What I have learned from 20 years of being a holiday rental owner

I started renting soon after the world moved on from printed brochures to online listing sites. Those were days when you could put an ad on VRBO for about $100 per year and reel in the bookings like those tuna fishermen hoiking slabs of sea-life over their shoulders.

At the time VRBO proudly boasted of its 12,000 listings worldwide and had a teddy bear that blogged about its stays in various places. In the UK the big site was Holiday Rentals and their About Us page featured two labradors. Listing sites simply put you in touch with renters and let you get on with it by personal email. It was what we old-timers call ‘the good old days’.

It was not so easy to explain the concept of holiday rentals in 2001, you had to explain it was like renting a home but for a week instead of 6 months, and fully furnished, and yes people really did pay in a week what you might earn in a month for long-term rentals. Today one can simply say ‘airbnb’ as a verb or noun and the world understands.

Much has changed and while everything has got better in terms of technology it has got worse in other ways. Competition, guest expectations, that unfair review that will always be with you, the impossibility of appearing right at the top of Google, the percentage listing sites now take from you and the way they are commoditising us.

Perhaps you are just starting out so for what it’s worth here is what I have learned from 20 years as a short-term rental owner, learning from mistakes and from others on the Lay My Hat forum.

1. Guests will never cease to surprise you in the things they do. They will manage not to find your house despite the crystal-clear instructions; they will turn the heating to maximum and open the windows to cool off; they will use the pool as a handy repository for empties; they will break into the store cupboard to access the 7 towels per person they need.

Because guests are people and people do the strangest things, especially in that relaxed period when they go on holiday and turn their brain off. So don’t get angry when these things happen, make like the reed and bend with the wind.

Remember that guests don’t read everything you want them to and in some cases they don’t read anything at all, so don’t make assumptions based on them knowing everything you do, because they don’t. It’s not that they are stupid or insane, they are the same as you are on holiday.

To minimise callouts, have a house dossier that explains how things work (printed or virtual), rather than a pile of instruction manuals. This is especially true if you have white goods with buttons marked in another language. The first question will always be ‘what’s the wifi password?’, so make this blindingly obvious and also communicate it in the directions email.

2. The converse of guests acting strangely is that some people, and hopefully many people, will simply fall in love with your property. They will come back every year, they will become your friends, and they will recommend and send others. Along the way they will give you the feeling that you might actually be doing something worthwhile for pockets of humanity that ‘get it’. This is the reward of holiday rentals, the income is just numbers to work out your tax obligation.

3. There are two truisms that contradict each other and both are true: we are all the same, and everyone is different. If you rent to nationalities from all over the world you will discover that they all have the same hopes and concerns as you do. But also that everyone is an individual with quirks and oddities to discover. If you are an owner who actually meets your guests, you will either find that a chore or rather wonderful – try to make it the latter.

4. Don’t make assumptions about people (aka stereotyping). Certain nationalities have bad reputations in certain locations. As a contrarian I always ignored these and have never had a problem. One family from the very worst nationality (according to local wisdom) spent the whole of their penultimate day cleaning the house to a state of perfection. Whereas a very charming and urbane gentleman turned out to have the domestic habits of a feral teenager. Google ‘confirmation bias’ if you don’t believe me.

5. Despite the march of the modern, renting your house out to strangers remains a people thing. If you are not a people person you should think about using a property management agency.

6. I often hear a rental owner moaning about the expectations of their guests, for example: well why can’t they wait a couple of days for me to reply to an enquiry, the house isn’t going to go anywhere/it’s a year from now!

Don’t be one of those owners, be an owner who can see things from the other end of the pipeline. Give the experience you would want when booking accommodation, which is probably: speedy and welcoming responses to all communication, easy booking by card, perfectly clean house, everything clearly explained in writing. If that sounds like too much bother, you’re in the wrong business.

7. You will never have imagined how many things can go wrong in a house, and how many of those things will go wrong at the weekend. Boilers in particular will never fail on a weekday.

If you are not able to fix plumbing/electrical/general building issues yourself, make sure you become friendly with tradesmen who understand that sometimes you will need them at the weekend. When they stop picking up or responding to messages they are telling you something – it’s time to find someone new.

8. Regardless of how badly wrong something goes in your rental property, if you deal with it quickly, empathetically and apologetically, you’ll find that most of the time people just need an excuse to be on your side. To the couple who, faced with three days without water, refused the offer of a considerable upgrade to a fancy hotel, and wrote a 5-star review that didn’t mention the issue at all – I salute you.

9. The worst thing you can do as a rental owner is to double book, but one day you will. Hopefully you will catch it before two parties arrive at your door at the same time. Be completely open and honest about it, allow the wronged party to remember the times they may have made a mistake.

10. One day your guests will lose the keys (it will be a Sunday or at night), and you will have no way of getting keys to them. Plan ahead for this. You could leave keys with a neighbour but the best is to find a very good hiding place for a spare key, so you are not reliant on someone else being in.

11. First impressions count and for guests the first impression is way before they arrive at your door. It’s in the way you respond to their enquiry or booking, and communicate from there on. And it’s in the level of directions and instructions you give for them to find and get into your place. That means not just an address, but a map, GPS coordinates, instructions on where to park, etc.

And gone are the days when you responded to an enquiry in the next 24 hours or so. Today you have to aim to reply within the hour and preferably quicker.

12. Do you want your guests to rent your house and pay you, or do you want them to experience everything there is to love about your location? You don’t have to literally take guests by the hand and show them, but you can give them all the information they need about: where to go and when, your favourite restaurants/bars/shops/markets, itineraries for half-day or day, maybe you have negotiated a special offer for your guests with local businesses – or maybe you should.

13. Listen to the criticism you get whether in private or in reviews. Don’t dismiss it as unreasonable. Criticism stings but it gives you valuable clues to things you haven’t thought of, or warning signs that you are not on top of things – for example when a guest says the kitchen knives were not sharp enough, they may be the only ones who said something but they will not have been the only ones who felt the inconvenience.

Even when criticism is clearly unreasonable, ask yourself why a guest had such a different expectation, perhaps there is a lack of clarity in your description or communication. The more you can match guest expectation to reality, the easier will be your ride as a holiday rental owner.

14. Steal ideas from your competition. See what amenities they have and you do not. See what is mentioned in their reviews – perhaps a pair of binoculars to birdwatch is greatly appreciated, perhaps they are getting work-cationers who need the fibre broadband you haven’t installed yet. Don’t rest on your laurels, always be improving in small ways. A repeat guest will notice and become a recurring guest.

