I was interested to see reactions to last week’s article where I explained I had said goodbye to the OTAs like Airbnb, Homeaway and Booking.

Nobody laughed.  Quite a number of readers wished me well on the journey, thank you –  as you can see in some of the comments.

A few folks said they were already along the path, already free of the OTAs, great.  If that is you too, let me know.

One couple explained how they were taking steps towards independence.

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Last week I started my biggest experiment in 20 years of running a vacation rental.  I suspended my Online Travel Agency accounts.  Airbnb, Homeaway, booking.com all turned off.

Independence possible

Yes, I’m having a crack at being independent of the large listing sites.  Is it possible?   I’ll share progress periodically in this newsletter.

Recapping, I’m a small business, with just one rental – Sea Zen Wye River, a luxury rental for couples, with some interesting twists like Japanese styling that make it stand out.  It is the most rented vacation rental in our village, my prices are high.

How will I get bookings?

Loyalty scheme

I have a lot of loyal guests who keep returning year after year.

To put a sharp edge on that loyalty, I have over 600 past guests on my newsletter mailing list.  This is not just any mailing list.  It is a list that has been carefully cultivated over the years so readers are entertained and informed, without any selling.  My readers tell me they enjoy reading it.  They are even happy to keep receiving it monthly, in a world where few would tolerate other travel newsletters monthly.

My loyal guests mull over the newsletter.  I often get emails for bookings attached to a newsletter they received months previously.  The system works well.

Organic website traffic

Sea Zen has its own website and a lot of rich local content that helps searchers find the website and book. There are also several niches that I can promote with modest Adwords advertising.


Periodically, I’ll share the results.  If the experiment doesn’t work, sure I’ll turn the OTAs back on, but I’m in no hurry.

Along the way, I’ll keep tightly in touch with changes in the OTAs via my mastermind group and share any observations.

This is very big step.  As they say, don’t try this at home unless you are very well prepared.  Through this newsletter, you can watch from a distance.  Let’s see how we go.

My Fallback

On a personal note, If I have fewer bookings, it will give more time for family and my Vacation Rental Mastery book that is coming up very nicely.

If you have any questions or comments, please comment below.

To your success.

Rex Brown


We humans are strange people, we do the strangest things, and we are also culturally programmed to behave irrationally and do things that we don’t want to!

You can use humanity’s psychological quirks to get more bookings for your vacation rental.  You are probably already exploiting some of these quirks unconsciously, but when we dig a little deeper in this section, you will uncover many tactics that you may not have heard of.

You can use the psychology of influence  to help you to get happy guests, loyal guests, more bookings, higher rates, and ultimately a more rewarding business.

Bob Cialdini’s Pyschology of Influence

The psychology of influence goes back a long way.  In the 1980s a young psychology professor called Bob Cialdini in Arizona was intrigued by how salesmen often got him to buy something he didn’t know he needed.  Conventional psychology didn’t explain why, so he went underground for 3 years working for all kinds of salespeople, watching and learning.  He found there was an underlying science of influence.  The result is a book he wrote in 1984 called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”.  It describes 6 principles that explain our unconscious programming and why we buy from one person and not from another.  The book became an enduring success and sold over 3 million copies, topping best seller lists with translation into 30 languages and has endured to this day.

The principles are as true today as they were in 1984, and indeed some you will recognise instantly, but they have subtlety.

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It really helps if guests can book directly online from your own website.

Ten years ago, most guests preferred booking in person with an owner on the phone.  That has changed as people have become more comfortable buying online generally.

Now when someone does their research and finds me on my website or by recommendation or from my newsletter – they have choices.  Often they call to book directly with me, and after asking a few questions, about half prefer to book securely online rather than passing details over the phone.  No problem, the booking link is on the website.

Online booking also adds convenience for the guest. The guest can be searching at odd hours and find the website, satisfy themselves that the experience is right, the photos look good and the reviews are reassuring.  They check availability and price, and book securely online on the spot, job done.  Easy.  No need to find if the owner is answering their phone or email, their holiday is booked.

For these reasons it is important to have a facility on your website for guests to book online.  It will also save you a hefty commission.

Online booking is good for guests and good for VR owners with their own websites

My Choice

You have many options, but after many hours researching the alternatives, I chose Thebookingbutton, from Siteminder, which is a simple and powerful booking engine for small owners.

How Thebookingbutton works

You set up your rates and dates on their system with a few photos, and there is a public link to your calendar with everything a guest needs to book.  The link goes wherever you want on your website, you can even make it look like a button.

Once the guest is ready to book, they click on the booking link and the Bookingbutton booking engine takes over. The guest enters their dates, their details and credit card securely and the details are stored on a secure server.  The system instantly sends you an email with details of your booking.  You can log into the system to use the credit card manually or payment can be taken automatically through Paypal and deposited into your account.

More information here.

There is a small monthly rental (A$35/mth in 2018) for the bookingbutton, and no commission.  When I had 3 VRs, I ran each as a separate room on the system with no extra price, excellent value.

Is it safe?  Siteminder claims to be the world’s biggest online booking system with over US$16 Billion in revenue from thousands of hotels in 160 countries, and countless small VRs like you.  It partners with some of the world’s biggest accommodation websites like booking.com and cTrip.
Disclaimer: I receive no benefit for endorsing Siteminder, I just like it and use it.

The other online booking options.

  • Put a link on your website to your existing OTA listing – simple, but you lose control and are charged a commission.
  • You can get various plugins that work with a wordpress site, with the various security headaches
  • You can get an integrated website/ booking engine software from a number of providers, but making a decision is not easy and not cheap
  • Do nothing, and lose online bookings.

I like the simplicity, and cost effectiveness of the booking button, but you make up your own mind.

Online booking is another reason to have your own simple website.


Did you know you can get to the top of Google for free? You can use a Google feature called ‘My Business’ and it is free!

Your ‘My Business’ listing gives you a small page on Google, with photos and a direct link to your website if you have one, your telephone number, and a link to your availability on some listing sites. This is marketing gold!

As an example, here is my Sea Zen My Business listing.

Sea Zen My Business Listing

Typical search results

In terms of the bigger picture, after someone makes a search, the Google search results show:

  • Some paid ads at the top – this is how google makes its money
  • Usually 3 ‘My Business’ listings and a map
  • Sometimes an image or a video or other experimental result
  • Everything else – the ‘Organic’ results – where SEO determines where you rank

As everyone knows, people click more on the higher search results because it is easier. If you want to get to the top of Google, you generally have 3 choices. You can pay for ads; you can get a ‘My Business’ listing; or you can try and rank at the top of everything else using SEO. This last can be difficult to impossible for most vacation rentals.

Your Vacation Rental is also listed explicitly in Google searches, by rotation, for the world to see. Nice! [click to continue…]