If there is one phrase that’s constantly echoed off the walls of the short-term rental industry, then it is of course, ‘Book Direct’.
The premise of Book Direct is simple. In practice, it involves a guest booking their stay directly with a property host or STR agency, rather than doing it by the means of an OTA (online travel agent) such as Airbnb, Booking.com, and VRBO.
As a result, the STR host benefits from greater revenue – as they are not paying commission fees to an OTA – as well as more control over cancellation policies and payment management, and access to guest data that they normally wouldn’t have, if the likes of Airbnb was stepping in as the ‘middle man’.
In most cases, the guest reaps the rewards of booking directly too, with the experience being more personalised and hospitable. This is particularly helpful if something goes wrong, and the guest would like to communicate with more than just the ‘Help Centre’ of a faceless booking platform.
So favoured has the notion of Book Direct become, that there is now an entire day dedicated to it in the short-term rental industry.
Founded by Amy Hinote of VRM Intel in 2018 (thanks to what was known as a ‘Twitter Hashtag’ back then), Book Direct Day sees the coming-together of STR operators, who educate the industry about the benefits of bypassing OTAs and scaling a business that is not heavily reliant on third party platforms.
Book Direct is ingrained into the roots of I-PRAC. Our founder and CEO, Chris Maughan has built a successful STR brand that accommodates the corporate teams of MTV, Google, Disney, Expedia, Spotify, and more, without an inch of help from the OTAs. We also proudly position I-PRAC accreditation as a one-of-a-kind ‘direct bookings tool’.
However, while Book Direct Day has become an incredible movement in the industry that we’re great ambassadors of – it’s important to challenge the majority of operators who will jump on a figurative bandwagon today.
It seems that on the first Wednesday of every February – when Book Direct Day is celebrated – there is a flurry of misguided excitement and short-sighted ‘direct booking strategies’ plastered across the internet. Very few of which address where the basis of Book Direct stems from.
And where does the basis of Book Direct stem from?
The answer to this, is of course, ‘trust direct’.
In other words, trust that must be earned directly (from guests), in order for a direct booking to even take place.
So, amid all the top tips, templates, and easy how-tos that we’re going to come across on social media today – let us also question if a large majority of the short-term rental industry is in fact just missing the point of Book Direct Day altogether.
What asking guests to ‘book direct’ actually means
When you ask a guest to book directly with you, what you’re actually asking them to do is trust you over the OTA that they are already very comfortable with.
You are asking them to abandon a platform that they have gotten to know (and for the most part, like) and choose you – a person who was a stranger to them, until they came across your property listing.
The problem is, many STR operators make the assumption that potential guests already trust them; and so, they don’t make an adequate effort to earn that trust from the very first instance.
This is why putting yourselves in the guests’ shoes is undeniably important. Be thoughtful of the fact that your guests are parting with a sizeable amount of money for an experience that leaves them rather vulnerable and exposed (paying to sleep at a stranger’s property is not the same as paying for a cup of coffee).
Add to this the innate convenience of booking via an OTA for the majority of guests. If something is already working, people need to be given a strong reason to change it, otherwise it is interpreted in their mind as nothing more than a hassle. This ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality is a subconscious thought that every human being has – and frankly, what you’re working to break down every time you ask a guest to book directly with you.
If you, as a short-term rental host, are being advised to run discounts and special offers on Book Direct Day (to incentivise direct bookings for your guests), then pause and think about the following points first.
Will a guest value a 10% discount or guaranteed peace of mind more?
According to Statista, the average nightly rate of a short-term rental property in London (in 2023) was £181. Meaning a 10% discount will save a guest less than £20. Do you believe that a guest will hold this amount of money more dear to them, than their own safety, security, and peace of mind?
Will a guest value an early check-in or guaranteed peace of mind more?
It is standard practice to check in to a hotel or STR property between 2pm and 4pm. This has been the case for many years; and the majority of guests have no issues with it whatsoever. An additional hour at an STR property is probably not as valuable to guests as the promise of a clean and well-equipped unit, that is 100% legitimate and safe to live in.
Will a guest value a free coffee or guaranteed peace of mind more?
A large number of STR operators will run special promotions on Book Direct Day, such as free Starbucks or a complimentary welcome drink on arrival. While this is thoughtful hospitality (and always a nice touch), remember these gestures are not giving guests an adequate reason to book directly with you, rather than with an OTA they already know. If you were given the choice between a free drink and complete peace of mind, what would you choose?