Direct bookings – what are they and how to get them

As a short-term rental owner or guest we are less than delighted when we see the amount an OTA (Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking, Tripadvisor) adds as a fee to a booking.

But there is something we can do about that.

We can keep the OTA out of the loop by booking direct, something that recently has taken on the label of a ‘movement’ with its own hashtag: #bookdirect.

What does book direct mean and why should you care?

What is a direct booking?

A direct booking is one that does not come through an OTA (Airbnb/Booking/Vrbo/Tripadvisor). It is a booking that comes to you through your own site, or it could be through social media, a repeat guest, word of mouth or offline advertising. It can also be through an old-school, subscription-model listing site – the point is that a direct booking means you have control over the whole process of communication, payment and cancellation terms.

Book direct is about control and money – specifically retaining more of both. And not just on the owner’s side, on the guest’s side too.

What’s in it for the owner:
– you don’t lose 15-18% of your booking to an OTA;
– you don’t have to put up with whatever cancellation terms the OTA may impose on you (especially at the start of a global pandemic);
– you don’t have to wait till the booking is taking place to get your payment;
– you don’t risk an unreasonable negative review that cannot be removed;
– you can communicate freely with the guest pre-arrival, and this includes upselling, for example with affiliate links to book local attractions.

What’s in if for the renter:
– lower rates, in theory;
– a more direct connection with the owner;
– access to more local info from the owner.

How to get direct bookings

Although you could just have a Facebook page, or even, if you are a Kardashian, an Instagram account, you are really going to need a website, or at least a webpage, that potential renters can be directed to. There are all sorts of inexpensive ways to do this, from making something from scratch on WordPress, to using a template builder like Wix or Squarespace, to companies that specialise in short-term rental sites. WordPress will give you the most control, but is also hardest to learn how to use.

Note that having your own site is not an instant replacement for using the OTAs. People are very unlikely to find your site in Google’s organic (not pay-per-click) results for a generic search, unless it is for rather niche search phrases that your site matches well.

And you are also unlikely to be able to compete with the OTAs for those pay-per-click spots at the top of a search results page (still assuming you aren’t a Kardashian).

So at least to start with, the strategy is to use the OTAs and try to get potential renters from there to your own site.

How to get people from an OTA to your own site

You can’t simply give out your own website’s address in your OTA ad (e.g. “visit the property’s own site at hideawaycottage.com”) because it will be automatically blocked, but you can format it so as to get through this filter: “hideawaycottage dot com”. But this is not a good idea because you do not want to get banned from an OTA for violating their T&Cs.

What you can and should do is to use your property name or brand name repeatedly on your OTA page – use it excessively, in your title, multiple times in the description text and photo captions. So someone reading the text cannot fail to catch on. This allows them to google that name. This is less effective if you use a name like Hideaway Cottage or Les Lavandes. It has to be a rare name and ideally a unique name (‘unique’ means the only one in the known universe).

Some people lace their images with their own site’s URL over the images as watermarks, or even one image as just a slide showing the web address. Because they are not in the text segment of your ad they are harder for the OTA to spot. These methods are underhand and depend on your attitude to risk. Remember that if you are banned from an OTA, that is quite a big deal, you do need them as part of your marketing arsenal.

What if your name is established and is not unique? You could use an acronym. For example, let’s say your property is Hideaway Cottage and it is in the Cotswolds. If you call it Hideaway Cottage In The Cotswolds, the domain hcitc.com will cost you a couple of thousand pounds/euros/dollars. Whereas Hideaway Cottage – A Cotswold Dream = hcacd.com will cost you under a tenner. You do then need to seed your OTA ad with that acronym and use it at every opportunity to refer to the property, so it is obvious that this is what they should google.

How NOT to get people from an OTA to your own site

Don’t reply to a booking enquiry on an OTA by suggesting they might like to find you on your own site. If caught you may well be banned from that OTA, but even if not caught you will be demoted in the search results for that site because you are not converting enquiries into bookings. Once you get an enquiry, take the booking on the site you got it. (This will be moot soon enough because all OTAs will be ‘instant book’ only).

You have your own site, now what?

So you can just throw together an instant site using your property or brand name and people will find you by googling? Probably not, unless you use a genuinely unique name like Zyhewoolfehhh. You still have to put the work in to make your site rank on page one of Google for your property/brand name. That means optimising your site for that name. Ideally you would also make that site more lovable by Google, for example adding occasional blog posts about the local area.

But just as importantly, once people get to your site, they have left the trusted environs of an OTA, and they are out there in random-world. So your site must instantly reassure them. That means a well-designed site with excellent photos and information about the property and location. Unless you are a very good photographer, invest in professional photos, these will be paid off with one booking.

You know who you are but to a visitor to your site you may as well be a masked robber with a bag marked ‘swag’. You need to build trust by personalising, so have a comprehensive ‘about’ page laying out anything you care to share about yourself (including a nice photo, of your family if applicable) and why you bought your property. Link to your Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin profiles for additional trust points.

You have to create something more delicious than your ad on an OTA. For example, have a page on the best restaurants to go to, with your personal review, and the best attractions to visit. Stuff they will not find on Airbnb. Another benefit of this sort of very local and tailored content is that it is a way for you to rank above big sites for specific search terms (like ‘best restaurants for families in Roussillon’).

Most visitors to your site will not book of course, but some may be impressed enough to want to give you their email address so you can market to them. You get this by offering a newsletter sign-up, or some sort of local destination/restaurants/activities guide which can simpy be a PDF document you will send in exchange for an email address.

If you think newsletters are technically beyond you, go and have a look at Mailchimp for example, they have drag and drop templates that make the process very easy. Mailchimp and its competitors have a free entry point up to a certain number of subscribers.

Why should potential renters book direct?

So now someone has got to your site and decided it looks OK. Why should they book there rather than through a trusted brand like Airbnb where they get good protection against mis-selling and fraud?

There has to a be a lower price when booking direct.

Yes, it’s nice to be communicating directly with the owner and to have all sorts of reassuring chats, and maybe you offer a special welcome pack or add-on for a direct booking, but most people shop on price. That is not necessarily a problem because you can just remove the OTA’s commission and give the raw price. However the OTAs have begun to require rate parity, which means you can’t offer lower rates on your site than on an OTA. If it hasn’t happened in your region yet, it will soon, unless or until legislation catches up.

