Your Vacation Home on the Internet

(Excerpt from Book)

Commercial Vacation Rental Sites

The emergence of commercial rental web sites in the mid-nineties proved to be a boon to internet savvy vacation rental home owners. Thousands upon thousands of owners and millions and millions of guests use these sites to rent their vacation homes on a regular basis. Many owners have figured out that they can often double their net income from their rental property through self management. This section of my book addresses the realm of internet marketing as it pertains to vacation rental homes and condominiums. I’ll discuss commercial rental web sites, how they can work to assist you and the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences between sites. With my guidance, you will decide how many sites you wish to utilize and how you might choose among them.

How Commercial Sites Work for You

Most commercial web sites work in a similar manner. For each web site on which a property is listed, homeowners typically receive a primary web page featuring one to six main photos, and space to detail information about their property: rates, description, amenities and contact information. Your individual page is linked into the larger network by a listing that appears on the state, country or regional page one step up in the geographical hierarchy that ultimately leads up to the site's home page. From a potential renter’s point of view, the search process is essentially in reverse order: site visitors typically drill down to your home either geographically or through a feature search.

Commercial Web Site Features

There are literally hundreds of choices in commercial websites to choose from. Based on my experience, some sites are a waste of money while others are very productive. You should assume an average cost per year of $150 - $200 per site per year to be conservative in your budgeting, although the actual cost will often be less. Most commercial sites offer added cost options such as additional pictures or listing priorities (so that your listing shows in front of other listings in the same category), as well as the opportunity to include a link to your standalone dedicated site if you have one. I recommend contracting for minimum cost options only, particularly if you have your own property web site for additional pictures and information. If you decide to take advantage of some of these extra cost site features at a later date when you become more familiar with the process, by all means do so.

Selecting Your Commercial Websites

It is up to you how many sites you choose on which to list your property. It may come as no surprise to you when I say that the more sites the better when you are looking to build a base of rental business. On the contrary, you may save a little money initially by listing with only a couple of sites if, for instance, you already have a dependable core of return guests from prior experience. It is also true that fewer sites mean somewhat less ongoing effort, particularly if you make lots of rate changes, etc. However, given the relatively modest cost of additional sites compared to your overall investment of time and money, I recommend initially listing your property on at least five commercial sites, particularly if you are just starting out. In the next chapter, I will walk you through my suggested process for identifying and selecting the commercial rental web sites that you will initially use for your home. Generally, my approach is to use a combination of web sites, with some selected based on their web ranking and others selected based on an assessment of the competition from other rental properties in your area.

Gauging Website Performance

Although you may choose an initial subscription term of one month to one year with most commercial sites, I recommend jumping in and doing a full year. You have to spend a little time with the setup, plus it will probably take at least a full rental season to decide if your money is being spent wisely based on the number if inquiries you receive from your different commercial subscriptions. This will also give you a chance to evaluate such things as the site’s design and ease of use and make your own judgment call as to which subscriptions to renew and when it is time to try a different one.

Data on access to your listing by potential renters is frequently accumulated by the commercial web site itself and provided to subscribers for use in analyzing traffic and contact activity. At a minimum, try to at least gauge the relative performance of each site once each year. You will then be in a good position to determine which and how many sites you wish to renew.

Reverse Auction Websites

There is one approach of which I am aware that is quite different from others in that they use a “reverse auction” methodology. Deciding whether or not to participate in a reverse auction web site has critical implications for you in that it requires somewhat more effort on your part than is otherwise the norm. This extra effort may be worth it for you if you have the time and really want to maximize income. The reverse auction process allows inquiring visitors to describe their desired destination, number of bedrooms, acceptable rate range, etc. in broad terms. This information is then broadcast en masse to all owners whose property even roughly matches the description. Given this approach, you will find that you get more inquiries more frequently, understanding that they are not considering your home in particular but, rather, are offering you a chance to compete for their business. In order to capture the booking, you must respond promptly, meet their specific needs and compete on price.

