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How to Build a Vacation Rental Website

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Yuri Musienko
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Featured image for How to Build a Vacation Rental Website

According to statistics, more and more property owners are turning to rental housing as an additional source of income. Moreover, if earlier, homeowners used such sites as Airbnb, Booking.com, HomeAway or Vrbo to search for tenants, now they are simultaneously creating their own websites to redirect people to them (67% of travelers think it’s more convenient) and to save on commissions this way.

From our article you will learn:

  1. How to create a website for vacation rental.
  2. What is the approximate cost of developing such a site.
Our instruction consists of four simple steps.

Step 1: type and goals of the site

Large listings. Sites for renting real estate on vacation can be divided into three types: large and local listings, as well as personal sites. Large listings are the well-known Airbnb, HomeAway, Booking and their analogues. Such sites operate on the multi-vendor marketplace algorithm: anyone can register on the site to rent out their housing, and anyone can become a tenant.

That is, large listings provide a mediation service between homeowners and tenants, taking as a payment a percentage of each transaction or a certain amount for adding an offer to the listing. Some sites use other methods of monetization: advertising, disabling ads, recommendations, premium services, crowdfunding and more.

Local listings. These sites work in the same way as large listings, but their coverage is usually limited to a specific city or region, for example, Los Angeles, California or France. Such sites for landlords and tenants have almost no advantages in comparison with large sites. Unless sometimes they personally check the rented housing for compliance with photos and description.

Personal sites. Web sites where homeowners offer their services directly, which allows you to reduce the cost of renting and talk more about housing and its owners. Owner information is important as it replaces the rating system and reviews on multi-vendor sites that help deselect bad homeowners and scammers.

It should also be understood that personal sites do not provide mediation services, but short-term rental housing for vacation, which fundamentally changes the approach to the development of the site and its functionality. In fact, if you create such a site, then this is not a separate project, but part of your marketing strategy - another channel for advertising rental housing.

For example, when renting out for a short term, it is important that the tenant has everything necessary for a comfortable stay - from a kettle to several sets for personal hygiene (soap, shampoo). If you are creating a multi-vendor platform, then you need a feedback function, where the tenant will indicate were there such sets or not. Whereas for a personal site it is important that such sets are in principle and this would be indicated on the site. And so in almost everything.

Step 2: basic and advanced features

For large and local listings. We already wrote that such sites work according to the same algorithm, therefore, their functionality is the same. As a rule, it includes a set of the following features:
  1. Registration / Login. Both landlords and tenants must register using a phone number, email or social networks and provide their first and last names in order to be able to use the platform.
  2. Booking system. A toolkit that will allow users to book accommodation on certain dates with the option of paying here and now and canceling a reservation. For multi-vendor sites, it is important that there is the option of confirming the lease by the owner in case the landlord uses several such sites that are not interconnected by a single booking system.
  3. Calendar of accommodation availability. We need customers to be able to find out which dates are free without extra effort. It is implemented in the form of a calendar image familiar to everyone, where booked dates are highlighted in one color and free dates are highlighted in another. In addition, usually this calendar is integrated into the reservation system, as on the Airbnb or Booking sites.
  4. Listings of affordable housing. The list of affordable housing for rent with filters by location, cost, type of housing, availability on specific dates, ratings, necessary furniture, the Internet and more.
  5. Cards with a description of the housing. A brief description of the property (type, furniture, infrastructure, security, what is in the apartment, etc.) with photos and / or video. Owners create such cards according to the same template. An example can be seen on similar sites. It’s not necessary to come up with a unique design for them, because it scares people away.
  6. Geolocation, integration with Google Maps. Integration with maps is needed so that landlords can specify the address of the property, and tenants can search for housing in the region they need, and not view the entire listing. An example of a good implementation of this feature can be found on Airbnb.
  7. Payment solutions. Users should be able to pay rent and other services through the site. It is convenient, safe and allows you to take commissions from each transaction. The choice of specific payment solutions depends on the target audience. Usually it is PayPal, Amazon Pay, Google Pay, Apple Pay, WePay, Braintree, Stripe and Visa / MasterCard bank cards, as well as local payment systems, for example, WebMoney in Russia or UnionPay in China.
  8. Ratings and reviews. Ratings usually work on a 5- or 10-point system, where only those who use their services can rate the owners. In this case, the rating usually takes into account such things as communication with the client, location, cost, cleanliness, compliance with the reality stated in the housing card and more. Reviews can usually be left to each other only by contractors. At the same time, all users can see reviews and ratings - registered and unregistered.
  9. Adaptability. Since most users are looking for housing for rent using mobile devices, your site should be adapted to work with them. That is, the design, font, icons, photo extension and so on should change depending on which device the user browses the site with: a computer, tablet, smartphone.
  10. Statistics. Collection of data on all important events on the site: registration of new users, views, number of transactions, average check, total volume, traffic sources, etc. For convenience, these statistics can be visualized using graphs, charts, and tables.
  11. Profile. Photo, place of residence, language(s) for communication, marital status, age and other characteristics that the user is willing to share with the system and other users. Some of these characteristics are needed for users to identify each other, others for the match system and more accurate recommendations.
  12. Chats. Real-time text chat to clarify various points and confirm your reservation.
As additional functionality, you can implement the following things:
  1. Mobile application. According to various studies, most users prefer to access online services not using a browser, but using a specialized application. If you are creating a listing site, you cannot do without it, for a personal site this is not necessary.
  2. Support for multiple languages. Modern trends in consumerism and romanticism are pushing people to rest abroad. Therefore, when creating a site for rental housing, you need to implement support for English, Chinese, Spanish, French and Russian.
  3. Advertising integrations. If you plan to make money through advertising, then you need to realize this opportunity in advance on your website. This may be a place for banners, the possibility of advertising on top of the listing, or recommendations on the example of “impressions” on Airbnb.
  4. VR and AR. Using these technologies, you can create virtual tours of the house, the surroundings and the main attractions.
For a personal property rental site. Such projects are usually implemented in the form of a landing - a one-page site consisting of several blocks, each of which describes something different about a service or product: a brief description + call to action, advantages, cases, reviews, contacts, etc. Creating such a website is simpler, faster, and cheaper than listing. Usually for this you need to implement:
  1. Integration with Google Maps.
  2. Integration of photo, video, VR and AR technologies.
  3. Booking system and calendar of availability.
  4. Support for multiple languages.
In addition, you can connect payment transactions, chat feedback, integration with social networks and other things. But this is optional. It is enough to indicate on the website the contacts and links to social networks, and make the payment in manual mode.

