Hi SmartHosts!

I'm working on a piece for our blog about taking back control, breaking free from OTAs and getting listing site independence. Looking for contributions from the experts - you guys!

Would love it if you could leave your number 1 tip in the comments so I can collect them together to use in the article. If you prefer you can send contributions to [email protected]

Thanks so much, looking forward to reading your responses!


2 years ago

What a great topic and awesome question Jess. I imagine this question would be difficult to answer for anyone... Not only is true listing site independence quite rare, it’s also extremely hard to boil down into a single tip!

It also depends on what stage you’re at in the process of building your VR empire! However, like you mentioned, it’s about taking back control - not being 100% independent.

So, if I were to epitomise what I think it takes to break free from listing sites, it would have to be branding & positioning (sorry that’s two 🙄).

Listing site independence with strong branding & positioning

The reason why Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, Booking.com & TripAdvisor are so popular is because they have an extremely strong brand (which guests trust), a seamless user experience & an enormous marketing budget.

Brands help build repeat business and allow guests to find you direct. They are important for listing sites but they’re also important for holiday rental businesses.

What listing sites do not have is a personal & genuine touch, insider local knowledge and marketing spend in specific niches. This is where you strike!

The goal is to match listing sites trust & online user experience but raise them 10 by building your core brand & positioning around the very things they can’t provide.

The guest experience

Provide an amazing guest experience, with perks only available to direct guests. Focus on personal touches & strong communication. Be extremely helpful & provide insider knowledge of the location - only information that can get from your brand!

Location & niches

Build your brand & business around a particular niche. For example, “holiday rentals in Newquay”, “luxury villas in Paphos” or “family friendly rentals”. The point is, listing sites can’t go toe to toe with every niche company in the world. They are jack of all trades, master of none.

Here’s your opportunity. Branding, marketing, SEO etc is 100x easier because you’re not directly competing with 800lb gorillas just spider monkeys.

Trust & flexibility

Trust is crucial. Airbnb swing their “$1 million” guarantee around to hosts and they're double review system which encourages guests & hosts to only leave positive reviews (see link). Guests trust Airbnb and they need to trust you too.

You could publish your reviews on a third-party reputable source like Google or Trustpilot and clearly display them, only allow people who’ve actually stayed in your rentals to review their stay and make sure to provide a consistently good service.


Booking direct is cheaper (no commission) for you and for the guest (no service fee). MAKE THIS AS CLEAR AS DAY. Explain why it’s cheaper and provide special discounts for being a direct customer.

Have clear messaging that highlights your value proposition.

Seamless online experience

Listing sites have a great online experience. In a world moving to digital, it’s also important to provide the same level of service or better!

Big companies have spent millions in researching how people search & book properties and designing amazing user flows top suit.

Why not copy them? Yes, it’s expensive but there are many services providing these services. For example, (now it’s time for a shameless self-promotion) Rentivo, the company I work for, build advanced listing websites & management systems.

One of our clients, Love Cottages is a good example of strong branding which generates lots of direct business for its managers. However, there are also similar services like Lodgify, Vreasy & BookingSync which help you take back control too!

Hope this helps with your post 😀

2 years ago

How about using niche listing sites too? They usually have favourable terms. Some channel managers are great for this.

The number one factor is time.

We (Bookster) have a number of clients that you could describe as being listing site "independent".

It has taken them time to get there and only by building up brand, reputation and website over a number of years. Capitalising on repeat bookings can help enormously too.

2 years ago

Be VERY smart with your copy, if you have to use them! Guests may only read the two descriptive top lines, and skirt through the rest. So will the sites bots, so craft it carefully to get direct business! I also notice some smart people adding image "messages".

2 years ago

I think you're talking about guests searching your property title or description in Google? Not sure this is a long-term approach to breaking free from listing sites (because you're still using them) and their bots will get better. But sure will help to get more direct business short-term. Something many hosts overlook.

Searching direct is something savvy travellers have been doing with hotels for years. It's called "The Billboard Effect". More people are sure to wise up to it for holiday rentals soon.

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