Mar 20, 2024

How to build a website like VRBO

VRBO is an online marketplace that specializes in vacation rentals, offering a platform for homeowners to rent out their properties. Discover the steps to create a marketplace akin to VRBO with this guide.

Introduction: Why build a website like VRBO

VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) has achieved significant success as an online marketplace for vacation rentals, primarily due to its user-friendly platform that connects property owners directly with travelers seeking unique accommodation experiences. Since its inception in 1995, VRBO has capitalized on the growing trend of travelers looking for alternatives to traditional hotel stays, offering a diverse range of properties that cater to various tastes and budgets. The platform's success is also attributed to its comprehensive search features, secure payment systems, and a review system that builds trust among users. By providing a seamless interface for property owners to list their spaces and for travelers to find and book these spaces with ease, VRBO has effectively tapped into the sharing economy, making it a go-to destination for vacation rentals worldwide. Its commitment to customer service and continuous improvement of its platform functionalities has further solidified its position in the competitive online travel market.

How does a website like VRBO work?

For buyers, VRBO offers a platform to explore and book vacation rentals worldwide. Users can filter listings by location, price, amenities, and more, ensuring they find the perfect accommodation for their needs. Secure payment options and user reviews help buyers make informed decisions, while customer support assists with any queries.

For sellers, VRBO provides a platform to list their vacation rental properties, reaching a vast audience of potential guests. They can set their prices, availability, and house rules, while benefiting from VRBO's secure payment processing and customer support. This enables property owners to efficiently manage bookings and maximize their rental income.

What is VRBO's business model?

VRBO, which stands for Vacation Rentals by Owner, operates on a business model that connects property owners with travelers seeking short-term rental accommodations. Unlike traditional hotel bookings, VRBO allows homeowners to list their properties, ranging from apartments and houses to unique dwellings like cabins and castles, on its online platform. Property owners pay a subscription fee to list their properties or opt for a pay-per-booking model, where they are charged a percentage of each booking made through the site. Travelers, on the other hand, can browse the extensive listings on VRBO's platform, filtering their search based on location, amenities, price, and availability, to find a rental that suits their needs. VRBO generates revenue through these listing fees and booking commissions, providing a secure and user-friendly interface for transactions, customer service, and support for both property owners and travelers, facilitating a seamless rental experience.

VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) generates revenue primarily through a commission-based model, where it charges homeowners or property managers a fee for listing their properties on its platform. This fee can be structured in two main ways: a pay-per-booking option or an annual subscription model. In the pay-per-booking option, VRBO takes a percentage of each rental transaction as a commission. This percentage varies depending on various factors, including the rental price and location. Alternatively, the annual subscription model allows property owners to pay a flat fee for unlimited bookings throughout the year. This model is often preferred by owners with high rental frequency, as it can be more cost-effective than paying a commission on each booking. Additionally, VRBO may generate revenue through optional services offered to both property owners and renters, such as premium listing placements that increase visibility or travel insurance policies. Through these revenue streams, VRBO has established itself as a lucrative online marketplace connecting property owners with travelers seeking vacation rentals worldwide.

Key features of VRBO

The most critical functionality of a platform like VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) is to efficiently connect property owners with travelers looking for a place to stay, ensuring a seamless, secure, and satisfactory transaction and experience for both parties. This involves several key functionalities:

  1. Search and Discovery: Users should be able to easily search for and discover properties that meet their specific needs, such as location, price, size, amenities, and availability. Advanced search filters and a user-friendly interface are crucial for this functionality.

  2. Listing Management: Property owners must be able to list their properties easily, providing detailed descriptions, photos, availability calendars, and pricing. The platform should offer tools to manage these listings effectively, including updates and communication with potential guests.

  3. Booking and Payment Processing: The platform should facilitate secure and straightforward booking and payment processes. This includes availability management, reservation confirmation, payment collection, and processing, as well as handling cancellations and refunds according to the policies set by the property owner.

  4. Communication: A built-in communication system that allows guests and hosts to communicate efficiently and securely within the platform is essential. This helps in clarifying details, arranging check-ins, and addressing any concerns or questions.

  5. Reviews and Ratings: A system for guests to leave reviews and rate their stay, and for hosts to rate guests, contributes significantly to the trust and credibility of the marketplace. It helps users make informed decisions based on previous experiences of others.

  6. Customer Support: Robust customer support for both guests and hosts to resolve issues, answer questions, and provide assistance with disputes or problems during any phase of the booking or stay.

  7. Security and Trust: Implementing features that ensure the security of personal and financial information for both guests and hosts. This includes verification processes for users, secure payment gateways, and privacy protections.

  8. Mobile Accessibility: Given the prevalence of smartphones, having a mobile-friendly website or a dedicated app enhances accessibility and convenience for users, allowing them to search, book, manage listings, and communicate on the go.

These functionalities work together to create a reliable, convenient, and enjoyable experience for both property owners and travelers, which is crucial for the success of a marketplace like VRBO.

Building a platform like VRBO from scratch involves significant investment in web development, design, database management, security, and user interface expertise. Costs can vary widely based on features, scale, and technology choices. A basic version focusing on core functionalities such as property listings, user registration, booking system, and payment processing could start around $50,000 to $100,000. However, for a more advanced and scalable version that includes features like messaging, advanced search filters, and a sophisticated recommendation engine, costs could easily exceed $200,000 to $300,000. Ongoing maintenance, updates, and marketing efforts would incur additional costs.