One way around this is to offer a discount code on your own site, so you are still technically showing the same rates as on an OTA pre-discount.

To increase your chances of getting direct bookings, don’t ask them to pay by bank transfer – they don’t know you and a bank transfer offers them precisely zero protection. Bank transfer can be an option but you should also offer some way of paying by credit card – Paypal or Stripe are the easiest ways of doing this, for roughly 2-3% of each transaction (this is paid by you, you cannot legally pass the fee on to the buyer).

Integrating a credit card booking mechanism like Stripe on your site is the ideal way to create trust.

(Yes I know that if you go back in time, pre-Airbnb and pre-Homeaway to those sunlit uplands with all the lovely little rental listing sites that worked beautifully for peanuts per annum, before Homeaway bought them all up and ruined everything, that bank transfer and cheque were the only ways to take payment and those worked perfectly well… but do you really want to be the last person selling horse-shoes next to the Ford factory?)

How to convert an OTA booking to a repeat direct booking

With an OTA booking you get the renter’s phone number as a minimum, and with Vrbo you still see their email address once booked (this is likely to disappear as they would prefer to keep everything within their sealed ecosphere like airbnb).

So communicate with guests before and during their stay by text, Whatsapp or email. Check they have everything they need, tell them of some special event happening nearby. Establish some sort of relationship outside of the OTA. If you only have a phone number you can suggest they give you their email so you can communicate future special offers to them, or perhaps you have a newsletter you can send them. In this way you build up an email or text marketing list.

Another way to get your guests’ email addresses is to require a sign-in to the WiFi like in a hotel, using something like Stayfi. This gets you the email of everyone in the property. There are a couple of problems with this. One is that it is a horrible imposition – the point of a holiday rental is that it is not a hotel, it is home from home, and you do not have to do this at home. The other is that although you have the email address you do not have their permission to market to them, which is required at least in Europe and the UK. But anyway, that is a method that is out there.

The best time to contact past guests is a little before the time they previously booked. Offer a discount or a free night, tell them they are special/VIP/loyal. This will cost you money but there is a value to knowing that they will not be problem guests.

Imagine if most of your bookings were repeats who are guaranteed to like your property – how good would that be? It’s entirely possible.

You can also incentivise them to recommend the property to others, in return for Amazon vouchers (which is basically the same as giving them money but less overtly).

Other ways to get your site found directly

Not everybody searches in the traditional way! A surprising proportion of searches are done through Google Images rather than a regular Google search. You will be shocked to learn that nearly one third of Google searches are in Google Images. You should optimise your photos by using key words in their title and ‘alt text’. This allows them to show up for relevant searches. But the photo has to be good, because you need people to click on it to get to your site.

Youtube accounts for about 3% of all internet searches. That may seem a small number, but there is much less competition for you to beat on Youtube than on Google search, so it is definitely worth trying.

Making a video may sound daunting, but you can get a decent effect with a smartphone walkthrough (holding the phone in landscape mode, not portrait). It is also possible to make a terrible video so maybe get some feedback before posting.

You can also cheat a video by doing a slideshow of still images of your property, using a bit of pan and zoom to add ‘movement’. You can link to your website below the video, as well as in the video itself at the beginning and end. You’ll want to read up on how to optimise a Youtube video (including your keywords in the file name, title and description, etc.) so it stands the best chance of featuring in a Youtube search result.

Once you have done a walkthrough, think about adding videos on things to do and see in the local area, always linking to your own site as the place to stay when you visit these places. People are not going to be searching on Youtube for a house as much as for a location they want to know more about.

Point social media at your own website. Instagram is the easiest and most satisfying one to use but it is likely to bring you fewest clickthroughs to your site as you can’t have a link from an image, only from the description on your bio, or now also from an Instagram Story if you have a verified or business account, or 10,000 followers. So you are likely to do better with Pinterest and Facebook in terms of clickthroughs.

The problem with book direct

We are used to everything being free on the internet (because we don’t price in the value of our data), and so we think it is outrageous that OTAs charge 15% and more in commission per booking.

But what commission do we think would be fair? Bear in mind the amazing technology behind these sites, the ease of putting up an ad and taking bookings without doing a stroke of work, the fact that Airbnb covers owners for up to 1 million in damage to property, and the fact that it is all free to set up.

I do recall the days before Airbnb when listing sites charged a flat subscription fee regardless of how many rental enquiries they generated for you, and how that system seemed fundamentally unfair – why, we asked, can’t they charge according to performance? Well, now they are, and we are still not happy. Just putting that out there…

For book direct to make an impact in the mind of the consumer it mainly comes down to price. And OTAs may be able to insist on rate parity. They will also soon put all their commission on the owner’s side, giving the appearance to renters of there being no booking fee (although the reality is that owners will simply bump up their prices). So then booking direct is struggling to make its case.

The fact is that we can all go to an independent bookseller and get great, personalised service and advice, even a nice frothy coffee, but how many of us do that instead of buying on Amazon? The answer is not many. But enough to keep that bookshop in business.

So ask yourself: which type of consumer would you prefer staying in your property? The one who wants lowest price and next-day delivery, or the thoughtful frappucino-sipper? Perhaps this is where booking direct will find its niche audience.

OTA comparison: Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking, Tripadvisor – what are they and which should you be using?

An OTA is what we used to call a rental listing site, it stands for Online Travel Agency, which is not a great name as it doesn’t really explain what it is.

It’s a site where you can book and pay for short-term rental accommodation. There are 4 dominant OTAs right now: Airbnb, Booking, Vrbo (aka Homeaway) and Tripadvisor.

Basically, if you are marketing a holiday rental property anywhere in the world, you would be quite the outlier if you are not using at least one of these. (That said, according to data from VRMintel in the States, most bookings are still direct with owner, and not booked through an OTA at all. Find out how to take direct bookings here).

But which OTA should you be using? Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking or Tripadvisor?

Each OTA has a different fee structure, and slightly varying target markets. The most important consideration to a rental owner may well be the cost – or what a site removes from your rental income from each booking. As we will see though, it’s not necessarily as simple as that.

OTA fees explained

OTA fees are in a state of flux, as they finesse the right percentage to charge both renter and owner (or put more simply: how much they can get away with). The exception is Booking, which simply takes 15% off the owner, and charges the renter 0%. WTF? 15%! Cross them off the list, I hear you say. Well, not necessarily, hold on to your hat and read on…

At time of writing, here is the fee structure of each of the big 4 OTAs. (Note that if you have had the great idea of paying less commission by making your rent lower and your cleaning fee enormous, this doesn’t work because the cleaning fee is included in the calculation of the commission).

