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7 ways to promote your vacation rental

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As vacation rental owners, we've experimented with many different ways to promote our vacation rentals. Each method takes a different mix of time investment and monetary investment to set up and run. Some, like the big listing sites such as VRBO, VacationHomeRentals, HomeAway, FlipKey, etc., take a relatively large cash investment to set up but provide a lot of inquiries and bookings. Others, like running an email newsletter for your guests, take a bit more time investment but are relatively cheap in terms of cash.

We've found that a mix of various sources is the ideal way to create a strong booking stream. Paid listing sites are your bread and butter -- they will drive most of the inquiries. They're also the most expensive, and beyond optimizing your listing on each site, there's not a whole lot you can do to increase inquiries from that source. A personal property website allows you to engage more directly with guests, become involved in the local community, and build and individual brand for your vacation rental. Email newsletters and a Facebook page provide a way to maintain a connection with former guests and increase your repeat booking rate.

Method Cost Time Return
National paid listing sites High Medium High
Local paid listing sites Medium Medium Medium
Free listing sites Free Medium Low
Personal property website Low High Medium
Local property management companies Free to Low Low Medium
Email newsletters Free to Low Medium Medium
Local Search Listings Free to Low Medium Medium
Facebook page Free Low Low
Google AdWords Medium High Low


1. Listing Sites

Listing sites are the first thing you should set up. They're straightforward -- write a description, add some pictures, and set up information about rates and amenities. Once you set up a listing, you can use OwnerReservations' inquiry email handling to automatically pull the inquiries into OwnerReservations, generate a quote, and let the guest book right away.

There are three major categories of listing sites, with a descending order of price and return:

  • National paid listing sites

    Cost: high
    Time: medium
    Return: high

    These sites have the most traffic, but also cost the most -- around $300 per year, per site. A listing on one of these sites will typically get you a good 5-10 inquiries per month. The major listing sites are:

  • Local paid listing sites

    Cost: medium
    Time: medium
    Return: medium

    Most areas also have local paid listing sites. These sites are typically built by small local entrepreneurs, and are optimized for the specific area where your vacation rental is located. To find these sites, google for vacation rentals in your area. If a local listing site pops up in the first few pages in Google, it probably ranks well and is worth purchasing a listing.

  • Free listing sites

    Cost: free
    Time: medium
    Return: low

    Free listing sites typically have lower inquiry rates than the paid sites. Still, they are worth spending the time to set up listings. Every little bit helps. If you have your own property website, adding listings to free sites is a good way to get additional links to your site. This will help your ranking in search engines like Google.

    Here are some of the bigger free listing sites. Additionally, some googling can turn up local sites in your area, such as sites listing local attractions, chamber of commerce sites, and local government sites.

2. Personal property website

Cost: low
Time: high
Return: medium

A personal property website gives you a central location to manage your brand. It may not generate many bookings at first, but it's a central hub for several other marketing avenues -- like email newsletters, local search listings, and Google AdWords. A website is an easy URL reference to give people so to get directly to your listing, rather than the unpronounceable gibberish you typically see on a listing site.

If you accept inquiries through email on your website, you can use OwnerReservations' inquiry email handling to automatically pull the inquiries into OwnerReservations, generate a quote, and let the guest book right away. We're currently working on an inquiry widget you can drop on your site to give guests an inquiry form that will fill directly into OwnerReservations.

3. Local property management companies

Cost: free to low
Time: low
Return: medium

Many local property managers have an option to list your vacation rental in their advertising, even if they aren't fully managing the property. They'll manage the booking and cut you a check. The way they typically make a profit is to charge the guest an additional amount over your price. Depending on the manager, and depending on how many bookings you're getting from other sources, it may or may not be worth using them. You can find local property managers by googling for vacation rentals in your area and noting the management sites that come up on the first couple of result pages.

4. Email newsletters

Cost: free to low
Time: medium
Return: medium

One of the first things you want to do is keep a list of the email addresses of people that inquire and/or book your property. This allows you to get in touch with them over time, give them updates on any upgrades you might make to your property, information about events in the area, or offer them discounted stays. There are many ways to go about this, from monthly newsletters to seasonal newsletters (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), to targeted discount offers (a free days stay for stays of over three days, etc.). Some people even offer groupon style discounts, where a former guest can purchase credit to be used for a future rental at a discount.

You can email people from your personal email address, but this method doesn't look as professional and gets difficult once you have more than a few people to email. Instead, we'd recommend using an email marketing tool like MailChimp. MailChimp is free if you have less than 2,000 people in your email list, and has very reasonable rates for larger lists.

5. Local Search Listings

Cost: free to low
Time: medium
Return: low

Local search listings are a powerful way to connect with people looking for vacation rentals in your area using search engines like Google. With a local listing, people googling for vacation rentals will see more detail about your listing right inside Google, things like pictures, descriptions, and reviews. You can also connect the listing back to your property website to allow people to get in contact with you directly.

6. Facebook page

Cost: free
Time: low
Return: low

A Facebook page is a nice way to interact with your guests and keep in touch with them after they leave. Facebook has a lot of hype surrounding it right now, but a Facebook page typically won't generate many bookings. It's still worth setting up a page because its simple and fast to create.

7. Google AdWords

Cost: medium
Time: high
Return: low

Google AdWords allows you to purchase ads that show next to Google search results based on the keywords someone is using to search. With AdWords, you write a short text description for your ad, and pay for each time someone clicks your ad and goes to your site. AdWords can be a good way to get people to your property website, but they also take a lot of effort and expertise to set up properly. If you're not careful, you can spend a lot of money learning what ad copy works, and honing down the ad targeting to people that are actually interested in booking your property.

