The Ultimate Guide to Launching and Growing Your Successful Short-Term Rental Business

STEP 3: Create a Vacation rental
Marketing Strategy

'Powered Up Marketing'
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This page is part of a step-by-step guide to get your business up and running.  There’s no fluff here - just information, help, and suggestions for doing it right - the first time!

Everything in this guide comes from experience.

Not a mere 6 months of experience in running an Airbnb, nor a year of co-hosting.

This is from 25 years of being in the vacation rental business, owning 7 properties and owning a seriously successful property management company with over 180 properties.

Our team have attended and presented at countless conferences and we continue our education by sitting in on hundreds of educational presentations, and still do to this day.  So, we can bring you the learning from all those experts as well.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride…or the read!

Contents of this step:

This step of 'The Ultimate Guide to Launching and Growing your Successful Short-Term Rental Business' is written by vacation rental formula business schools own head of education Heather Bayer.

My experience with marketing vacation rentals began with direct bookings.  That was because it was back in the last century.

Before online bookings.

Before Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, TikTok and Instagram.

Before the word ‘algorithms’ passed any lips that didn’t belong to computer geeks.

And well before Airbnb became a verb.

As a property management company that started in 2003 we didn’t have to play by someone else's rules.

We didn’t run our business on ‘rented land’. And we were successful at marketing.

We created a website on Dreamweaver and I bet few people reading this will have any idea of what that was.

We advertised on local listing sites, and referred visitors to our own site.

Bookings were taken by phone and fax, and payments by cheque in the mail.

I know.  It was archaic.

But it worked.

I’m not for a moment advocating we go back to those times, but there are elements of the old world that are creeping back.

Not like retro refrigerators and long playing records which are around now for nostalgia value, but because control has been taken away by the OTAs, and there are many hosts and managers who want it back.

They want to communicate openly with guests, talk to them on the phone, send them information by email or text or by any means that works for all involved. 

While the big platforms can be a great way to get started, relying solely on them will limit your potential reach, and will  ultimately leave you at the mercy of their algorithms. 

There are many experts now who suggest that by using a mix of marketing strategies, you can ensure that your properties stand out in a crowded marketplace and attract the attention of guests who may have otherwise overlooked your listing. 

So let's dive into the world of marketing and learn how to make your short-term rental properties the talk of the town!

Who are your target guests?

To develop a successful marketing strategy, you should first identify your target audience and guest personas. 

Let’s imagine you have a rural retreat set in 10 acres of tranquility and privacy.  It’s the perfect spot for the ultimate unplugged getaway.  There is a cell signal but no wifi.  There’s wildlife and starlit nights and a private lake for swimming.  The nearest town is 10 miles away.

Who would your target audience be?

Certainly not a couple looking for nightclubs and bars nearby; who live on their devices and might freak out at the sound of frogs and owls in the night, and would be traumatized at the lack of a food delivery service.

This would not be your market, so why would you spend time and money trying to reach them.

Yet, this is what most people do with a scattergun marketing method.

Instead, you can focus all of your marketing efforts on reaching those who will love every minute of the experience, tell all of their friends, and come back repeatedly.

When you create your persona (sometimes called avatar) you are building a guest profile based on factors such as age, location, travel preferences, and budget. Understanding your audience will help you tailor your marketing messages and choose the most effective channels to reach them.

Here’s an example based on the rural retreat described above:

Name: Emily
Age: 35
Occupation: Marketing Manager


Emily is a successful marketing manager who works long hours and rarely has time to disconnect from her job. She loves spending time outdoors and exploring new places, but she finds it hard to switch off her phone and disconnect from the digital world.


Emily is a nature lover who values privacy and tranquility. She enjoys hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities that allow her to reconnect with nature. She is also very independent and enjoys spending time alone, but she also appreciates good company when it is available.

Social Media Platforms

In her job, Emily has a lot of social media exposure.  She spends more time on Instagram and in outdoor activity Facebook groups than other platforms. 

Vacation Preferences

For her upcoming vacation, Emily is looking for a short term rental that offers her plenty of space, privacy, and tranquility. She wants to be able to unplug from the digital world and enjoy the natural surroundings without any interruptions. Emily is also looking for a place that is close to hiking trails or other outdoor activities that she can explore during her stay.