Deciding to subscribe to a reverse auction site is a judgment call that only you can make, primarily based on your time constraints and personal preference. By way of guidance, I will say that you are likely to increase your bookings by using a reverse auction web site, particularly if you have a desirable home, but at a considerable cost in time and effort. My decision has always been that it was not worth the hassle simply because of restraints on my time and the rental success I had otherwise.

A Web Site for Your Home

Whether you choose to self manage or employ the services of a property management company, there are distinct advantages to having a dedicated web site for your vacation home. While it is helpful to have a home web page even if you use the rental management services of others, I would say categorically that, if you are self managing, a web site specifically built for your rental home is a key competitive advantage.

Benefits of a Dedicated Web Site

The many ways in which you will benefit from your own vacation home web page include:

I suggest that you have a dedicated web site developed for your rental home separate from the commercial sites
on which you choose to list.

Contact a Website Developer

At this point you are ready to begin the process of developing the input documents that you will need to provide to your website developer in order for them to design and populate your web page.

At, we specialize in building and hosting affordable websites for vacation rental home owners.

Please review the next chapter covering online resources for a more detailed description of our services. I suspect that there are also other companies and individuals ready, willing and (hopefully) able to create a web site for you. Whomever you choose to assist you, I encourage you to put this on your list of things to get done now!

Creating Web Input

Filling Out Descriptive Information

Now that you have an understanding of how the internet can help you rent your property, it’s time to develop the specific input that we will use to populate your dedicated website and that you will use to input into the selected commercial sites. I have provided sample documents in the Appendix and at [buy the book]. Go ahead and take a brief look at them now as we continue our discussion. The nine documents are:

You should be able to accomplish this task based on your understanding of your home and its features and the rate information we discussed earlier.

Using the samples provided in the Appendix, and on the web, develop customized word processing documents that reflect your home, your area, your policies and your rental rates.

With these customized documents completed for your home, you are now ready to cut and paste information to the commercial web sites, submit information to a developer for a dedicated web page for your property and respond to rental inquiries.

Time to Go Live!

This is the final step in attracting those rental clients on the internet! When all is ready, you will “go live” with a new dedicated web site for your home – an exciting and rewarding experience! At this point, you are also ready to select and populate your commercial marketing sites that you have chosen using the web input documents that you previously have prepared. We will also explain how to create and link an online availability calendar and guest book so that potential renters only contact you for open dates, a critical and time saving exercise. After this phase is complete, your rental home will be on-line and ready for business!

Your New Dedicated Web Site!

Now is the time that you have been waiting for! You have received confirmation that the dedicated web site for your vacation rental is up and running and ready to go. The first thing you should do is to visit your new site to verify the final accuracy of all information, particularly your rental rates and seasons, the wording of your key policies and any other items that renters and potential renters will rely on when they making their rental decision. Ultimately you are responsible for what is presented on your dedicated page, so you’ll want to make certain that it is clear and accurate. After you have carefully studied the information on your site, please alert the developer to any factual errors that need to be corrected before you refer visitors to it. Note the complete web address for your dedicated site. You will need to have it handy for posting on the commercial sites as you go through the registration process. Once you are ready, proceed to select and activate the commercial sites best suit your home. The next section will guide you through this process.

Your Commercial Rental Sites

Selecting Your Commercial Sites

It is now time for you to select the commercial rental web sites that you will use to market your vacation rental home and to load these sites with your previously prepared data. As soon as this process is completed, you can expect to begin receiving inquiries on rentals, so this is THE key step in kick starting your rental program.

In the previous chapter, I summarized my recommended process as selecting some of your rental web sites based purely on their web ranking for “hits”, or visits and others based on your assessment of the competition from other rental properties in your area. I also mentioned that the more sites you contract with, the more inquiries that you are likely to receive so to some extent the number of web sites with which you contract initially is a matter of judgment. I do recommend that you contract with at least five initially since the success of your entire rental program depends on occupancy.