Booking.com fees

The Booking commission for vacation rentals depends on your location but averages 15%, so let’s call it that. Unlike other OTAs, this commission is paid by you the owner, and there is no commission for the renter to pay.

Airbnb fees

Most hosts pay a service fee of 3%, but Airbnb Plus hosts, hosts with listings in Italy, and hosts who use Super Strict cancellation policies may pay more. This fee is calculated from the booking subtotal (the nightly rate plus cleaning fee and additional guest fee, if applicable, but excluding Airbnb fees and taxes) and is automatically deducted from the host payout.

Most guests pay a service fee that is “under 14.2%” of the booking subtotal (the nightly rate plus cleaning fee and additional guest fee, if applicable, but excluding Airbnb fees and taxes). The fee varies based on a variety of booking factors and is displayed to guests, including during checkout before they make a reservation. The reality is the fee is invariably more than 14.1% but just less than 14.2%. But this is assuming there is no VAT in your country, like in the USA. If you do have VAT, like in the UK or EU countries, that 14.2% has VAT added to it. If your VAT is at 20%, the Airbnb fee to guests becomes 16.9%.

What is Airbnb up to here? They want you to switch to the ‘no fee for the guest’ model. It looks terrible when a potential renter gets an Airbnb quote and the service fee is clearly disproportionately large. What they want is for it to read ‘0’. So they are making it just slightly cheaper for you to absorb the whole fee yourself – the host-only fee is 14-16%, a little less than that eye-watering 16.9%. But if you pay it then the guest has nothing to pay and is much more likely to book. And to sweeten the deal even more, at least for now, listings that do not charge a guest fee are shown ahead of those that do.

Tripadvisor fees

Tripadvisor has two ways of listing – free and a paid annual listing. The difference between them is that with a free listing your bookings are taken through the site and you are charged a 3% processing fee. With an annual listing you pay an annual fee for your property and this gives you the option of taking payments direct and saving the 3% it costs to take a booking through Tripadvisor. What is this annual fee? They don’t say. Meaning it depends on your property and how much they think they can charge you.

The commission for renters on Tripadvisor is between 8% and 16%. Quite a range. And when someone books, the commission is not displayed as a separate item, they are just given the total price.

Vrbo fees

Vrbo also offers two ways to advertise – pay-per-booking or annual subscription.

With an annual subscription of $499, your fee per booking is reduced to 3%. We can regard this as a payment processing fee, which is in line with Tripadvisor.

With the pay-per-booking model there is no subscription but the fee per booking is 8%. This is made up of the 3% payment processing fee, plus 5% commission. If there is VAT in your country, that is applied to the 5% only. So if the VAT is at 20%, the commission becomes 6% instead of 5%, and the total fee to you is 9%.

What all that means is that if you do not get many bookings from Vrbo it makes sense to stick with the pay-per-booking model. But there comes a point when you should switch to the annual subscription of $499, and that is when the income from 5% (or 6% with VAT) of your Vrbo bookings is greater than $499. That cut-off point is therefore $9980 per year at 5% and $8317 at 6%.

And that is not to mention the Vrbo fee paid by the renter…that is currently 10-11%.

So that means that a rate quote on Vrbo includes up to 20% in Vrbo fees.

Can you see a pattern here? Fees are totalling around 20% on both Vrbo and Airbnb. This is creating a scenario where we will be happy to go with a 15% fee for us and zero for the renter. After all, we would simply pass on the 15% to the renter with increased rates. But it will give the perception to the OTA users that these sites cost them absolutely nothing.

And that 15% is just the notional figure for now, because that is what Booking is charging. OTAs will charge us whatever they can get away with.

The relatively high fees of OTAs is one of the reasons for the arrival of the ‘book direct’ or #bookdirect movement. Travellers aren’t delighted to see a large chunk added in booking fees, and owners aren’t delighted that everything seems to be loaded in the favour of the renter, while they simply supply the stock being sold.

Who uses each OTA to look for accommodation?

There is historically a difference in who uses which OTA. Airbnb is likelier to attract (on average) younger people in smaller groups looking to stay for slightly shorter periods. Vrbo only lists entire homes so its users are looking for slightly larger properties, more family-oriented, and for a longer period than Airbnb. Booking has the shortest stay average of the OTAs as well as the lowest number of guests in a booking (logical since its genesis was as a hotel-booking platform). While Tripadvisor has the longest booking periods and the same number of guests as Airbnb.

As you can see from the tables, there is only a slight difference between them all, and while it is true that a millennial is likelier to reach for Airbnb or Booking than the other two, there will also be more competition for their attention on these platforms. So don’t assume based on the numbers that one OTA will work better than others for you,

What about other factors beyond commission that should influence your choice of OTAs? Let’s take a look at other important aspects like cancellation, what happens when things go wrong with a rental, and vetting and communicating with guests.

Cancellation terms

Airbnb is the outlier here. With Vrbo, Tripadvisor and Booking you can choose varying strictness on cancellation policies, ranging from completely non-refundable to ‘cancel whenever you want!”

Airbnb’s strictest allowed policy is their Super Strict 60-day, which means the guest can cancel at least 60 days ahead and get a 50% refund (Airbnb pocket their full fee though). However, you can only apply the Super Strict 60 if you are a ‘software-connected host’. What is a software-connected host on Airbnb? It means you are using either a property management system or channel manager to control your listing(s).

If you are not a software-connected host then the best you can do is Airbnb’s Strict policy. Contrary to the normal understanding of the word ‘strict’, this allows the guest to cancel at least 14 days ahead and get a 50% refund. In addition, they can cancel within 48 hours of booking, as long as that is at least 14 days before check-in, and get a full refund.

Airbnb’s Flexible cancellation policy is bend-over-backwards flexible. Guests can get a full refund if they cancel at least 24 hours before check-in, and if they cancel later than that they just lose the first night. They can also cut their stay short and get a full refund on unused nights (full refund always excludes the Airbnb fee, which is sacrosanct).

Vrbo‘s cancellation policies range from ‘no refund’ to the 14/7 day policy, which give the renter a 100% refund if they cancel at least 14 days before check-in, a 50% refund (minus service fee) if they cancel at least 7 days before check-in, and no refund less than 7 days ahead of check-in.

Tripadvisor‘s cancellation policies ranges from relaxed to super strict. Relaxed means guests receive a full refund up to 14 days before arrival. And the strictest policy is ‘no refunds’.

