How to Launch a Vacation Rental Website, with Karen from The Black River Cabins

Launching a vacation rental website used to mean budgets soaring over $10,000. Not any more.

Karen and her husband of The Black River Cabins, have been traveling to Lesterville, MO to float and fish on the river for years and have spent many hours swimming in the cool water during the summer months. Last October, after discovering some land with two cabins while camping, the couple realized that they wanted to share the richness of Missouri along the river and the St. Francis mountains.

“I don’t do offices,” Karen told me. “I’ve worked in offices in the past, and my husband is a farmer and I own a boutique store in our home town. But any chance we have to get outside and be in the sun, we take it.”

Karen chatted with OneRooftop about what it was like to begin renting out her cabins and her experience using OneRooftop’s vacation rental software. Karen and her husband both stay busy but agree that OneRooftop has provided balance to their lives between their rentals and their full-time jobs. “I can’t say enough nice things. OneRooftop has been so helpful.”

 

One Rooftop: How long have you been renting your cabins?

Karen: We bought them in the fall of 2014, in October, and by February we finally launched the website. Within three days of setting up the site, we were already flooded with inquiries and even some hard bookings. These weren’t even people we knew—like friends of friends—these were people booking with us from searching on the web.

 

ORT: Why did you decide to launch a website?

Karen: I am a huge believer in having your own website. I have friends on some of those listing sites, but those sites can be overwhelming with how many choices you get and I haven’t found them to be terribly user-friendly.

We wanted the reservation software. We did look at a few other software deals and website builders. And here’s the deal: I can use the computer and a lot of social media—I love Facebook and I especially love Instagram because of all the pictures. But I can’t code or use HTML or design my own website and I don’t really have the time to do that on my own. Once we got the software we went live immediately.

 

ORT: Now that you have your website up and have hosted guests, can you reflect on what it was like to launch your site?

Karen: OneRooftop was exactly what I was looking for. Honestly, this is as affordable as just having a website, and that’s even even considering all the other services you provide.

It was so easy to click-click-click and then I had a beautiful website! Fully automated, and with our rental agreements, so that we could live where we do [roughly 40 minutes away] and still manage the property. We use Stripe as our payment processor, and it seriously only took 5 minutes to set up. Whatever information people need, now it’s on the site. And if they have a question, they can call us straight from our mobile site.

As for receiving inquiries, I love having the mobile functions we have. Right now I do almost everything on my phone. It’s happened that I’ve been out at the farm with husband, among the cows, when bloop—I got an inquiry and was able to book it on the spot. And since we’ve started, I’m surprised by how many nice properties don’t have a website to lay down a path to booking online right away. Web presence is vital!

 

ORT: What is your occupancy rate?

Karen: Well like I said, within three days of our launch we were getting booked. We thought it would take a month or two to pick up but it was so quick. A lot of people were coming down from the Northeast. A lot of people from Iowa, Illinois, and Arkansas, too. The high season in Lesterville is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But even this winter we had a hand full of people visiting every weekend. We had originally been hoping to get 25-30% occupancy for the summer and we’re going to surpass that by a lot. As of now there are very few available weekends this summer—and it’s still April. And we’re still brand new.

 

ORT: Where do most of your bookings come from?

Karen: Mostly from people searching on the web. We get a couple local people to come stay at the cabins because of Facebook and our business cards. I think I could still tweak some keywords but most of our traffic is coming from people who search for us on Google or from the website.

 

ORT: What is the most difficult part of being a vacation rental manager?

Karen: It definitely isn’t passive income, but a business. Sometimes you have guests call you at odd hours. I think the other difficulty is juggling our real jobs with property management. We are often mowing the grass and I just want to dip my feet in the river again. I wish I could take more time to enjoy the beautiful property.

 

ORT: Tell me about a time when OneRooftop worked really well for you. And do you have any favorite features?

Karen: Ooh. I’d have to say that I can respond via email on my phone on the go. I’m not tied to an office or a computer at all. You see, mobile sites are important not just for the user, but they also lets the owner work outside of an office. I don’t do offices. I’ve worked in offices in the past, and my husband is a farmer and I own a boutique store in our home town. But any chance we have to get outside and be in the sun, we take it.

 

ORT: What would you like to see OneRooftop add in the future?

Karen: I really, really want an app. I manage all my reservations on my phone. Having an app would make my life perfect. If I could do it even faster on my phone, and I think an app could do that, then I would have much fewer typos.

 

ORT: If you had one piece of advice for a vacation rental owner just getting started in the business, what would it be?

Karen: Marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing. You can have a great property that people would want to rent but people need to know about it. Having a website is the most important. Business cards and fliers have hardly made a difference for us. Without a professional website you are missing about 70% of the customers.

 

ORT: Have you seen the vacation rental industry change a lot since you first started? If so, how? And how do you react to them?

Karen: We’re still really new at this but we have stayed as guests in a lot of rental places in the past. There are so many places out there and I think differentiating your home is more difficult now because of Airbnb and VRBO—that’s why I wanted my own website.

 

The other change I’ve noticed with our guests: people who are about 50 and under are all booking online. If they are older than that they usually are still calling in to make reservations. But in a few years or so, everything will be online.

 

What Else Can Vacation Rental Website Templates Do?

Are you a vacation rental website owner or manager? The perk of using a template is that almost overnight, you can launch a professional website capable of booking guests. See more of what OneRooftop’s clients have done with their website templates and how our vacation rental booking tools are powering their businesses and brands.

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