The Pros And Cons Of DIY Vacation Rental Marketing

In the past year, I have established my Vacation Rental Marketing Blog as the most comprehensive database of DIY vacation rental marketing on the internet. But does this mean that all owners should partake in improvised marketing for their property? Does this mean that anyone can just jump in and begin? Does it really mean that everyone has the same opportunities as their competitors?

Here are 6 pros and cons that everyone should realistically contemplate before diving in. Vacation rental marketing is a combination of art and science. Here’s how to determine whether it’s right for you:


Pro: The Cost

As a one-man business, my rental fleet had a singular dedicated asset when getting started and that was my time. I decided very early on that I may not have the financial budget of other, bigger companies or owners, but I was going to make up for my lack of funding using innovative techniques and a steadfast work ethic.

For the first several years, I was like the guerilla warrior of vacation rental marketing, testing out improvised, unorthodox techniques to see what might work in generating bookings. Much to my surprise, a handful of them started working...really, really well. 

Probably the most transparent benefit of doing your own vacation rental marketing is the cost-factor.

Sure it would be nice to hire expert vacation rental marketing consultants to do all the work for us. But as vacation rental owners, we don’t have unlimited budgets set aside for marketing and in fact, most of us run very tight ships when it comes to profits versus expenditures.

So when we do the marketing ourselves, we are saving the money of having to hire a specialist who can be prohibitively expensive.

Not unlike home improvements, DIY marketing for your rental takes some education and some research. In the same way that most of us wouldn’t just jump right in and try to fix our car engine when it’s broken, owners looking to save money by doing their own marketing must compensate with some time and patience in learning how to do things properly. The money saved in the end is well worthwhile.


Con: The Fears

Brand new to the vacation rental industry, Toula Hatziioannou needed to take baby steps. She had just started renting out her home in Vancouver Island, but she felt totally overwhelmed. So, the smartest thing she did to get over her many fears and obstacles was to develop a good mentoring relationship with the owner of a fellow vacation rental agency, a woman with whom she struck a deal.

“What intimidated me most was the paper work, contracts, billing, payment, all of that. It just felt beyond me,” Toula told me.

So Toula asked if this other owner would handle the payment part of her rental process her for a 10% fee. Under their agreement, when an inquiry came in, Toula would respond immediately (something she always did), thank the guest, and tell them she would be forwarding their note to someone else, who took care of the administrative side of things.

“I did this quite happily for about 6 months before I started getting little nudges that perhaps it was time I learned how to do this part of my business myself. Then one morning, I had two inquiries from people who wanted to complete their bookings right there and then.  I sent my friend the contacts and she responded immediately but for some reason, her phone was not sending out her messages that morning and I lost both bookings.  It was at that moment that I decided I would accept this as a $2,000 lesson and take full responsibility for my business,  learning to run every aspect of it myself.....which I started to do, that very day.”

Toula now has 4 months doing her own contracts and payments and she said this period of transition was just the lesson she needed to overcome those nagging but surmountable fears.

Oftentimes, the only thing standing in the way of a vacation rental owner and a successful self-built marketing portfolio is fear. Overcome it and take the bull by the horns.

The fear of not understanding. The fear of the internet. The fear of competition. The fear of stepping outside your comfort zone.

Fears are a scary thing! And there’s no doubt they are psychologically challenging many new owners from getting involved.

But one of the most fulfilling things I do, as a vacation rental marketing blogger, is help owners like Toula overcome their fears. Of course, it’s not easy to convince someone who’s just started using email (!!!) that they can, in fact, increase their bookings with new online techniques!

Of course Toula isn’t an expert vacation rental marketer just yet: but she is 10x ahead of her competitors (all of whom have failed to even begin this process).

I have found that fear is a great motivator. Learn to leverage your fears about vacation rental marketing into momentum and not only will your bookings improve: but your sense of self-accomplishment, like that of Toula, will be through the roof.


Pro: The Control

Dennis Hoffman owns a gorgeous vacation rental villa in Roatan, a tiny, funky island off the coast of Honduras. His bookings were good, his family was happy, and he visited his rental a few times a year to enjoy the view.

Before I started working with him, Dennis’ success was fastened to the listing sites he paid for. If there was a dearth in inquiries, that meant Dennis' villa (from $3,000 per week) sat empty. If he spent a little more money on his exposure, he could hope for (but not guarantee) more bookings. He was reactive, not proactive.

That’s when we sat down to restructure his Google Adwords account. Google Adwords is a pay-per-click platform that allows vacation rental owners to literally “buy” interested guests via clicks on the Google network. It is the ultimate example of control because the more you spend, the more visitors you are guaranteed.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being in control of your own vacation rental success.

If you are slow on bookings, the ability and knowledge that permit you to independently bump up your efforts and see more inquiries are equivalent to gold.

But too often, owners expose a potential weakness by relying exclusively on listing sites whose membership rates could fluctuate. As small business owners, the last thing you want is to be tied to a  company’s corporate decisions. So with the magic of DIY marketing, owners of all skill levels can add foundation, stability, and control to their vacation rental operation.

