Online Travel Agencies (OTAs): Choosing the Best Ones for You

Jul 21 2023

Get tips on how to use Hostfully to optimize your vacation rental business and make more profit.

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What’s in this article?

If you’re a vacation rental owner or property manager, it’s likely you’re always on the lookout for ways to increase your bookings and revenue. Thanks to the growing popularity of online travel agencies (OTAs), you can easily expose your rental property to millions of potential guests around the world. But with so many OTAs to choose from, how do you know which ones are the best fit for your vacation rental business?

Understanding online travel agencies

Before we jump into the specifics of choosing the right OTAs, it’s important to understand what online travel agencies are. An OTA is a third-party platform that allows vacation rental owners and management companies to list their properties and rent them out to travelers. These platforms have become increasingly popular in recent years, as they offer a convenient way for travelers to find and book vacation rentals.

How reservations get transferred to you

After a customer books a vacation rental through an OTA, the reservation details are sent to the owner. If you use a property management system (PMS) like Hostfully, the reservation details are integrated and placed in your central calendar.

Image of the Hostfully central calendar on a tablet
Hostfully’s central calendar gives you a clear overview of your booking calendar, color-coding reservations by which channel they came through. Source

However, if you don’t use a PMS, then reservation information will be sent to your email of choice or the app on your smartphone.

Who manages taxes, fees, and payouts

When you list your vacation rental on an OTA, you may be responsible for managing taxes and fees for each booking. Full-service OTAs usually collect taxes and fees on your behalf, however, it’s important you perform your due diligence. Note that if you’re using a listing site, you’ll need to manage these costs on your own.

As for payouts, many OTAs offer a secure, online payment system to the guest through which it collects credit card info and rental fees. If the platform charges a commission fee for the booking, that’ll be removed from the payout.

For each reservation and with all OTAs, you’ll receive a breakdown of what was collected, what was retained by the OTA, and how much you will receive. It’s important to keep accurate records of all transactions and expenses related to your vacation rental business, as you’ll need this information come tax time. Note that in some cases, commissions collected by the OTAs have tax deduction benefits.

Features and benefits of top online travel agencies

There are many online travel agencies for vacation rental managers to choose from, each with their own unique set of features and benefits. Ultimately, the OTA you choose will depend on your specific business goals. Consider factors like commission fees, customer service, dynamic pricing and instant booking features, and the types of travelers each platform attracts when making your decision. Let’s take a look at three of the top OTAs and their features:

Airbnb

Airbnb is one of the most popular booking platforms for vacation rentals, with millions of listings worldwide. The platform offers a user-friendly interface, instant bookings, and a secure payment system. Airbnb also has a strong social component, allowing guests to connect and interact with hosts before and during their stay. From treehouses to castles, guests can find a wide range of unique and memorable places to stay. Additionally, Airbnb allows both private and shared property listings (for example, a spare bedroom), and offers guest experiences, allowing guests to book activities and tours led by locals.

Booking.com

Booking.com is another popular OTA with a wide range of short-term rental and transportation options including hotels, standalone properties, flights, and car reservations easily bundled together which may make the booking process appealing to guests. Booking.com also offers a loyalty program, which rewards frequent travelers with discounts and perks.

Vrbo

Vrbo is another popular platform but unlike Airbnb, it only offers private short-term rental listings so any guests seeking a shared occupancy will focus their search on Airbnb. Vrbo is known for overall more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb and its “Book with Confidence Guarantee” provides extra protection for guests in case of double bookings or last-minute cancellations by the owner.

Ultimately, the best OTA(s) for you will depend on your individual needs and short-term rental business goals. Consider factors like commission fees, customer service, and the types of travelers each platform attracts when making your decision.

Listing your vacation rentals on multiple online travel agencies

You can list your properties on more than one OTA may significantly increase your bookings and revenue. But with multiple listings, there is always the risk of double bookings. Here are some ways to avoid this:

Technology tools to mitigate double bookings

One way to avoid double bookings is to sync your calendars across multiple OTAs. There are several technology tools available to provide synced functionality. These range from iCal sync to vacation rental property management software (PMS) like Hostfully.

One benefit of a reliable PMS like Hostfully is that it will automatically sync your calendar. If you don’t use a PMS, it’s critical to keep your availability up-to-date and cross-check your listings across platforms to avoid double bookings.