Ideal Vacation Rental

Emily's ideal vacation rental would be a secluded cabin or a cottage in the woods that is surrounded by nature. She would prefer a place that is not too close to other properties and is located in a peaceful, quiet environment. The rental should be well-equipped with all the necessary amenities, including a comfortable bed, a fully equipped kitchen, and a private bathroom. The rental should also have outdoor space where she can relax and enjoy the scenery, such as a porch or a patio.

Armed with information on your target market you can now choose the right marketing channels according to where they spend their time online.

To understand your audience, you need to know if they active on social media? Do they prefer email communication? Are they more likely to click on search engine ads?

Choosing Your Marketing Channels

We often think of marketing channels as a narrow mix of OTAs and niche listing sites, but there are plenty of other methods of getting your listings out there.

When we began marketing our properties, we chose local listing sites because our target market was mostly domestic i.e. they travelled no more than 3 hours by car.  We knew the listing sites were most impactful because all our competitors used them.

As time went on and Facebook groups grew more popular, one or two groups sprang up that made for a very cost effective way of advertising.

The group specified it was  ‘intended for people owning cottages to post their cottage for rent and encourage discussion with people wanting to rent vacation properties”

Facebook groups are easy to set up and if you don’t have one in your area for the purpose of advertising and finding rentals it costs nothing but time to get it set up and start posting.  Of course your competitors will jump on to market their places but if it grows to a decent size there will be enough for everyone.

Different marketing channels can be effective for different goals. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, social media and display ads may be a good choice. If your goal is to generate more bookings, search engine ads and email marketing may be more effective.


What are your competitors doing to promote their short-term rental businesses?   Analyzing your competition can give you ideas and insights into what might work for your business.

What channels are they using? 

Are they active on social media? What are they posting? How often?

Do they run search engine ads? 

You can use this information to differentiate yourself and find new opportunities to reach your audience.

Property type and location

The type of property you manage, and its location can also affect which marketing channels are the best fit. For instance, if you manage a beachfront property, advertising on travel websites or partnering with local tourist attractions can be effective.  Properties close to 

Local Chamber of Commerce & tourism offices

Joining your local chamber could be a great move as we’ve heard from other property managers.  Tyann Marcink of Missouri Haus Rentals enjoys consistent referrals from her chamber of commerce membership, and the print marketing materials she leaves in the local tourist office.

Niche Sites

These can be great channels for properties where there is a clearly defined niche such as being pet friendly or with accessibility.  Beyond that  


Marketing can be free if you simply want to spend time on social media platforms.  However, this is a heavy time consumer, and will take you away from the multiple other tasks that drive a successful short term rental business.

The biggest cost would be a website and we touch on the different types of website a little later on.  It can be a major upfront cost but so worthwhile in the long run.

As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended that businesses allocate between 5-15% of their revenue to marketing efforts. However, this is not a hard and fast rule, and you may need to adjust your marketing budget up or down depending on your unique circumstances.  

For example, a new short-term rental business may need to invest more heavily in marketing to establish a foothold in the market and attract initial customers. On the other hand, a more established business with a loyal customer base may be able to allocate a smaller percentage of revenue to marketing and still maintain its customer base.

Your marketing budget should include costs for different channels – OTAs, niche sites, social media ad spend and other digital marketing efforts – for example email marketing.  This usually involves a subscription to a CRM (Customer Relations Management) system, such as Mailchimp 

Ultimately, the key is to strike a balance between investing enough in marketing to attract and retain customers, while also ensuring that the business remains financially sustainable in the long term.

Your budget will also determine which channels are viable options for your marketing strategy. Some channels require a significant investment, while others are more affordable. For instance, online advertising might be more expensive compared to email marketing.

It can be very easy to jump into a new bright shiny advertising opportunity without exploring it thoroughly, and before you know it, the spending has increased beyond the budget.  Keeping a tight rein on where your money is going.

Speaking to a marketing consultant before embarking on this journey is a great idea.  The few hundred dollars a consultation may cost you could save much more in the long term by guiding you in the right direction to marketing avenues that will work for your situation.

