Sep 20, 2011

There are a lot of different ways that you can advertise your vacation rental by owner property. Here are all the approaches that we have used:
  • Posting business cards or postcards on noticeboards at work, church, clubs, etc.
  • Classifieds in local papers, Craigslist, etc.
  • Donating vacation time at your property to a charity auction
  • Free online vacation rental listing sites
  • Paid online vacation rental listing sites
  • Own web site

Business Cards and Postcards

Putting business cards or postcards up on noticeboards is relatively inexpensive. However, in 5 years we've booked a total of 1 time to someone that found us on a noticeboard. But having business cards and postcards can still be useful. We leave postcards in our property for guests to use. And we also mail postcards to previous guests. We find both to be useful ways to keep in touch with past guests that are more personal than just an email. As you'll see below, repeat guests are an important source of bookings for us. Read this post about Postcards for your Vacation Rental for more information.


When it comes to classifieds, we've used Craigslist and Kijiji and Backpage. We've never tried local print media. All of these services are free. What you're investing is your time to post and respond. We've had very mixed results. Without a doubt these services bring the highest noise to signal ratio. By which I mean we get a lot of spam or worthless inquiries. At Sunset Beach Bliss, we've received less than 1% of our rental income from this source (in the chart it is grouped into "Other") and no longer advertise this way. However, for Beech Mountain Bliss it has made up 10% of our rental income.  

Donating to Charity

Each year my colleagues organize an auction to support the Duke Children's Hospital. For the last 3 years we have donated a long weekend at one of our properties for this auction. We've been pleased at how much money this has raised. But there are tax issues and other risks to consider when agreeing to donate time at your vacation home. Read more about Donating a Stay in your Vacation Rental to Charity.

Free Listing Sites

A lot of new vacation rental listing sites offer free trials while they are trying to develop traffic. Our experience has generally been that keeping your property information current on these sites is more trouble than it's worth. In the combined 8 years that we've been advertising our two properties we have received a total of 1 booking from a free listing site. Your mileage may vary. If there is a free listing site targeted to your region or type of vacation property, then try it out. Read more about Is it worth posting your property on free listing sites.

Paid Listing Sites

For most owners of vacation rentals, this will be the largest source of inquiries and bookings. We are no exception, having received 75% of our bookings at both properties from this source. We use VRBO, HomeAway and VacationRentals (all 3 owned by How many should you list with? The glib answer is - "as many listing sites as it takes to fill your high season". For almost everyone, a single booking in high season will pay for a year of advertising on a single paid listing site. I would recommend starting with these 3 listing sites. Read more about Should you get a Free Listing on FlipKey and Should you renew your VRBO listing.

Own Web Site

This is a source of advertising that a lot of owners seem to overlook. I think for many people it can seem either too expensive or too complicated. In practice it can be done very inexpensively. We spend $10/year for each of our property domain names, and $0/yr for the web sites. Read this other post on setting up a web site for your vacation rental. I think another reason that people don't setup their own web site for their vacation rental, is because they can't imagine anyone finding it. With paid listing sites like VRBO and HomeAway spending so much on advertising, how would their own site ever be found?

All I can point to is our own experience. At Sunset Beach Bliss 12% of our bookings come through our own web site. At Beech Mountain Bliss 8% of our bookings come through our web site. If you search for "Beech Mountain Condo" on Google, our web site is currently #4.. On Yahoo and Bing we currently show up as #1.  I think our ranking on these search engines is the result of our Beech Mountain Bliss Blog. Read this other post on how and why to build a blog for your rental listings.

Our Results

So here is the breakdown by net income (not necessarily number of bookings) from each source for the last 3 years at our Sunset Beach Bliss and Beech Mountain Bliss condo. Where the inquiry came from our own web site we record it as Google. If I was starting over I would call this "Organic" or just "Our Website".
Sunset Beach Bliss 2009-2011
Beech Mountain Bliss 2009-2011
In addition to the points made above, a key point here is that "repeat business is important". Read this other post on the importance of repeat guests, what we do to try and get them, and why they are so valuable. And for an updated view of our results through 2012, read this other post on should you renew your VRBO listing?

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas about how you can advertise your own vacation rental by owner property. Perhaps the most important lesson is to measure. Start a spreadsheet for all your inquiries, and make a point of confirming with guests how they found you. Even "free" listings have a cost - your time. Make a point to review the performance of all the approaches you use to advertise each year. Decide which ones to continue, which ones to stop, and whether to experiment with new ones.

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