Let’s consider the most popular sites first. In order to determine this, visit When you get to the Alexa home page, walk through the following sequence to get a list of the current top commercial vacation rental sites:

Select “Top Sites”

Select “By Category”

Select “Recreation” as the category

Select Subcategory, then “Travel”

Select Subcategory, then “Lodging”

Select Subcategory, then “Vacation Rentals”

What will be displayed is a ranked list of the most frequently visited sites on the web based on internet visits. At my last review this list included the top 70 sites in the world and showed the top ten (10) sites as:

You may choose to arbitrarily pick from three to five of these web sites or spend the time to visit them individually and assess their appeal for yourself. If you elect to take the time to visit them, one way to familiarize yourself with each site is to navigate toward properties in your area that will compete with your home. In this manner, you can test the process that potential reenters will go through to view your home, as well as see what the competition from other properties in your area is on these busy and popular sites.

In regards to competition from other similar rental properties in your area, I like to supplement the list of sites chosen based solely on their web rankings by contracting with perhaps slightly less popular sites where the local rental competition for homes like yours is less. In other words, you may find an attractive site that has fewer homes for rent in your resort than other sites, which in turn raises your chance of being selected. When you evaluate competing homes, compare features and prices and amenities to see how you stack up – after all, this is what potential renters are doing! It may sometimes be better to subscribe to a lower ranking web site if they have less direct competition from other properties in your immediate vicinity. There are a number of excellent commercial vacation home rental sites that I particularly like which are not included in the above list including:

Activating Your Commercial Sites

I have found the process of loading personalized rental home data to be very intuitive in most cases, permitting you generally to cut and paste information from the input documents which you have previously developed.

I suggest that you have these electronic documents as well as your credit card information handy before you begin, then pick a time when you can sit undisturbed for an hour or so to work through the enrollment and loading process. It is not at all difficult since you have already written your marketing information. Now get started!

Availability Calendar and Guestbook

The final step in the online preparation process is to set up an online availability calendar and guest book for your home. You may initiate an online availability calendar at a number of places on the web. Since I used first, I’ll walk you through that process, but feel free to find another one you like better.

Setting up a Account

Your account will provide a central point for data input for multiple commercial sites and access to a centralized occupancy calendar and guest book. When you have successfully set up this account, you will get a confirming e-mail sent to you from advising you that you have successfully registered. You will be given an account, password and property ID for your rental home. Availability Calendar The principal objective for establishing a account is that it provides a central point at which you may update an availability calendar and, of somewhat lesser importance, a guest book. When properly established and linked, your calendar can be automatically accessed by all (or most) of the major commercial rental sites on which you have registered. In other words, you will only need to update one calendar instead of updating a separate calendar for each commercial account. Your availability calendar is a critical part of your program and a major time and labor saver!

In order to perform the initial setup and activation of your calendar, you should 1) logon to your account, 2) activate and provide the necessary information to ensure that your initial calendar is up-to-date, 3) record the calendar ID 4) input the calendar ID to the commercial sites when they are established. Once you have accomplished the initial setup, you will simply log on to your account, go straight to your calendar and provide updated information each time you rent or otherwise decide to block out specific dates.


You may also want to establish a “guest book” at Like the availability calendar, the guest book can be referenced by many commercial web sites, allowing single point update and eliminating the need for your guests to enter flattering comments about your property multiple times! To get the most out of it, ask your satisfied customers to post favorable comments about their rental experience on your guest book. What if a guest, however unlikely, decides to enter something not so complimentary? Not to worry – you ultimately control all posted comments.

Another ancillary benefit of establishing a account for some people is that it can provide a central point for initial data input to multiple commercial sites. However, given that you already have your documents prepared and can cut and paste as you setup your commercial sites, this may or may not be of great value to you.