Managing and aggregating reviews

Another important consideration when listing your vacation rental on multiple OTAs is managing your reviews. Many OTAs prioritize properties with positive reviews and associated responses by the hosts. So it’s important to be responsive and encourage guests to leave reviews on the platforms where you’re listed. If you find it challenging to do this across multiple OTAs, you may want to explore a PMS which will automate this task for you.

Hostfully's automated reviews
A PMS like Hostfully can centralize communications so messages and reviews are all in one place, even across different OTAs. Source

How pricing is synced across OTAs

When listing your vacation rental on multiple OTAs, it’s important to make sure that your pricing is consistent across all platforms. This can be easily achieved by using vacation rental software that will push uniform pricing across the listing sites and OTAs.

Note that most top-performing PMSs also give you the option to add a % based on the channel. This can help ensure you’re getting consistent revenue across all the OTAs who charge different commissions. It can also give you the flexibility to add a surcharge if you know guests coming from one type of OTA are problematic or require additional servicing costs.

Factors to consider when selecting an online travel agency

Planning a vacation can be an exciting experience, but it can also be overwhelming. With so many online travel agencies (OTAs) to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which one is the best fit for your needs. Here are just a few:

Cancellation policies

Before choosing an OTA, make sure to understand its cancellation policy options. Some platforms may offer more flexibility than others, which can be particularly important during uncertain times like a pandemic.

Target guest audience

While some platforms may cater more towards families, others may be better suited for business travelers so be sure to list your property on platforms that align with your target audience.

Commission rates

Additionally, some OTAs may have a higher commission rate than others. It’s important to weigh the benefits of listing on a particular platform against the cost of the commission. If an OTA has a higher commission rate but also has a larger audience of your target guests, it may be worth the investment.

Reputation and customer service

When selecting an OTA, it’s important to consider their reputation and customer service. For example, if you’re considering using Airbnb, look at the reviews from other Airbnb hosts and guests to get a sense of the platform’s reliability and responsiveness. A good track record of resolving issues quickly and efficiently goes a long way.

Also, consider the level of support the OTA provides to its property owners. Do they offer resources and guidance for optimizing your listing? Do they have a customer service team available to assist with any issues or questions you may have? Choosing an OTA that provides excellent customer service can make a big difference in your overall experience as a short-term property manager.

Take advantage of OTA’s marketing and advertising tools

Finally, consider the marketing and advertising tools that the OTA provides. Some platforms may offer additional marketing opportunities, such as sponsored listings, targeted audiences, or featured properties, or partnerships with other companies that can help increase the visibility of your rental property.

By taking advantage of these tools, you can increase the likelihood of your vacation rental being seen by potential guests and ultimately booked.

Optimize your vacation rental listing for maximum visibility and bookings

Once you’ve selected the right platform for your rental, it’s important to optimize your property listing to maximize visibility and bookings. Here are some tips:

  • Invest in high-quality photos and videos: High-quality photos and videos can make a big difference in how your vacation rental appears to potential guests.
  • Write a compelling property description: Your property description should be clear, concise, and highlight the unique features of your vacation rental.
  • Regularly update your calendar: Make sure your calendar is up-to-date to avoid double bookings and ensure that potential guests can see your availability.

Conclusion

Overall, selecting the right OTA for your vacation rental requires careful consideration of several factors. By understanding the cancellation policies, targeting your audience, considering the OTA’s reputation and customer service, and taking advantage of marketing tools, you can make an informed decision that will help you maximize your bookings and revenue and let you scale for your long-term business goals.

FAQs

How does the booking process work on online rental sites?
Guests can search for properties based on their desired location, dates, and preferences. Once they find a suitable listing, they can submit a booking request or instantly book if the option is available. Hosts have the option to accept or decline the booking request, and once accepted, the guest completes the payment to confirm the reservation.

Are there any restrictions or regulations for short-term rentals?
Short-term rental regulations vary by location. It’s essential to research and understand any local laws, zoning regulations, or homeowners association (HOA) rules that may impact your ability to rent out your property on a short-term basis.

What safety measures are in place to protect hosts and guests?
Online rental platforms may provide safety features, such as guest identity verification, secure payment systems, host/guest reviews, and customer support. Hosts are also encouraged to communicate openly, set clear expectations, and establish house rules to ensure a safe and positive experience.

What fees or commissions are associated with using online rental sites?
Fees can vary but are often a percentage of the booking total and some platforms may charge service fees to guests or hosts. Check each site’s policies for specifics.