What are your experiences with promoting your vacation rental? Have you used other methods? We'd love to hear what you have to say -- let us know in the comments.

16 Comments (add yours)

Dec 30, 2012 10:00 PM
Joined Dec, 2012 1 post

This is an interesting summary, but in our experience we have found our own website to be the strongest generator of bookings. The geographical location and competitor set of each owner's holiday rental will also play a major part in forming their marketing strategy.
In our case in particular, by offering something out of the ordinary (a villa where guests are welcomed, looked after and cooked for by a local family), in a location that is off the beaten path and away from the over-developed tourist hot spots, this unique niche becomes our most important factor.

herry nelson
May 5, 2013 7:09 AM
Joined May, 2013 1 post

Great work. These tips are very helpful and necessary in these days to promote your vacation rentals business.

Oct 28, 2016 4:27 PM
Joined Jun, 2016 1119 posts

Google places told you you cannot advertise vacation rentals.

Oct 28, 2016 4:39 PM
Joined Dec, 2009 54 posts

Google Places is now "Google My Business" and we have a bunch of cabins listed on there for free. They didn't have any problem about setting those up at all. In fact, I am building reviews there as well. It's tightly integrated with Google Maps. They do require that you "verify address" by sending a postcard from the Google My Business setup to the address you put down which means you have to be able to receive mail there.

Jane G
Feb 13, 2017 7:22 AM
Joined Feb, 2017 1 post

Thank you for this list. Very helpful for landlords.

I would like add that no matter where property owner decides to advertise the vacancy, they need to include high-quality photos listing. Good pictures of property are essential if landlord wants to find applicants fast. Bad photos will diminish interest in even the greatest of properties.

I read a lot of articles concerning making good pictures of the property. I like this one very much https://rentberry.com/blog/real-estate-photography-tips. It has tips from professional photographer, who has a great beginner advice on taking photos of homes. The topic also contains information about equipment property owners need to have in order to make great photos.

Feb 14, 2017 9:44 AM
Joined Jun, 2016 1119 posts

Google told me that vacation rentals cannot be listed.

Villa Serenity
Feb 26, 2017 1:18 PM
Joined Feb, 2017 3 posts


I am trying to add required number of nights can you point me in the right direction.



Michelle J
Feb 26, 2017 1:22 PM
OR Team Member Joined Jan, 2011 582 posts

Hi Cavel,

Open a property in OwnerRez, click the Rules tab on the left and then change the rules. There's a rule for "Minimum Nights" and "Minimum Nights During Holidays".

You can also set it on the season which will override what is on the property. To do that go to Setting > Seasons.


PS. You may want to send us a ticket using the Contact Us or by emailing help@ownerreservations.com so that you're answered quickly. Sometimes, forum posts can sit for a day or two.

Villa Serenity
Feb 28, 2017 8:45 AM
Joined Feb, 2017 3 posts

Discounts are appearing as surcharge in the detail field. Is there a way to change this.


Mar 9, 2020 11:23 PM
Joined Mar, 2020 1 post


Mar 10, 2020 10:33 AM
Joined Jun, 2016 1119 posts

A lot of it is not accurate as far as my market goes. And some are missing.
For ex., my email newsletters that used to do quarterly and I have over 2K addresses on file resulted maybe in 3 rebookings ever in 4 years of doing it and 3 properties. Far from 'medium'. I basically stopped doing it. Mos email goes into spam anyhow.

Facebook GROUPS (not your own pages - VR dedicated groups and yard sale groups) are not mentioned and yet I get a fair amount of bookings from Facebook groups - more than from regional listings sites for sure.

Craigslist - only scammers use that.

Google / Bing - I have but cannot directly trace any bookings to it. I do have spikes in calls usually during high demand seasons when I am already booked, presumably from google.
I do not use Ad words.

Ross C
Mar 10, 2020 2:21 PM
Joined Feb, 2020 17 posts

To me, too far and away the best place is to be on the four major sites. FlipKey TripAdvisor, booking.com, Airbnb, VRBO. Plus you're hosted website.

There is no expense to me, because I add their commission on as an admin fee. Everything that comes to me from these sites is then pure Revenue.

Mar 10, 2020 4:01 PM
Joined Jun, 2016 1119 posts

Ross C said:

To me, too far and away the best place is to be on the four major sites. FlipKey TripAdvisor, booking.com, Airbnb, VRBO. Plus you're hosted website.

There is no expense to me, because I add their commission on as an admin fee. Everything that comes to me from these sites is then pure Revenue.

BDC - gigantic flop.
TA - dead. Have not had as much as an inqury since last Dec.
Airbnb - so so
Vrbo - so so.
neither of those fills the calendar.

Ross C
Mar 10, 2020 4:56 PM
Joined Feb, 2020 17 posts

This depends on:

Your region

Your location

Your type of property

Your settings

Your price

Your min day settings.


I get 6 BDC for every ABB here. But what works for you or for me may have little applicability to others.

Paul W
Mar 11, 2020 4:47 PM
OR Team Member Joined Jun, 2009 827 posts

To be fair to OP, this blog post is 8 years old. Much has changed in the STR industry over the last 8 years. Notice that Airbnb wasn't even on that list (it didn't exist yet). We need a new one of these.

Jan 9, 2024 4:39 PM
Joined Jul, 2020 14 posts

And for places without a street address or deliverable address (such as rural cabins, homesteads, etc.), this is a BIG problem.  They don't accept GPS coordinates as a legit business address and that's unfortunate.  Working with Google to resolve this is like pulling teeth and the reality is it's unresolvable they will not change and there is not high level manager you can talk to to suggest such change.