How To Build a Direct Booking Site: The Best Vacation Rental Website Builders and Tools

May 04 2023
How To Build a Direct Booking Site: The Best Vacation Rental Website Builders and Tools

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What’s in this article?

“With a direct booking site, you don’t need OTAs. You can do everything Airbnb can do yourself, and make more money with every booking.”

So says Liam Carolan, Boostly Coach, Hostfully user, and manager of 21 vacation rental properties. And it’s true–a good vacation rental website allows you to build a brand that attracts repeat customers and increases your marketing opportunities.

But setting one up can be difficult. Websites that are custom-built by agencies are often expensive, platforms with pre-built web designs can be limited in functionality, and finding the time to even look through the extensive options is a challenge.

That’s why we’ve provided you with a list of the best vacation rental website builders—exploring, to cover both common definitions of the term, agencies that build sites, and platforms you can create sites with.

We’ve used an extensive list of criteria (including budget, time, branding, and PMS integrations) to provide these recommendations.

We also include pro tips from short-term rental expert, Liam Carolan of Boostly, and Eli Pritykin, founder of Hudson Creative Studio. Keep an eye out, too, for our free out-of-the-box solution you can use to get a direct booking site up in minutes.

Get more direct bookings

Why build your own vacation rental website?

A great vacation rental site helps you build a trusted brand, which means more repeat guests and better occupancy rates. And, by cutting out the middleman, you and your guests can save money by avoiding OTA booking fees which are usually between 15% and 30% per booking.

When we spoke to Liam of Boostly, he pointed out that “Done right, a vacation rental website says ‘we’re always on hand and you can message us anytime.’ That increases trust in your company. And when people see you’re better-priced than Airbnb, that’s the magic formula for them to book direct and for you to grow a base of returning customers.”

But the revenue opportunities don’t stop there. Because direct booking websites give you access to more guest data than OTAs, they also make marketing easier. For example, with guests’ consent, you can send them emails that upsell add-ons like early check-in and mid-stay cleaning.

By reclaiming control of your booking stream, you also avoid issues surrounding disputes on OTAs. As Eli of Hudson Create Studio describes, “People are finding their properties are being delisted because of a single complaint. Businesses are being put in jeopardy because OTAs tend to side with the guest.” With your own site, you can create your own rules on bookings and cancellations and handle any issues yourself.

Pro-tip:

Use our

 

ROI calculator to work out how much money you could save with a direct booking site. This tool allows you to calculate how much OTA fees are costing you and to create a direct booking action plan to reduce this figure.

4 types of direct booking website solutions

When you’re looking to build a direct booking site, you need to figure out how to manage costs while implementing the features you need.

It’s important to note that while you can build your own site relatively affordably using content management sites, it will be fairly limited unless you have time to learn how to customize it and integrate third-party tools. And the impact this has on your user experience can cost you further down the line when potential guests click away.

In this section, we explore the content management sites you can use to build your own website. We also look at how professional web builders use platforms like these to create sites with more advanced functionality.

Finally, we explore a free out-of-the-box solution you can use to start getting direct bookings right away.

1. Content management sites

To create a professional, user experience-optimized site yourself, you need to follow these steps:

  • Buy a domain name

  • Choose a management site to host the content

  • Integrate the domain with the management system

  • Use a vacation rental-specific theme or create your own site with a drag-and-drop builder

  • Integrate it with payment software and a booking calendar to accept bookings

If you don’t have the time to learn the ins and outs of a website-building platform, it’s best to get the support of a development team or to use an out-of-the-box solution. We explore those in the next section. For now, here are the content management sites you can use to build a site yourself.

Wix

Wix is an affordable, cloud-based website builder that’s a good option for complete beginners. Its drag-and-drop interface allows you to easily add text and images. The software also integrates with third-party apps such as PayPal so you can incorporate a way for your guests to pay when they book.

Squarespace

Squarespace is another user-friendly choice that comes with great branding options. It’s easy to create a unified style across a large amount of content with the software’s dedicated real estate and property website templates.

ClickFunnels

If you’re looking to create sales funnels for your properties through social media and email, ClickFunnels is a good option. You can customize web templates with the drag-and-drop builder, then easily A/B test your funnels to see which converts the most guests to book properties.