Building a Brand

A good brand is one that effectively communicates a clear message to its target audience, resonates with their needs and desires, and differentiates itself from competitors.

Fabstayz is a brilliant example of creating a brand that conveys their values, personality and and offerings, which attract and resonate with guests who share similar preferences.

While this is a listing site (and a good one to add to your channels), it gives plenty of ideas on how to brand effectively.

Here's a step-by-step approach to building a brand for a short term rental property manager who has never done this before:

Define your brand

Start by defining what your brand represents. This includes identifying your target audience, the unique selling proposition of your business, and the core values and mission of your brand.

Do your market research

Conduct research to understand your target audience, their needs and preferences, and how your business can meet those needs better than your competitors.

Create a brand identity

Develop a visual identity for your brand, including a logo, color scheme, typography, and any other visual elements that will represent your brand.  This helps to develop consistency across all of your marketing efforts.  

Create a brand voice

Develop a brand voice that is consistent with your brand identity and resonates with your target audience. This includes the tone, language, and messaging you use in your communications.  Look again at the Fabstayz example again as this embodies the ideas of brand voice.

Sue Allen at East Ruston Cottages does this well.  Her USP is pet friendly for multiple pets with no pet fees.

Develop a brand strategy

Develop a strategy for how you will position your brand in the market and communicate your unique value proposition to your target audience.

Establish brand guidelines

Develop guidelines for how your brand should be presented in all marketing and communication materials, including logos, fonts, colors, and messaging.

Build brand awareness

Create a marketing plan to build brand awareness and attract customers to your short term rental property. This can include social media marketing, advertising, public relations, and other marketing activities.

Create a brand experience

Develop an exceptional guest experience that aligns with your brand values and communicates your unique selling proposition.  Sue Allen does this by really walking the talk.  Everything she says in and on her site is mirrored in her guests’ experience.

Monitor and manage your bran

Regularly monitor and manage your brand to ensure it remains aligned with your core values and mission, and make adjustments as needed.

Building a brand can take time and effort, but by following these steps, you’ll be able to establish a strong brand identity, attract guests, and create a loyal customer base.

Social Media Marketing

In the early days of marketing when there were fewer platforms, experts would tell you to ‘be everywhere’.

This just isn’t practical now given the number of platforms and the effort needed to sustain posting and engagement, unless you have a full-time social media manager.

Most of us don’t have that luxury.

Choose the right platforms

There are many social media platforms to choose from, and not all of them will be a good fit for your short-term rental business. Consider your target audience and which platforms they are most active on. If you’ve taken the time to identify your personas that will indicate which platforms to start with.

Optimize your profiles

Once you've chosen the right platforms, it's important to optimize your profiles. This means creating a complete and professional-looking profile that accurately represents your business. Use high-quality images and include a description that highlights your unique selling points and what sets your properties apart from others.

Create and share engaging content

To attract and engage potential guests, you need to create and share content that is interesting and valuable. This can include photos and videos of your rental, travel tips, local recommendations, and more. Use hashtags and geotags to make your content more discoverable.

Engage with your audience

Social media is a two-way conversation, so it's important to engage with your followers and respond to their comments and messages. This can help build a relationship with potential guests and encourage them to book with you.  This is a must with direct booking strategies as you want your guests to trust you and engagement paves the way.

Track and measure your results

As with any marketing strategy, it's important to track and measure your social media efforts. Use analytics tools provided by the platforms to see which posts are performing well and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Content Marketing

It’s tough to know where to start with content creation but you have to start somewhere.

You need to create content your target audience is looking for otherwise they are unlikely to find your site, and the best way to do that is by answering the questions they will have about traveling to the location.

Looking at examples is a good way to get some ideas and there is none better than Make It Jamaica – the site for Mais Oui luxury villa in Jamaica.

In the dropdown box under Experience Jamaica are questions and topics that visitors to Jamaica are likely to ask – all good for SEO purposes.  Each question is then answered in multiple blog posts.

A good start is to create a content plan.

This might include blog posts, social media updates, email newsletters, videos, and more. Keep in mind that you don't need to create everything from scratch - you can repurpose existing content or curate content from other sources.

With your plan in place, start creating your content. Focus on creating high-quality content that provides value to your target audience. Use keywords and topics that will help your content get found in search engines.