Booking allows you to set a cancellation policy to suit your desires.

What about the effect of different cancellation policies? You can bet your bottom dollar that the more lenient/flexible you are, the higher your listing will show on an OTA property search.

The Booking difference

Vrbo (or Homeaway as was) for a while monopolised the world of online booking sites, having bought up all the big ones. Then along came Airbnb and now the two basically mirror each other in many respects.

Booking.com comes from a different place, as it was initially a hotel booking platform that moved into holiday rentals. Consequently, it forces rental homes into the hotel sausage machine.

Big points of difference with Booking vs Airbnb and Vrbo, on Booking:

– all bookings are ‘instant book’ just like a hotel, you cannot vet renters before accepting a booking.

– you do not have to take payment through the site, you can manage that offsite. So the Booking commission is a separate payment you make to the site.

– you do not write the description of your property on Booking, you supply the information and the description is automatically generated by Booking.

– the owner pays the whole of the commission on Booking (about 15%), the guest pays nothing. That is one point of difference which the other OTAs are sure to copy.

– there are no guest reviews and no information on who is booking your property.

Lots of rental owners are put off Booking because the perception is it costs more, since the 15% commission is all on the owner’s side, and the renter pays no commission to Booking.

This is a misconception though. If you look at the table below, it shows what happens when you put the same property on different OTAs with their different commission structures. The important figures to look at are the price advertised on a site and the amount that ends up in your pocket.

The commission should not put you off using Booking, but what might is that you don’t know who you are renting to; it is a little trickier to set up your listing right; and Booking swerves important details the others take care of for you.

Booking.com allows you to take care of payments yourself or they will do it for you like the other OTAs, with an additional charge of 1.1%-1.9% depending on where you are. If you want to be in charge of payments, Booking will verify the credit card being used, and then it is up to you, using a payment processor like Stripe or Square. You can even ask that guests pay on arrival, but at your risk if they don’t show up.

It is definitely more fiddly to set up a Booking ad than an Airbnb or Vrbo one, you have to get all the settings right so your rates are correct and correspond to the right cancellation policy, and it is not as easy to add a damage deposit or ask for a booking deposit. But it can all be done, it is a process of ticking and filling the right boxes.

And at the end of it, you will be on what seems to be the site with the momentum behind it right now.

You may have seen TV ads for Booking promising 10% off for people who use Booking with what seems like a very low level of frequency for such an amount. This is called the Genius loyalty programme and needless to say that 10% is borne by the property owner. You don’t have to be part of Genius, you apply to add your property to it. You will definitely get more booking interest, and be more present in search rankings, but will that 10% repay itself? Good question…

When things go wrong

Each of the OTAs offers different levels of protection for damage to your property by a renter. Or rather, they all sidestep the issue except Airbnb.

Airbnb offers two insurance programs automatically to each booking. Host Guarantee covers up to $1 million in property damage caused by a guest. Host Protection Insurance covers the host’s personal liability if for example a guest is injured in a property. Find out more about these here.

If you are successful in your claim, and there is a mixed bag of results reported online, this is theoretically an impressive level of protection for the owner.

Airbnb does not have a formal protection programme for guests, but since payment for a booking is not disbursed till the day after arrival, and a guest can walk out if the property is not as advertised, they are well protected for misrepresentation.

Vrbo has Liability Insurance up to $1 million on every booking processed through the site. This covers you if a traveller is injured in your property, and also if the traveller damages a neighbour’s property (for example water damage to the flat below due to an overflowing bath). Note that this does not cover you for damage done to your own property, unlike Airbnb’s Host Guarantee. That is a big deal.

What Vrbo offers for this is Accidental Damage Protection, but this is an insurance policy offered to travellers on booking, and they have to pay for it, so not something to count on. It’s really something that protects their damage deposit in the event of damage to the property.

Tripadvisor do not protect owners, but guests have Payment Protection which pays out up to $10,000/£7,000 if they find a rental property differs substantially to what was advertised, or they are denied access to the rental when they check in.

With Booking you are very much on your own when it comes to owner protection. They suggest if you are worried about damage that you get insurance or set up a damage deposit. But that damage deposit would not be arranged via Booking, it would be arranged direct with the renter. This does mean you do not have to get the approval of the site to claim on that damage deposit, but equally that lack of renter protection will deter bookings where a damage deposit is required.

As an owner, unless you exclusively use Airbnb for bookings, you really should have your own insurance in place that expressly covers damage and personal liability for a holiday rental stay where the renter does not have insurance.

Communication with guests

Obviously OTAs don’t want any bookings to leak from their site. So you won’t be able to contact a renter by email or phone at the rental enquiry stage. Nor will you be able to transmit your details in answering an enquiry as these are automatically blanked out.

However, if you do want to do this, you can get around the censorship easily enough by spelling our your number or writing your email without the @ or .com, etc. If you are caught doing this, you will probably be banned from using the OTA in question. Since there are not that many OTAs, and it may well be that only one or two really provide the bulk of your bookings, this is not something you should be risking.

And even if you do not get caught, one of the ways an OTA ranks you is by how often you convert an enquiry into a booking. If you are not converting through the site because you take bookings off-site, you will be demoted in the search ranking.

Once a booking is made, you will be able to see the renter’s email and phone number on Vrbo, and phone number only on Airbnb. So you can potentially turn an OTA renter into a direct booking if they want to return.

Vetting guests

Something rental owners have always been keen on is the notion of vetting their guests before accepting a booking. Note that in many countries it is illegal to discriminate on grounds of age, gender, race, disability, religion, etc. Nevertheless, Vrbo allows you to set a minimum age for the lead renter.

OTAs do a certain amount of vetting of renters. Airbnb and to a lesser extent Vrbo want to foster the idea of a community. For Booking, as the name suggests, it’s purely about booking. It’s instant book only and there are no reviews of the guest.

The best at this, inevitably, is Airbnb. That said it is not a requirement to verify your ID on OTAs in order to make a booking enquiry.

Airbnb say that they perform background checks on both hosts and guests to look for criminal records, to the extent that they can – this is more applicable to US residents than elsewhere. In fact, it is fair to assume they only do this in the US.

In an Airbnb guest profile, you may see links to social media if they have added these, and guests can also upload government-approved ID to the site – this is the best layer of security for you as it links the guest to a real identity. You don’t get to see the ID, but you will see an ‘ID verified’ badge on their account. If they don’t have these, they will as a minimum have given Airbnb their name, address, date of birth, email and phone, as well as card details. You can specify in your Airbnb dashboard that you will only accept bookings from verified guests. Although this will reduce your bookings.