WordPress

WordPress is the most customizable of the content management platforms on our list. This means you can build your site to look however you like while retaining great user experience on mobile. With a little technical know-how, you can also include a wide range of plug-ins, including SEO and live chat.

2. Custom web builders

As Eli points out, “Setting your company apart from the competition is a challenge and it requires a lot more time than you initially might think. Through something as small as the layout, guests can sense if something was built poorly and they may lose trust in the brand.”

By hiring a team of custom web builders, you get a great, branded site that’s easy for your guests to use and for you to operate. Companies such as Boostly and Hudson Creative Studio handle all the website design, integrations, and site maintenance.

Screenshot of Suite Spot vacation rental website
Hudson Creative Studio captured the luxury feel of Suite Spot vacations through their dynamic site.
Source

Web builders also optimize the site for efficiency. This is crucial because, as Liam says, “the shorter the journey between the time someone lands on your site to the time they pay the deposit, the more sales you’re going to get. Guests need to click on your search bar, choose the dates they want, and book and pay in three steps or they might start to look elsewhere.”

By integrating with a PMS solution like Hostfully, custom web builders can also:

  • Allow you to see all bookings from all channels in one place

  • Update property details across channels automatically

  • Centralize guest communications

3. Out-of-the-box solution

If you’re not ready to build an entire vacation rental site, you can use an out-of-the-box solution like Hostfully. As Liam points out, this can “give you exactly what you need to get started. People who already trust your business, such as those who have stayed with you before, will definitely book through you.”

Hostfully offers a free direct booking site that seamlessly integrates with the property management system. This allows you to:

  • Take and view bookings from every channel in one place

  • Use easy templates to create a mobile-optimized design

  • Boost your search engine ranking with optimally structured pages

  • Streamline the booking process through integrations with payment software

  • Optimize revenue through integration with dynamic pricing tools

  • Access enhanced data analytics, such as leads for future bookings based on those who interact with your site

Screenshot of Northern Host Rentals website
Northern Host Rentals are able to easily streamline their guests’ booking process with our out-of-the-box site.
Source

4. Widgets and plugins

An easy way to get direct bookings is to use a widget or plug-in. Widgets can be input into your site for users to interact with, while plug-ins add new functionality from the back end.

You can use Hostfully’s WordPress plug-in to allow guests to book directly on your site. Alternatively, incorporate the Hostfully search widget into any HTML-compatible platform. Both of these solutions allow you to:

  • Display the latest rates for your rooms

  • Block dates that show as booked in your PMS so you can avoid double bookings

  • Take inquiries

  • Trigger the full booking flow including the approval of rental agreements

Screenshot highlighting Hostfully’s booking widget
Hostfully’s booking widget integrates seamlessly with your existing site.

Best vacation rental website builders

Here are our recommendations for the vacation rental website builders that allow you to create a strong visual identity for your brand and give you all the integrations you need.

Boostly

Boostly is a dedicated vacation rental website founded by Property Manager-turned-Hospitality Coach, Mark Simpson. One customer described their Boostly direct booking site as “the best value for money,” saying, “after spending £19,000 in Booking.com fees in a year, I’m already saving.”

Boostly’s standout features include:

  • API integration.

    By syncing with Hostfully, Boostly can pull through property details and images onto your site so you don’t have to manually update them.

  • Integrated booking engine with the same URL.

    Guests can book in three clicks, all while staying on your domain.

  • A property map.

    Providing what Liam describes as “the Airbnb experience,” Boostly displays a map where users can search a particular area for properties.

  • Tax information.

    Hostfully can feed through tax costs to Boostly which displays this automatically to customers.

  • Review plug-in.

    Boostly sites automatically show your best reviews from across OTAs.

Screenshot of Ginger & Gold vacation rental site
Liam created this beautiful site in partnership with Boostly and Hostfully.
Source

Hudson Creative Studio

Hudson Creative Studio (HCS) is a branding-focused vacation rental website builder. One customer, Chandler Spence says that “the new site is very slick and very inviting, but it’s also very effective in guiding the guest to book directly. HCS took some of the different pieces of our tech stack and incorporated them into the website to create a streamlined feel.”

Features include:

  • Tagging.

    Through tags, HCS can mark properties as unavailable during the off-season and create collections for property categories, such as “family-friendly properties.”

