can benefit from it, too.
Why you should list on multiple channels even if you only have one listing
There are several reasons to consider a multi-channel distribution strategy for vacation rentals.
Here are the main benefits of a multi-channel approach:
1. Get more exposure
Firstly, listing your properties on multiple channels allows you to expand your reach and get more eyes on your listings.
The more booking sites you advertise on, the more exposure your listings will get, and the more likely that someone will book them.
Websites like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com attract millions of travelers looking to book accommodation every month. Just imagine how many people will have the chance to see your properties if you get listed on all of them!
If your listings are optimized – they have the right number and quality of photos, a comprehensive list of your amenities, a good description, etc – more views will translate into more conversions.
As a result, adopting a multi-channel distribution strategy for vacation rentals helps you increase your bookings, occupancy, and revenue.
2. Target different niches
Secondly, going multi-channel not only helps you reach a wider audience, but it also allows you to target specific audiences.
Each booking site reaches a different type of traveler based on their demographic. For example, while Airbnb is mostly for young, budget-conscious guests (albeit this is changing), Vrbo targets families, guests traveling in groups, and more affluent travelers.
You can also list on booking sites that target specific niches. For example, HouseStay targets business travelers and BringFido targets dog-owners looking to book pet-friendly vacation rentals. While these websites may not get as much traffic as online travel agencies like Airbnb or Booking.com do, they allow you to make your listings visible to travelers who may not use traditional booking sites.
When advertising on multiple websites, it’s important to tailor your listings – especially your title, description, and photos – to the particular needs of the site’s audience. For example, while your Airbnb listing may focus on your rental’s proximity to downtown bars for young people, your Vrbo listing may highlight characteristics of your rental that families find attractive, such as a yard or some kid-friendly amenities.
3. Diversify your sources of bookings
And thirdly, advertising on multiple channels allows you to become less dependent on a single channel. Instead of relying on a site like Airbnb for all your bookings, you can build a strategy that encompasses a variety of booking channels.
This is the most important aspect of multi-channel distribution for vacation rentals. Why? Because putting all your eggs in one basket is risky.
Let’s say you decide to list your rental only on Airbnb. What if Airbnb suddenly decides to raise its Airbnb host fees? If you’re not quick to react, a drastic change in commissions could have a detrimental effect on your business’s bottom line. Or what if Airbnb changes its algorithm? It could cause your listings to slide down in search results and you could lose out on a lot of bookings.
Similarly, if you list your property on only one channel, your business’s success will hinge on the success of another business. Who’s to say that your chosen booking site won’t lose a large chunk of its customers to a competitor, or maybe even go out of business?
Having multiple sources of bookings gives you more control and helps you build a more sustainable business as you add new properties to your portfolio.
How to adopt a multi-channel distribution strategy for vacation rentals
Now, you may be thinking: all this sounds good, but isn’t it too time-consuming and expensive to list on multiple channels? Can hosts with one or two properties do it, too?
The answer is yes! There’s nothing to stop vacation rental hosts who are new to the industry to start off strong and list their property on multiple channels from the get-go.
Below, we’ll walk you through exactly how to adopt a multi-channel distribution strategy, and what vacation rental host tools you can use to make your life easier.
1. Pick the right channels for your business
Start by picking the channels that work best for your business. While this may be difficult to tell in advance, you can do some research to gauge how well your listings would perform on a specific platform.
Here’s what you can do:
Pick a booking site that you’d like to get listed on.
Run a search for rentals in your area with similar specs to your property. You can use the search filters to fine-tune for number of beds, amenities, etc.
Go through the top listings and analyze the strategies that your would-be competitors are using. What’s the median price per night? How are they presenting their listings? What aspects of their rentals are they highlighting in their titles, descriptions, and photos?
Once you have all this information, you’ll be able to tell how other hosts are making that particular channel work for their business, and how you can do it too. If your search didn’t turn up any rentals similar to your own or you only found a couple, chances are, that booking site is not for you.
2. Optimize your listings for each channel
The next step is to optimize your listings for each channel. Like we’ve mentioned before, you may be treating different demographics or types of travelers on different booking platforms. If you want a high conversion rate, it’s essential to create listings that speak to them.
You should also know that different booking channels can have different content requirements. For example, Vrbo requires you to upload high-resolution photos that are at least 1024 x 683 pixels. On the other hand, Booking.com’s minimum recommended size is 1280 x 900 pixels.
3. Build your own vacation rental website
This is a step that you can skip and come back to later, but we recommend that you get to it as soon as possible.
Once you’ve chosen a good mix of channels to get listed on, your multi-channel distribution strategy will still be missing an important pillar: your own vacation rental website.
We’ve talked about the importance of becoming less dependent on a single booking channel. Now, it’s equally important to have a source of bookings that doesn’t depend on any booking sites at all.
Building your own vacation rental website lets you attract commission-free direct bookings, which should be an integral part of every host’s marketing strategy.
Direct bookings mean total control over your business and more money in your pockets. If you’re serious about growing your vacation rental business, direct bookings are the way to go.
Luckily, there are lots of great website-building applications out there that you can use to build your own direct booking website using templates - no coding experience or technical skills needed. For example, check out PromoteMyPlace or Vevs.
4. Get a channel manager to avoid double bookings
Read this part carefully because this is the step that’ll make or break your multi-channel distribution strategy.
You can’t list your property on multiple channels without the right vacation rental software.
If you want to expand your presence to several different channels, you need to have a central calendar that unifies all your bookings, regardless of their source. Your calendars must be in sync and each one of them must be updated every time you get a booking or block out a date.
Otherwise, when a guest books your rental for a specific date on Airbnb, that date will still appear unbooked on other channels like Vrbo and Booking.com. So what happens when another guest books the same date on a different channel? You get a double booking.
Double bookings are expensive and difficult to deal with. Depending on the channel where you have to cancel the booking, you may have to pay a cancellation fee, and your listing may drop in rankings. That’s why you need to prevent double bookings from happening in the first place.
The tool that will allow you to do this is called an Airbnb channel manager. Channel managers allow you to connect your channel accounts and manage all your listings from one place. They unify your channel calendars and let you keep them in sync at all times, so your availability is always accurate.
Think of the channel manager as your parent calendar that the calendars of all your listings on different channels connect to and sync up with. Any changes made to the parent calendar will instantly update all your other calendars.
It doesn’t take deep technical knowledge to set this up. There are budget-friendly and easy-to-use software solutions to help you get the job done. What’s more, doing this manually is way more complicated than letting a channel manager take over.
Multi-channel distribution with Host Tools
For example, Host Tools is an intuitive, easy-to-use channel manager with no steep learning curve. It allows hosts with one to a handful of properties to build a multi-channel distribution strategy and diversify their sources of bookings.
Host Tools has direct API connections with Airbnb and Vrbo. This means that you can add your Airbnb and Vrbo accounts to the Host Tools platform and connect them so that your calendars remain up-to-date and in sync, protecting you from double bookings.
If you also have a direct booking website or advertise on more channels, you can add your other calendars to Host Tools via iCal. This is a standard calendar format that can be exported from any booking channel and imported to Host Tools.
To help you stay on top of your bookings, Host Tools also has a handy multi-calendar that shows all your reservations, regardless of which channel they were made on.
Besides being a channel manager, Host Tools has a full set of tools to help vacation rental hosts become more efficient. For example, it lets you send Airbnb automated messages, adjust your pricing with a smart pricing tool, and automate your Airbnb keyless entry.
Managing your guest communication across all your channels and finding the optimal pricing has never been so easy!
Try Host Tools now to see it in action. It’s free for an entire month!