When I finished with him, Dennis in Roatan had turned his Adwords campaign around. Here is the proof that he was generating nearly double the web visitors for nearly half the price as before. But not only is his campaign now supernaturally honed: he now enjoys the luxury of supreme control. His Adwords account is designed like a light switch: when he wants more bookings, he cranks up the heat. When he’s busy, he turns the account off.

This type of control is invaluable to a vacation rental owner: simply because it allows you to roll with the seasonal punches.

Con: The Learning Curve

Approximately 1 year ago, my friend Brendan decided he wanted to complete a full Ironman triathlon about 4 months before the actual event. He had biked sparingly, he ran once or twice a week, and his swimming was practically non-existent. But as any good trainer will tell you, improving any three of those disciplines takes time.

Just three weeks ago, he completed his 2nd full Ironman with a time nearly 60 minutes better than last year (a remarkable improvement). This was a direct product of nearly 1-years worth of training, learning, and improving. His swimming pace – this time around – was almost 2x as fast as last year. His fast-twitch muscles propelled his biking almost 40 minutes faster than previously recorded. Which is to say, Brendan’s learning curve is on the rise.

Unless you are a freak, learning the fundamentals of vacation rental marketing will take time and patience as well. Don’t expect to get it all figured out in one day.

It would be nice (oh, so nice) if bookings were slow and all it took was a weekend of crunch time and then *poof* you were booked solid. But unfortunately, learning vacation rental marketing is not unlike learning to swim: you can pick up the basics in a very short period of time, but developing a proper stroke, improving your speed, and covering professional distances takes time.

Anyone who’s preparing to do their own vacation rental marketing should be mentally prepared for the long haul – the Ironman, if you will – and not a sprint to the finish.


Pro: The Time Is Now

One of my favorite vacation rental owners, Gene Fahey, has several gorgeous properties in Vail, Colorado displayed on his site Gene isn’t much of a technology guy, but he knew that the merits of online vacation rental marketing were sound. So he built a website.

With this one fell swoop, Gene launched himself into an elite category of vacation rental owners (those who have their own website). While it wasn’t something he necessarily expected to produce massive, immediate results to his bottom line, he knew that launching a website now would act as a powerful investment for the future.

The vacation rental industry is very new and the vast majority of owners are doing almost no vacation rental marketing. Apart from listing on the major sites, most owners simply sit back and hope their property gets booked.

As you might imagine, this leaves the door wide open for those who want to get a leg up on the competition. This leaves a giant advantage for the taking, to any owner who’s more proactive than his/her nearest competitors.

If the giant surge in vacation rental services is any indicator, the near future will prove to be a very influential period for local vacation rental markets: now is the time to scramble for the best Internet presence, the best copywriting, the best photos. Not unlike most booms, those who have a head start on their competitors are the ones who – several years down the road, when the industry is more developed – will enjoy the fruits of their labor.

In a few years time, I can tell you where Gene’s rentals will be: with an established website drawing web traffic for the phrase “Vail Condos,” he’ll have a sizeable lead on any of his competitors. He’ll be high atop a group of owners just then – a bit too late – realizing the need for some DIY marketing. Gene will be grateful he invested when he did.


Con: The Lack Of Resources

The first time I ever tried yoga, I was thrust into a group of professional yoga instructors at a seminar in Tulum, Mexico. As you might imagine, I was so overwhelmed with their positions and nomenclature that, in just minutes, I felt like a failed pretzel.

Oppositely, I was convinced to give yoga a second chance down the road in a learning environment for beginners in Chicago, and guess what? I loved it! I got to joke around with the other guys who were inflexible like me! We shared our amazement about the amount of sweat produced! We cried, harmoniously, when the toughest portion was over.

Roughly a year ago, I set out to create the most innovative community of vacation rental owners in the world for one reason and one reason alone: support.

When doing anything for the first time, support plays a huge role and the presence of similar-minded folks acts as everyone’s crusade fuel.

And since the amount of resources online to help first-time vacation rental owners improve their occupancy rates was next to nil, I became determined to connect owners from across the world who shared the same common aspirations.

What I have now is a resource (Vacation Rental Marketing Blog) that is read by thousands of owners every week.


Because owners like the safe, non-judgmental, scientific learning environment we’ve established for one another.

When someone has a good idea, we share it with the group. When someone has a failure, we share it with the group. Owners of all levels are drawn to my blog, not only because it contains, inarguably, the best material in the industry, but also because being in a circle of like-minded individuals helps – almost through osmosis – to spur everybody on.

Unfortunately there are not a ton of great resources to help owners improve their online marketing at this point in time. So learning to seek out the best and the brightest can be a difficult and overwhelming task. 

Like any new discipline (whether it’s yoga or swimming or vacation rental marketing) be patient, seek out the best advice, and surround yourself with good energy. The rest will take care of itself.

Matt Landau is the founder of Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and VRLeap, two free resources designed to help vacation rental owners and managers increase their bookings. Pick up a copy of his latest book, The Eureka Effect: How Good Vacation Rentals Become Great for free while supplies still lasts.