If the guest has booked through Airbnb before they are likely to have reviews from past hosts. Any negative reviews will be a red flag, but if you refuse a booking it will still count against you. If they are new to the site they won’t have any reviews, and then you have to take a punt.

The other OTAs do not take these extra steps. 

On Vrbo the screening of renters is less advanced as a concept. You don’t see past reviews of renters, just the number of them and the average rating, if applicable. This is because owners are not asked to write a review, just to rate the renter for overall experience, cleanliness, communication, and adherence to house rules.  Most renters don’t seem to have these. Another approval you see on some renter profiles is ‘Owner recommended’.

‘Verified identity’ means Vrbo has the renter’s name, address, contact details and date of birth, and they are satisfied that the have the person’s real identity. If there are no renter reviews, the guest may be labelled as email-verified (completely meaningless really) and/or phone-verified (ditto).

With Booking you can require as an owner that a renter be verified, meaning a valid address or phone number, as well as email and credit card. This is what Booking says about protecting property owners from bad guests, it’s a little opaque so best to quote direct:

Background checks: We ensure guests are screened against numerous global sanctions watchlists, so our partners aren’t put at risk when hosting.

Fraud scoring: We use machine learning models to detect fraud when guests are booking and take measures to protect your reservations.

Reservation risk: Even after the guest books, we still run additional checks and take action against bookings we know will be cancelled.

Guest blocking: We have multiple teams working to ensure that problematic guests are stopped from booking properties on Booking.

Insurance for hosts on OTAs

The best for when guests damage your property is definitely Airbnb. The Airbnb insurance product is called Aircover and is applied to every booking. This will pay out up to $1m for damage to your property, as well as for injury to guests. It also now covers damage by pets and for unexpected cleaning costs caused by guests. This puts Airbnb head and shoulders above the other OTAs when it comes to insurance cover for hosts.

Vrbo offers $1m liability insurance for hosts. This may sound the same as Aircover, but it is not. Vrbo only covers claims made by guests who are injured in your property, and damage inflicted by your guests to a third-party property such as a neighbour. It does not cover you for damage by guests to your own property, which is really what you want from host insurance. However, if you have decent homeowner’s insurance which covers guest damage already, then you won’t need it.

Tripadvisor and Booking advise you to have good homeowner insurance in place and do not offer any insurance for owners.

Which OTA to choose

So which short-term rental OTA is right for you? Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking or Tripadvisor?

The answer is suck it and see.

Since they are all free to list with, the sensible tactic is to list on all 4 and see what happens. After a year you can drop one or two if you get all the bookings you need from the others, or if you find you dislike some aspect of the way the OTA treats you.

I would not pay too much attention to other local owners who tell you that one or other of the OTAs get them all their bookings and the others are a waste of time, since you don’t know how they went about listing on each one. One wrong tweak could make all the difference. You should make sure that all your prices look the same to the potential renter across your listings. And you may want to manage your listings (and avoid double bookings) with a channel manager, but that is a topic for another day.

Photographing your holiday rental property

Facade of house in Provence

This article is intended for an average rental owner who does not take brilliant photos. If that is not you, you are in the wrong place, but your comments are welcome below.

Let’s take it as read that the property is spotlessly clean and tidy, cushions primped, beds made, windows clean, clutter removed, books on shelves straightened.

Now here is the first and most important advice: put your camera down and pay for a professional property photographer to come and take the pictures. That investment will be repaid many, many times over in increased bookings.

But let’s assume you have decided not to do that for whatever reason, here are some tips to get the best results when you take your own property photos for a short-term rental.

When to take the photos

Since it is your property, you have the advantage of knowing exactly when each room looks at its best with the natural light coming in, and taking your photos accordingly. So plan your photography around this, taking the whole day if necessary.

If nice weather is one of the reasons people come to your region, only take photos of the exterior on a sunny day. If everything is arranged for one particular day, and it is massively inconvenient to change day and wait for nice weather, here is what you should do: wait for nice weather. There is no point in taking exterior photos when the sky is overcast.

Conversely it is much easier to take good interiors when it is not sunny outside, if that means direct sunlight is coming in through the windows. Direct sunlight will create contrasts of light and dark which the eye can adapt for, but a camera cannot. Unless you use HDR, which is a separate discussion. So if it is sunny, photograph a room when there is no direct sunlight coming in.


There are things that the eye skims over, but the camera does not forgive. Creases in bedding or pillows look disproportionately horrible in a photo. Flatten those creases out, or even better, attack them with a steam iron. Items on a kitchen counter that look OK in the flesh will stick out like a flashing beacon in a photo, so remove everything from counters except appliances that add value. Tea towels don’t look good in photos. Bins also look terrible. Pet bowls. Fridge magnets. Chopping boards. Nicknacks above the fireplace. Put the toilet lid down! If you can, avoid showing the toilet at all.

Bathroom: remove every single product so it looks like the day you moved in. However if you provide fancy toiletries that add value, you can place these artfully in the shot. Emptying a bathroom can be a nightmare as there are a hundred little items to get out of the way, but they do not have to go far, just out of shot.

Take a photo and study it. Is anything catching your eye that shouldn’t be? Remove it and take the photo again.

You may have to cheat the furniture in a room, often the perfect angle includes a chunk of the back of an armchair, which although accurately positioned will looks awful in a photo. Just move that armchair out of the way for the photo. Beds tend to be an expanse of nothingness in a photo, try adding a colourful bedspread to the bottom half of the bed to break things up.

All those machines tell a story but they should be out of sight for a photo.


It’s definitely a good idea to stage your property, or rather to make it look like some incredibly tidy and enviable people are staying there and have just been abducted by aliens. So the table is laid for a meal, a fancy meal with placemats and wineglasses. If you have outdoor dining, do the same there. Filled fruit bowls and flowers are an easy win.

  If you have a pool, make sure seat and sunlounger cushions are out, and you can put wine and glasses or croissants and orange juice on a table with the pool behind. Or put a book on a sunlounger in the foreground, with the pool in the background. Rolled towels on sunloungers can look good but make them neat and regular. Pool furniture looks best perfectly aligned.

It's always worth the effort of dressing up a table.