Step 3: Key Features of UX / UI Design

The first and most important rule when developing sites for rental real estate - no need to surprise anyone, to achieve the WaW-effect or reinvent the wheel. The design should be familiar and similar to other similar sites. Since the familiar (predictable) design creates a sense of security and control, and these are exactly the feelings that a traveler wants to experience when renting a house in a strange city with a stranger (organization).

Listings. When developing a listing design, you should focus on popular competitors: Airbnb, HomeAway or Vrbo. At the same time, Booking.com should be used as an anti-example, since it has a bulky design that creates a feeling of information overload: too much information and actions need to be done on the start page and in the listing. In Airbnb, you need to do the same actions, but sequentially (on separate pages), which creates a feeling of simplicity and convenience - a positive user experience.

Booking.com Build a Vacation Rental Website

Booking.com website listing page on the left, Airbnb on the right

Personal site. Designing a personal site for renting real estate for vacation is primarily an advertisement of individual apartments, houses, bungalows, cottages and other residential real estate, so in this case you need to show the advantages of housing, not the site (booking system, speed of work, payment system and other). Here are five important rules to help you do this:

A simple and clear call to action. You may have the best color scheme, the most beautiful photos, perfect texts and maximum download speed, but without a convincing call to action it all costs nothing. A call to action is an icon and / or text that instructs the user (client) to perform the action you need (usually the verbs “book”, “call”, “contact”, etc.). A site for renting a vacation home without such an appeal is like a store without a cash desk.

Example Build a Vacation Rental Website

A good example of a clear and compelling call to action

Use the power of simplicity in design. So many homeowners want to implement on their site all the features that they spied on from competitors. But this is far from always necessary. The most effective rental sites are simple and predictable. This applies to design, booking systems, menus, colors and everything else. In this case, less is better, so if there is any functionality that you can do without, refuse from it.

design Build a Vacation Rental Website

An example of a simple and yet effective website design for vacation rental

Bright, high-quality photos and images. When users first come to your site, they first look at photos, headlines and calls to action, and only after that, if they like everything, look at the text. Moreover, it is photographs that first of all decide whether people rent your home or not.

Therefore, the photos on your site should be perfect. That is, you need clarity, good lighting, the right angle, etc. In some cases, in order to take the perfect photo, you need to hire an interior designer and a professional photographer. Yes, these are additional costs, but they will quickly pay off.

Take a look at the photo below and think: what kind of housing would you rent?

Listing photos Build a Vacation Rental Website

Listing photos of housing taken by owners (left). And photos taken by a professional photographer after interior improvement by a specialist

Information about owner and housing. When people rent housing from strangers rather than hotels, they want to be sure that they will not be deceived. You can create a sense of security by giving enough information about the owner and housing. In this case, it is desirable to back up all the information with something, for example, indicate links to profiles on social networks, bank details, a license of a small entrepreneur.

Homeowner Build a Vacation Rental Website

Sample of Homeowner Linda Lowe’s Information Page

Reviews of real people. The last thing you need to implement on a site for renting real estate is tenant reviews. This is best done using a special script that pulls up reviews from social networks with the author’s avatar and a link to a review on a social network.

Step 4: time and cost of website development

time and cost Build a Vacation Rental Website

Listing sites are best created with the help of a developer company, which has examples of such cases in the portfolio. So you can save time, effort and even money. The cost of such projects is from 20 to 200 thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of the project and the country of the technical partner. If you need a mobile application, then this is from 5 to 50 thousand dollars.

Web developers Build a Vacation Rental Website

Web developers average hourly rate by region

You can also hire a development company to create a personal website, but you can do everything by yourself using WordPress templates. Their cost is from 20 to 200 dollars, and their use does not require programming skills and web design. It is enough to buy a domain name (from 10 to 1000 dollars per year), rent a hosting (from 5 to 50 dollars per month) and configure the theme for yourself.

WordPress Build a Vacation Rental Website

Single Property WordPress Theme for 50 dollars

In addition, you can also use white label solutions to create a site for renting real estate for a vacation. This way you can greatly simplify development and save money at the start, but in the long run this is the least profitable solution, since white labels are distributed by subscription - 20-200 dollars a month. Nevertheless, this is the best option if you do not want to do anything other than marketing and communication with customers. Website creation, hosting setup and maintenance are usually undertaken by the white label provider.

How to Build a Vacation Rental Website key takeaways:
  1. Step 1: type and goals of the site
  2. Step 2: basic and advanced features
  3. Step 3: Key Features of UX / UI Design
  4. Step 4: time and cost of website development
Merehead does professional development of build a vacation rental website. If you have questions, contact us for a free consultation.

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