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Vacation Rental Owner Tips: Getting Your First Bookings

So you picked out a fabulous vacation rental property in the ideal location. You created beautiful property listings on the hottest search sites with incredible descriptions and stunning photographs. You are finally ready for the big moment; you push "Go Live" and then, thud. Your property is on the back page of the search rankings with fifty Superhosts and Premier Properties ahead of you. Not how you planned it? Fear not, you can get those first few coveted rentals, get some excellent reviews, and be on your way to rental business success.

Getting your first short term rentals can be a challenge.  Here are some hints to get you on your way.


You will find yourself at a significant competitive disadvantage with your area's established properties when you start. Prospective renters love to see guest reviews, lots of welcoming 5-star guest reviews. You have none of them. VRBO and Airbnb feature properties high in the search rankings with guess what, 5-star guest reviews. You again have none of them. Don't fret, all of those 5-star properties started at the same place as you are. They prospered over time, just as you will. Here is how.


Optimize Your Vacation Rental Listings

Be sure to optimize your site listings to give yourself the best chance of securing your first STR rentals.

The first order of business is to ensure your STR (short term rental) listing shines wherever you have it posted. When you have few or no reviews, there is nobody to vouch for the virtues of your property.

The listing has to sell itself. Some key points to focus on include:

  • Professional Grade Photographs - You do not have to hire a photographer. You need to be sure that you have large, high-quality photos of every room in your home. Bathrooms and the kitchen are vital rooms to spotlight. Include any great outdoor features as well, such as pool areas and outdoor kitchens. If you have tourist attractions or recreational activities nearby, take some shots of those as well. Remember high-quality photos, cropped, and enhanced as needed.

  • Fantastic Property Description - This is your chance to tell the world how unique your rental property is, so do it. What set's your place apart from the rest? Is it the top rate location? Perhaps it some incredible features in your home, like the gourmet kitchen. Whatever it is, sell it. A word of caution, though, make sure you can deliver on your promises, or your first reviews will be bad reviews.

  • Amenities Galore! - Guests love amenities, so if you've got them, promote. If you don't have any, you need to get some. A great example is a Keurig coffee machine. We have one in our properties and include some complimentary K-cup pods. Our guests rave about it, and it shows in our reviews. Sure it will cost a little bit up front, and you may spend $5.00 in pods per guest, but it is worth it in the long run.

  • Safety Features - Now more than ever during the pandemic, guest safety is a top concern. Let them know your cleaning standards, so they feel safe staying with you. Airbnb and VRBO offer host training and certification to make sure that you are operating safely. Additional safety features like alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and smoke detectors should be highlighted as well.


When you don't have guest reviews to fall back on, be sure to price your property a little below the competition to get your first rentals.

Price For Success

When you are setting your prices initially, you should check your listing site for comparable properties in your area. Be honest with yourself here. If you have a two-bedroom condo, do not expect the same rental rates as a five-bedroom estate with an indoor pool.

Once you have a baseline for your rates, go ahead and reduce them by about 20%. This rate reduction is only temporary until you have some excellent reviews. Initially, getting some business is much more important than maximizing your first month's rent.

One note about VRBO. They offer a handy feature called MarketMaker. It looks at supply and demand in your area and makes rate suggestions to you. This feature can be useful once your property is established, but we do not recommend using it when you are first starting. Remember, the key here is getting your first rentals, not holding out for extra revenue that may not materialize.


Enable Instant Bookings

Enabling Instant Bookings is a great way to get more bookings for your Airbnb or VRBO vacation rental property.

Host's have two options when accepting reservation requests. In the first option, the perspective guest fills in their travel dates and group information and submits a request to the host to review. The host will review the booking request, looking at the traveler's previous rental history, and then approve or disapprove of the rental.

The second option is known as Instant Booking. There is no guest review process here. If the travel dates are open, the guest completes the reservation immediately.

Instant Booking is recommended by the listing sites like VRBO and Airbnb to increase bookings. We believe this to be the case. When people are searching these sites, they are usually ready to book their trip. They do not want to wait for the approval process from option #1. When we travel, we rarely reserve houses that do not have Instant Booking.

You will get more bookings with Instant Booking.

So if Instant Booking is so great, why would anyone even consider not using it? There are reasons, excellent reasons. Some areas are prone to excessive partying, which leads to property damage. Think Daytona Beach during Spring Break. Or some metro areas. Detroit and San Diego have been making the news lately for a rash of party houses. If your listing is in a high-risk area, do not use Instant Booking to protect your property.

Our suggestion here is to use Instant Booking initially unless you are in a high-risk area. After you have some outstanding reviews, your property will sell itself, and you can turn off Instant Bookings if you choose.


Sell Yourself To You Guests

Make sure to complete the About Us section in your site listing to make your renters comfortable with you.

All of the Vacation Rental listing sites contain an "About Us" section. Here is your opportunity to tell renters about you and your business. Make wise use of this space as you need to convince travelers that they should spend their money staying with you. You will want to make this somewhat personal so people can relate to you. What got you into the business, how long have you been doing it, what about you makes you a great host? Renters need to be comfortable that you are real and that they can trust you. There are plenty of scam artists in this market,

separate yourself from them. Add a good profile picture of yourself (preferably not a mugshot). People will see that you are a real person that they can trust and relate to you.


Promote Your Property As a "New Listing"

Adding "New Listing" to your property description will help guests understand why you do not have property reviews. reviews.

The addition of this phrase will seem like a small detail, but we have found it beneficial. At the beginning of your STR property listing, insert the words "New Listing" into the description or title. Make sure site visitors can see it prominently. What this will do is justify why you do not have any or few guest reviews. Adding this disclaimer will reassure your renters that your property is not a lemon; it is just new. If the rest of your site looks good and your prices are fair, you will get reservations. Please don't skip this; it is essential. After a few months, you will have built-up some quality reviews and can remove this qualifier.


Wrap Up - Getting Your First Bookings

By making a few tweaks to your listing and pricing your rental reasonably you should have no problem getting your first few rentals. You will then find your path to vacation rental success much easier after you have established your first few guest reviews.


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