  • Multi-language.

    Through its integration with Hostfully, HCS automatically updates property descriptions to display in several languages.

  • Dynamic content.

    HCS can seamlessly integrate YouTube videos that show property walk-throughs.

  • Review plug-in.

    HCS automatically pulls through your best reviews from across OTAs.

  • API integration. By syncing with Hostfully, HCS can pull through property details, guests can search by amenities, and digital guidebook content can be used to create local recommendation pages.
Screenshot of Recreation Vacation Rentals
Using recommendations from the digital guidebooks you create inside Hostfully, HCS creates location-based website pages.
Source

InterCoastal Net Designs

InterCoastal Net Designs (ICND) is a dedicated vacation rental web development and digital marketing team working in the industry since 1999. One customer said they “take a custom approach to updating design, with a quick, responsive support team throughout the process.”

Their standout features include:

  • Quick search interface.

    ICND encourages bookings with a frictionless user journey from search through to booking.

  • Email and SMS marketing.

    With ICND, you can automatically email people that view your properties with a reminder to book.

  • Price alerts.

    ICND allows you to notify your prospective guests of any price changes automatically.

  • Stay extensions.

    With ICND, you can automatically upsell the opportunity for your guests to extend their stay.

  • Template options.

    For brands with a lower budget, ICND offers customizable template web designs.

Lodgify

Lodgify provides a way for you to build your own branded booking site. Users describe Lodgify websites as “taking just minutes to build with the help of the support team through every step.”

Features include:

 

  • Custom domains.

    Even though your site is created through Lodgify, it will still show to guests as being on your own branded URL.

  • Channel integration.

    With Lodgify, you can automatically sync property information on your site with OTAs like Airbnb and Vrbo.

  • SEO-friendly templates.

    Lodgify allows you to start building an SEO strategy with its on-page tools.

  • Multi-language.

    You can create your Lodgify site with templates that include over 30 languages.

  • Reviews.

    Inside Lodgify, it’s easy to request and display reviews from past guests.

Screenshot of Lodgify’s site templates
Lodgify provides a range of site templates so you can get your content up in minutes.
Source

What to consider when choosing a vacation rental site builder

To get the most out of your new vacation rental website, there are four factors you need to be aware of.

Let’s take a look…

Budget

The cost of a custom-built website can vary hugely as it depends on the design requirements, features, and level of customization needed. But, for a custom site, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $10,000 plus maintenance fees.

For this reason, if you’re just starting out as a vacation rental manager, it’s best to stick to a free out-of-the-box solution like Hostfully’s.

Time available

If you’re in the early stages of growing your portfolio, and don’t have time to learn about how to integrate plug-ins, it’s best to choose an out-of-the-box site.

Hostfully’s, for example, comes with all the features and integrations you need to take bookings.

If, on the other hand, you’ve established your business and you’re looking to further cement your brand or build out an SEO strategy, a custom website is the best option. This is because it offers increased customizability and SEO potential.

Integration with PMS

You need to make sure your new vacation rental site can sync with your property management system.

As Liam says, “Your direct booking website is just another channel. And you need something to pull information from all of your channels into one place to make life easier for your team.”

Branding support

Building a new vacation rental site is the perfect time to consider how to position your brand. And if you’d like extra support with this, you can opt for a web builder that also offers support with brand identity creation, such as Hudson Creative Studio.

Investing in branding is a particularly good idea if you’re trying to market very different styles of property alongside each other as web designers can offer creative solutions. Through integration with Hostfully, for example, HCS creates category pages within your site that display distinct types of properties.

Making online bookings easy

When you’re deciding how to create your vacation rental website, you need to weigh up your budget, the time you have available, and how the site will integrate with your existing tech stack.

More developed vacation rental management companies are usually best off opting for a custom-built site that offers enhanced SEO. However, it’s also crucial this site integrates with your PMS to centralize bookings across channels, so look out for this.

Alternatively, if you’re a growing operation and just keen to get direct bookings up and running, an out-of-the-box solution is ideal. Not only is it cost-effective, but it allows you to avoid spending hours building out your site or learning how to integrate other software.

With Hostfully, you can create a direct booking site in minutes, and then move to having a more advanced site with one of our partners as you scale.

Get more direct bookings