Turn on all lights except hanging ceiling lights. This may seem counterintuitive, why would the lights be on in full daylight? But it makes a big difference, giving accents of contrast that make a photo more interesting to look at, and giving a home a sense of warmth. If you are a really good photographer you do not have to pay attention to this one because you will be able to get good results without lights on, but then again you would not be reading this article.

Never, ever, under any circumstances use flash. Flash kills images. It upsets me to even talk about it. Just turn the flash off and work around it. (Unless you know what you are doing, when you will be using flash to light up bits of an image in layers for example.)

You can give a house a super-welcoming, glowing lantern effect by photographing just as the sun has gone down and by turning on every light inside and out. The timing is delicate as the window for this is short. You just need to stand outside and take 1 shot per minute until you have it.

A twilight shot makes a house so welcoming.

Where to place the camera

Hold the camera level to the room, so that the vertical lines like doors, windows and corners are vertical, not at an angle. If you want to be higher or lower, don’t tilt the camera, move it higher or lower and stay level.

Pay attention to the height of the camera – it is rare that the best angle is from eye level when you are standing upright. Usually around hip-height will give the best result. This also helps avoid the furniture distortion you get when you are looking down on it. For bedrooms you may go lower than hip to avoid the distortion of the bed. For kitchen you should usually go higher than the hip because you want to see worktop, stove, etc. Same for bathrooms if you are including the wash-basin.

The best placement of the camera for most rooms is at hip height.
For bedrooms you can go a little lower to avoid bed distortion.
For kitchens you should go a little higher to get in the tops and stove.


Avoid wide angle lens if you can, the distortion and bloat is off-putting. If you do use a wide-angle, use it on the narrowest setting so you get in what you need with minimum distortion, and correct the distortion of vertical in photo editing software like Photoshop.

If you are using a phone, newer ones have wide angle lenses or you can hold the phone in portrait/vertical mode, set to panoramic, and swipe across the room. This will give you a wide-angle image without the distortion.

Where to point the camera

If you don’t have a photographer’s eye, and few do, how do you know where to take the photo from? One way is to suck it and see. Take all sort of photos and see which ones ‘work’. A good composition will strike a note with you when you look at it, you may not be able to explain why, you will just know it.

In any case it is good practice with a room to put yourself as far into each corner of the room as you can, and shoot from there. This means you get as much of the room in as possible, and you will be shooting towards the opposite corner, which creates the right basic perspective. Some of your pics will be terrible, some will be lovely, you won’t know until you have looked at the result, and half the time it won’t be what you expected.

Think about the highlights of your property and include them in your photos. It is surprising how often a house with a killer view does not really show that view.

If a fireplace is a selling point and you want to show it in action, scrunch up some newspaper and light it. A real fire won’t look like much in a photo, you have to go for a really exaggerated flame and newspaper does that.

Those pesky windows

What to do about windows? Whilst the human eye can take in both a room and its view at perfect exposures, a camera has to choose one or the other.

You should choose blown-out windows rather than a dark room.

There are ways round this. You can use the HDR setting on your camera or phone. This means it will take multiple exposures and merge them into one image where you can see both inside and outside. HDR can look awful unless you know what you are doing. You can get a more naturalistic look by playing around in photo editing software using layers and masking, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

Once you have your room picture with blown-out windows, if the view from those windows is a selling point, take a photo through the open window, maybe framed by the opening, and show that as a separate image.

What happens when you expose a photo for the view...
...better to sacrifice the view and expose for the interior.

OTA ranking factors: how to influence your position in Airbnb/Vrbo search results

A property’s ranking means how high up it is shown for a search on an OTA (Airbnb/Vrbo/Booking/Tripadvisor), assuming it meets all the criteria of the search query.

There are various factors at play to determine how well you rank, but they can all be boiled down to one basic question:

How much money does the OTA make from you?

The two key measurements to determine that are:

Clickthrough rate: this is the percentage of times people click through to your ad when it is presented to them in a search result.

Conversion rate: this is the percentage of people who make a booking, having clicked through to your ad.

Note that when you look at where your ad ranks on an OTA you are not seeing what others will see, the result is affected by what is known about the searcher.

Let’s assume that you have done everything you possibly can to make your ad as perfect as it can be. Here are the other ranking metrics that determine your position in a search result:

1. Instant booking - turn it on!

OTAs want all listings to be instant book, and soon enough you won’t have the choice. So you may as well bite the bullet and turn on instant booking now, it will give you a boost in the rankings.

2. Accept bookings quickly

Assuming you haven’t turned on instant booking, the more you accept bookings, and the quicker you do it, the better your ranking. At the very least you have to respond to a booking or other enquiry within 24 hours, but bear in mind some of your competition (those that are not instant book) will be responding within minutes.

3. Don't cancel bookings

Cancelling a booking will have a negative effect, although you get some leeway if you’re a Superhost or equivalent. If you repeatedly don’t accept bookings that meet your booking criteria you will become invisible or even dropped entirely. This obviously means you have to make sure your calendar is always up to date.

4. Make your rates competitive

You may think you can set whatever rates you darn well please, and you can, but the OTA’s algorithm has its own opinion and if your rates are higher than the competition you will be less visible than them.

5. Good reviews are essential

The more of them the better. If you use all 4 OTAs and rent evenly between them you are diluting your reviews on any one OTA. That will cost you, each OTA wants your loyalty.

6. High-quality content

It’s not clear how something subjective would be measured by an algorithm but Vrbo say that your content is key. That means posting the maximum number of photos allowed (making them ‘high-quality’); make sure you select all your amenities, travellers on average select 7 amenities in a filtered search; try to add amenities, for example allowing pets is more important when staycations are more popular; keep your content current by updating photos and description.

7. Cancellation policy

This is not mentioned by Vrbo as a ranking metric but you can bet your bottom dollar/euro/pound that the more flexible your cancellation policy the more your ad will be boosted in the search results, especially in Covid times.

8. Show availability far ahead

Not mentioned as a ranking metric but just in case, it is good practice to have rates and availability at least 2 years ahead. It’s easy to forget to add next year’s rates until summer, autumn,… Christmas? Because OTAs like an active owner, even if there are no changes to make to your calendar it may be worth going in there and making a change once a week. You could block off a low-season period and then come back a week later and unblock it. At the very least, log in to your OTA account regularly, as the time you spend on the OTA is noted.

9. Become a Superhost/Premier Partner/Genius

On Airbnb and Vrbo you reach this status automatically when you satisfy their criteria for a certain period. For example, to be an Airbnb Superhost you have to have an average review rating of 4.8, response rate of 90%, 10 completed stays in a year, and cancellation rate below 1%. For Vrbo it is a little easier, in a 1-year period they require 90% booking acceptance, under 5% cancellation, 4.3 average rating, 5 bookings, and 3 reviews.