Promote your content is the next key step as this is what will bring visitors to your site.  Many content creators make the mistake of posting it on their site and expecting people to find it which just doesn’t happen. Instead, share your blog posts on social media, include links to your content in email newsletters, and reach out to other websites or bloggers in your industry to see if they would be interested in sharing your content.

Email Marketing

If you are like me you have way too many emails coming into your inbox.  Most just get deleted without a second look, but perhaps there are some you open every time.

I subscribe to a few newsletters and look forward to them, but in general everything else gets little attention, unless I have specifically asked for something.
It was a perfect start to the mornings, and I have never forgotten that ambiance and comfort.

Most countries have restrictions in place that determine when and how you can connect with people via direct email marketing.  Most notable is GDPR ( General Data Protection Regulation). It is a set of regulations that aim to protect the personal data and consent of EU residents who receive marketing emails.

Email marketers must obtain affirmative opt-in from their recipients before sending any content, and provide easy ways to opt out and request data removal.

Before setting up any email marketing campaign, familiarize yourself with any data protection legislation that might impact how you collect and use customer data.

Building an Email List

Ideally, you want your site visitor to freely give you their email address in exchange for something valuable to them, such as a travel guide or checklist. Branson Family Retreats offers a free lake guide with a list of free things to do in Branson.

They use the Touchstay app to create these guides and it makes for an attractive and easy to access lead magnet.  

Here’s a few ideas on lead magnets you could build:

  • Packing checklist

  • Guide to hiking trails

  • List of pet-friendly locations in the area

  • Insider guides to the best restaurants/bars/clubs

  • Best beaches in xxx location

You can promote your lead magnet on social media and direct followers to your signup form.

Avoid wasting space on your website with something like this

Who the heck is going to give you an email address just so they can get more junk mails? This is a massive fail, so if you have a similar sign up form, it’s time to do something about it, and give your site visitors some value in exchange.

Creating an Effective Campaign

Once you have collected emails you need to do something with them.  Otherwise it is a complete waste of time.

This now involved subscribing to a Customer Relationship Management platform (otherwise known as a CRM).

Many of the property management softwares have these built-in so before signing up for something new and shiny, check what is on offer from your PMS.  If you are not yet using one of these, or you are still counting on the OTAs to do the back-end reservation work for you, then check out something simple like Mail Chimp.

An email campaign should have a clear goal – if it’s to keep people interested in the location then you would share things to do, places to go, to eat and have fun.This is where ChatGPT can be super-useful.

This was my first attempt at a prompt asking it to create me some subject lines:

“I want to create an email campaign to send to potential guests for my short-term rental. I am located in Hocking Hills, Ohio so want to include information on activities, places to go, things to do and see. Can you please create subject lines for 5 emails I could send to them.”

The first response from ChatGPT was a bit generic and the subject lines were very similar so I did a secondary prompt to ask for 5 subject lines that each focused on a different thing.  Here is that result.

  • Escape to the Serenity of Hocking Hills: Discover Our Secluded Retreats

  • Discover Hocking Hills: A Culinary Adventure Awaits You

  • Fall in Love with Hocking Hills: Romantic Getaways and Hidden Gems

  • Unplug and Recharge: Experience the Tranquility of Hocking Hills

  • Family Fun in Hocking Hills: Plan Your Next Adventure with the Kids.

The next step would be to prompt the AI to create an email with that subject line, which would give you a great outline to work on.

Include a clear CTA

Every email should have a clear call-to-action that directs recipients to take a specific action, such as booking a stay, watching a Youtube video, or reading a blog post.  The ultimate goal is to get them to book, however just getting them back onto the website and exploring a little more is great too.  

Personalization and Segmentation

Personalization and segmentation are two powerful techniques that can improve the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. Personalization involves using recipient's name and information to create a more personalized experience. 

Segmentation involves dividing your email list into smaller groups based on specific characteristics, such as location or booking history, and tailoring your email content to each group's interests and needs.

For example, if you have guests who frequently book your rental for business trips, you could create a separate segment for them and send them emails promoting your rental as a great place for business travel. This personalized and targeted approach can help increase engagement and bookings.