How to create a successful alternative to VRBO

Identify gaps in the VRBO model and user experience to address in your platform. Conduct market research to understand the needs and preferences of both property owners and renters. Develop a user-friendly website and mobile app with an intuitive interface and easy navigation. Offer competitive pricing structures for both hosts and guests to attract users from existing platforms. Implement a robust verification system for hosts and guests to enhance trust and safety. Provide exceptional customer service with 24/7 support for users to resolve issues promptly. Incorporate flexible cancellation policies to accommodate the needs of guests and increase attractiveness. Leverage advanced technology for virtual tours and high-quality photos to showcase properties effectively. Create a loyalty program to reward frequent users and encourage repeat business. Engage in targeted marketing campaigns to build brand awareness and attract users to the platform. Collaborate with local tourism boards and businesses to offer exclusive deals and experiences to guests. Ensure a wide variety of property types and locations to appeal to a broad audience. Gather and act on user feedback regularly to continuously improve the service and user experience. Implement a fair and transparent review system to help users make informed decisions. Focus on a niche market initially, such as eco-friendly accommodations or luxury properties, to stand out. Expand payment options to include various currencies and digital payments for convenience. Promote a community feel with forums or social features for users to share experiences and tips. Prioritize website and data security to protect user information and build trust. Stay updated with trends and regulations in the vacation rental industry to adapt and innovate accordingly. Build partnerships with travel influencers and bloggers to promote the platform and reach a wider audience.

Successful VRBO competitors

  1. Airbnb is perhaps the most direct and well-known competitor to VRBO. Unlike VRBO, which focuses primarily on vacation rentals, Airbnb offers a wider range of accommodations including single rooms, apartments, and unique stays like treehouses and igloos. Airbnb also has a more extensive global presence, making it a go-to option for travelers seeking diverse lodging options.

  2. has expanded its offerings to include a vast array of vacation rentals, positioning it as a strong competitor to VRBO. While VRBO specializes in vacation homes, provides a broader selection of accommodations, including hotels, apartments, and hostels, catering to a wider audience. also boasts a user-friendly interface and a no-booking-fee policy, which can be more appealing to some users.

  3. Expedia, which is actually the parent company of VRBO, operates as a full-service travel site that offers everything from flights and hotel rooms to car rentals and cruises, in addition to vacation rentals. While it may seem counterintuitive to consider it a competitor, Expedia's broader focus can divert potential VRBO customers who are looking for a one-stop-shop for all their travel needs. Expedia's rewards program, which applies to a wide range of travel services, also adds an incentive for users to book through Expedia instead of VRBO.

  4. TripAdvisor Rentals is another significant competitor, leveraging its vast collection of travel reviews to offer a trusted platform for vacation rentals. Unlike VRBO, TripAdvisor Rentals benefits from the extensive reviews and ratings system of its parent site, giving users a more informed decision-making process. Additionally, TripAdvisor Rentals often lists the same properties as VRBO but may offer different pricing or booking conditions, providing an alternative for price-sensitive travelers.

  5. HomeAway was once a direct competitor to VRBO but was acquired by Expedia Group, which also owns VRBO, and the two have since merged under the Vrbo brand. However, before the merger, HomeAway offered a similar range of vacation rental properties and targeted a similar market segment. The integration of HomeAway into VRBO has expanded VRBO's inventory and global presence, but the legacy of HomeAway's brand still resonates with some travelers who were loyal to its platform.

Options to develop a website similar to VRBO

Creating a VRBO-style online marketplace from the ground up is a significant, costly endeavor. However, nowadays, there are numerous methods to construct a marketplace that don't demand a large budget.

The choice you should make depends on:

  • The functionalities you believe your marketplace requires
  • Your technical abilities (or abilities present in your team)
  • Your financial plan
  • The time you have available.

The various methods to create a marketplace include:

  • Utilizing WordPress and add-ons
  • Constructing atop open-source software
  • Employing a mix of no-code instruments
  • Utilizing a specialized no-code marketplace SaaS platform
  • Developing atop an API-based marketplace SaaS platform

Besides your limitations regarding skills and finances, you should also consider the pace of learning. Launching your VRBO-style platform swiftly allows you to begin understanding your audience rapidly. These insights assist you in crafting the type of platform that users prefer over any other existing alternatives.

Sharetribe’s marketplace software is designed with this cyclical learning process in mind.

Initially, we assist you in launching a platform akin to VRBO in one day without any programming. The construction phase is complimentary indefinitely, and all the essential functionality is pre-configured.

Once you've launched, you discover what sorts of extra features and functionality your platform needs to cater to your audience. You might wish to alter the design and workflow entirely, incorporate numerous third-party services, or develop a mobile application. With Sharetribe, you can effortlessly custom-code all these modifications and much more, either on your own or with assistance from our Expert partners.

At Sharetribe, we’ve been crafting marketplaces for over ten years. Our knowledge and proficiency are at your service through our content resources, which you can access and utilize regardless of the way you decide to build your platform.

Best of fortune with your VRBO-style venture!

Read more

Start your 14-day free trial

Create a marketplace today!

  • Launch quickly, without coding
  • Extend infinitely
  • Scale to any size
Start free trial

No credit card required