So this is again about loyalty because the more OTAs you use the harder it will be to get the qualifying number of stays in a year for each one. Having this status is not explicitly a ranking metric, but let’s make a wild assumption that there is a virtuous circle going on here and you are rewarded for your doing everything right. Also bear in mind: some travellers will select Superhost/Premier Partner etc. as a search filter, so they will never see your property if you are not in the club.

Booking.com even has a Visibility Booster, a nifty and worrying idea that allows you to boost your ranking for certain dates and to certain countries, by increasing the commission you are willing to pay. This could also be used as a short-term strategy if you are failing to get enough interest on booking.com – pay more in commission to boost your ranking, which will mean more people looking at your ad, and hopefully more conversions. You can then turn off the Visibility Booster and benefit from the natural effects of your ranking boost, which is to say more bookings, resulting in maintaining a higher ranking.

Why is this Visibility Booster worrying? At the moment we have a level playing field, much like Google used to be as a search engine before it filled the first page of results with ads. Now Google results are dominated by those with the deepest pockets. Similarly if all OTAs adopt this Visibility Booster concept, the search results will be a blind auction like Google Ads. Great for the OTAs, lousy for the property owner. In particular the individual property owner up against rental agencies and property managers, whose greater spend would make them more important clients for the OTAs.

Vrbo offer a tool called ‘Ranking Metrics’, which helps you understand what factors influence your visibility on their platform and how well you are performing against each parameter. Airbnb’s Host Dashboard has the same purpose.

You can get clues as to where you stand in the market with Vrbo’s Marketmaker, accessible from your dashboard. This can show you who your local competition is and show you where you are above and below the average rates for your property type and location.

How to increase booking enquiries and conversions

rental owner counting money

You don’t have to do all of these, but each one you do adopt will increase your enquiries and conversions. Or to put it another way, each one you resist will decrease your bookings…

1. Instant booking is coming whether you like it or not...

The first thing to say is if you use an OTA (Airbnb/Vrbo/Booking/Tripadvisor) then set your ad to instant booking. Soon enough this will be obligatory so if you are still resisting (most people are), you may as well bite the bullet and enjoy the benefit before everyone else is doing it. Most travellers seek this out so if you don’t allow instant booking then you are depriving yourself of most of the market.

Your likely objections to instant booking are:

1. You have a good feeling for people and want to be able to turn down an unsuitable booking.
This doesn’t hold up if you think about it because the only problems you will get are with those you didn’t turn down, and the ones you did turn down, well you’ll never know what they would have been like.

2. You are more comfortable with some interaction prior to booking, to manage expectations and so on.
This is fair enough, but you can still do this between taking a booking and the arrival date, through the OTA interface. Although not as freely as if you were emailing.

The good news if you take instant bookings is that your conversion rate for booking enquiries will be 100%. This will boost your ranking in a property search, as it is one of the factors that determines your position.

2. Be flexible

The second key setting, especially today, is how flexible your cancellation policy is. On an OTA you can choose from a menu of options ranging from strict (generally 60 days) to flexible (something like 24-48 hours). Renters pay attention to your cancellation policy and many will pre-filter their search according to the cancellation policy they are comfortable with. The same is true if you are taking direct bookings or through a local listing site, even if travellers can’t pick a filter they will still be rejecting too strict a cancellation policy.

It may be time to be brave and see what happens when you set a more flexible cancellation policy. Typically you will get more cancellations but you will also get more booking demand and that can mean you can put your rates up. The feedback from people who have done this is usually that it is worth it.

The best way to increase bookings is to turn on instant booking and relax your cancellation policy. Let’s assume you don’t want to do this, here are other things you can do which will have a less dramatic effect on your booking conversions.

3. Be even more flexible

While instant booking and more flexible cancellation would not affect your management of your property, the third recommendation would – allow shorter stays and be flexible on arrival and departure days. This will be unappealing to most but you have to bear in mind that Airbnb has changed the way people think about a short-term rental. If you don’t want to change peak season stay-length, at least look at shorter stays for shoulder and off-season. This will definitely increase your number of bookings, the more pertinent question is whether it will improve your bottom line. Only you can answer that.

4. First impressions

It goes without saying that your property will be judged on its photos ahead of anything else. Unless you know that you are a very good photographer the best single investment you can make in your rental business is to hire a professional photographer – the cost will be paid back many times over. You have to have a killer thumbnail, which is the image shown on a page of search results or on the map search.

The title of your ad is also important in determining whether someone clicks through to your ad. Don’t waste words on info that is already being shown in the ad panel: sleeps/bedrooms/bathrooms/pool. Do mention something that is key to your target market. That may be a heated pool, a stunning view, a romantic vibe, proximity to an attraction/pub/bakery, suitability for big groups/family reunions, superfast internet for a digital nomad, and so on.

Good titles:
Brighton’s sexiest little house
Cosy penthouse apartment by the sea with views
Time to escape to the sea? 200m to sandy beach
Art-Inspired Designer Apt Close to Boardwalk

Bad titles:
Stylish flat sleeps 4
3-bedroom townhouse (Brighton)

You will also be judged on your reviews, both the quality and the quantity, but that is not a quick fix, the above two are.

Make sure you look warm and approachable in your profile picture, you will be judged on it. Create the same impression with what you say about yourself in your profile.

5. Tick those amenities

Travellers do use those filters when they search so tick as many amenities as you can. Some are an easy win – a microwave is very inexpensive and many parents of babies and toddlers will need one. Some make a big difference but are a big investment, like air conditioning. Some are a state of mind – people increasingly want to travel with their dog, so are you sure you don’t want to accept them even with an extra security deposit?

6. Be the early bird

Responding quickly to enquiries is key – that used to mean the same day, now it’s more like the same hour, and ideally quicker than that. Set an alert on your phone for booking enquiries and have your response templates ready so you can reply to a booking enquiry without delay. Of course, the best thing you can do for this is point 1 at the top – turn on instant booking! Bear in mind here that you are not just up against individual owners any more, you are up against agencies and rental managers who respond immediately.

7. The human touch

When you respond to an enquiry do so with warmth and personality, so you can establish a relationship, which will make it harder for them to say no. Ask questions to engage them and oblige them to continue the conversation. Even if they don’t book this time, if they like you they may bookmark you for a future stay.