  • Escape to the Serenity of Hocking Hills: Discover Our Secluded Retreats

  • Discover Hocking Hills: A Culinary Adventure Awaits You

  • Fall in Love with Hocking Hills: Romantic Getaways and Hidden Gems

  • Unplug and Recharge: Experience the Tranquility of Hocking Hills

  • Family Fun in Hocking Hills: Plan Your Next Adventure with the Kids.

The next step would be to prompt the AI to create an email with that subject line, which would give you a great outline to work on.

Your Website

We are getting to the end of a very long piece of content and I am so happy you’ve made it this far.

Powering up your marketing will increase the potential for your business to be successful and at the core of it all is one thing.  Your site.

You have several choices here and I’ll list them in the order of what is least successful to what we recommend.

Do it yourself

A lot of hosts and even some managers will use the DIY platforms such as Godaddy, Wix or Squarespace, to create a website.  If they can’t do it themselves, there is probably a Gen-X family member who will leap in to help.

While this is inexpensive and appears easy with the new drag-and-drop platforms, this method often loses sight of the importance of website design which is a crucial element of creating a positive user experience for potential guests. 

A well-designed website can convey professionalism, credibility, and the unique personality of a property. The design should be visually appealing, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly to accommodate guests using various devices. Clear calls-to-action, such as "Book Now" buttons, should be prominently displayed to encourage guests to take action.

You may be able to incorporate this yourself but there is a steep learning curve and most fail to navigate it successfully.

So, let’s assume you aren’t going in that direction.


Most of the property management software options include hosted websites.  Because they are often offered as part of the upfront pricing, this would seem to be a reasonable idea but before you take that leap, consider the following.

A hosted website can hold you hostage to the software provider.  If you decide to change providers, that website will be lost, and the goodwill and inbound links built up will be gone forever.  You will not be able to export the website to a new host.

In addition, there are only a limited amount of templates offered with these sites so they can look and feel very similar to other sites.  There is little if any scope to create your own brand.

Templated sites

If you have been around a while you’ll know Alan Egan.  He built some great websites for clients over the last two decades and he also produced a very simple templated site that is still in use today by many hosts.  It was a great way for new owners to dip their toes in the water of direct bookings.  

Templated sites are still available but they hit the same issue as hosted websites in that they offer greater challenges if you are trying to build a brand.  

Unique branded website

Unless you are a coding ninja – and even with AI making this easier - you still need to understand what’s under the hood and how it all hangs together and you will have to pay a designer to create a website.

The cons of this approach is of course, price.  A good website designer can set you back anything from $5K to well into the $30K bracket.

When we redesigned our PM website in 2021 the cost was over $25K.  That of course included the connection to the booking engine needed to keep our 180+ properties ticking along with a streamlined reservation process.

Expect to pay between $7K and $12K for a well-designed, fully functioning site that links to your property management system.

Select a designer who understands the short term rental industry, and can work with your PMS for the integration.

Whatever you choose to do, keep the following in mind:

Mobile optimization

With the majority of people using their mobile devices to search and book travel accommodations, it's essential that your site is optimized for mobile devices. This means designing a responsive website that automatically adjusts to fit the screen size of the device being used. The site also needs to load quickly, as slow loading times can result in a high bounce rate.

User experience

 User experience (UX) refers to the overall experience that guests have while interacting with a site. A positive user experience can result in increased bookings and guest satisfaction, while a negative experience can lead to lost business and negative reviews. 

In your planning process, prioritize creating a user-friendly website that is easy to navigate and provides guests with the information they need to make a booking decision. This includes clear descriptions of the property, photos and videos, amenities, and pricing information.


High-quality visuals are a key component of website design and user experience. Invest in professional photography and videography to showcase your property in the best possible light. It is true that the photos ‘sell’ so don’t look for shortcuts around this.

SEO optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website to rank higher in search engine results pages. You should ensure your site is optimized for relevant keywords, has relevant meta descriptions and title tags, and is regularly updated with fresh content. This can help improve your site’s visibility and drive more traffic.

Website analytics

These tell the story of how well your site is performing, as they  track visitor behavior, such as how long they stay on the website and which pages they visit most frequently. This can help identify areas for improvement and guide future website updates to enhance user experience and increase bookings.