The point being reinforced here is that the message of ‘Book Direct’ is practically synonymous with the message of ‘Trust Direct’. A special offer or a celebratory post will likely not convert into more direct bookings for your STR business, if you’ve failed to prove why you can be trusted first.
The education around ‘Book Direct’
As Amy Hinote herself would agree, Book Direct Day is a day of education.
Unfortunately, book direct strategies are few and far between on Book Direct Day itself, especially as we creep into an age of click-baity content, mostly designed to create noise and go viral.
But, if you truly wish to launch a reliable direct bookings strategy this Book Direct Day, then you must first acknowledge that a lack of trust and uncertainty exists in the short-term rental industry. If these things were not prevalent issues in our space, then the entire premise of Book Direct Day would fall flat – as there wouldn’t be a need for it.
Although you may know for certain that you are a legitimate operator, don’t make the naive assumption that potential guests will feel the same. They are familiar with the OTAs (who have the budget and teams for glamorous ads and PR campaigns) – not with you.
So, be mindful of the fact that this is why the majority of guests are still choosing to book via third party platforms.
Once you’ve addressed the elephant in the room with yourself, it is time to do the same with your target demographic.
As a short-term rental operator, the first step you should take to launch your direct bookings’ strategy is to prove you are 100% trustworthy – through a third party endorsement. The reason why a third party endorsement is more powerful than you speaking for yourself (or even your friends and family speaking for you) is because the third party has no reason to do you a friendly ‘favour’, meaning, a guarantee from them (only if they are a credible source) has more clout.
- Apply to become I-PRAC Approved. Accreditation from I-PRAC is the only accreditation in the market that guarantees 100% protection against short-term rental fraud and inadequate standards of hospitality.
- Communicate the benefits of being I-PRAC Approved (ie, why you are 100% trustworthy) across your direct bookings’ website using ‘trust signals’ and throughout your marketing campaigns.
- Email your database (or share a thoughtful post on social media, if you don’t have email marketing set up yet) explaining why guests should book directly with you. As an I-PRAC Approved member, you have immediately differentiated yourself from the OTAs. Even though the likes of Airbnb and Booking.com are well-known, they are rife with fraudulent listings and have a reputation for not being the most guest-friendly when a guest encounters a problem.
The above strategy can be actioned today, simply by visiting the I-PRAC website and beginning an application. However, there is a science to building a trusted short-term rental business that generates ongoing direct bookings.
In the spirit of what Book Direct Day stands for, it is education and a Trust Direct mindset that’s required – something that I-PRAC has become known for in the STR industry.
We are on track to building the largest – and most valuable – Resource Hub in the industry, home to a library of educational content, including the most downloaded piece in the STR space, The Trust Trilogy Series and the soon-to-launch Trustology – a meticulously crafted blueprint about what it takes to attract more direct bookings through trust, as taught by industry veteran, Chris Maughan.
The industry now also sees a significant rise in ‘Trust Pages’ (an I-PRAC initiative) on direct booking websites, which increase conversions by 63%.
We have educated STR operators about the importance of having a page on their website that directly addresses a guests’ concerns – where they can showcase their I-PRAC accreditation and differentiate themselves from OTA platforms and other STR providers. According to our in-house research, hosts see more success via a well-constructed Trust Page than with a simplistic About Page – as guests are of course, more interested in how a short-term rental stay is going to benefit them and keep them safe.
From our experience, short-term rental hosts who are I-PRAC Approved (and who leverage their accreditation adequately) enjoy a significant rise in their direct bookings, because they are settling the guests’ biggest question when it comes to switching from an OTA: Why should I trust you enough to book directly with you?
This Book Direct Day, among all the online sparkle and well-meaning advice, take the time to understand what the booking experience actually looks like from your guests’ point of view – and what you are actually asking of them, when you ask them to bypass the OTAs.
Should you agree with even the tiniest fraction of what’s been outlined in this article, then you will take the 20 minutes to complete an I-PRAC application and ensure your direct bookings’ strategy is leading with Trust Direct, first.
Remember, Book Direct Day is a celebration of the destination that most STR operators want to get to – but Trust Direct is a mindset, approach, and actionable strategy that paves the path towards it.