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What is an OTA? Online Travel Agency Defined

What is an OTA? Online Travel Agency Defined

In the ever-expanding realm of hospitality, the term ‘OTA’ is frequently tossed around. But what exactly does it mean, and why is it crucial for your vacation rental business?

Today, we’re demystifying the enigma of OTAs.

What is an OTA (Online Travel Agency)?

OTA stands for Online Travel Agency. These digital platforms, like Airbnb, Vrbo and Booking.com, act as intermediaries between hosts like you and travelers seeking accommodation.

Think of them as online marketplaces or booking platforms that connect your beautiful vacation rental property with a global, local or niche audience of potential guests.

Why OTAs Matter for Vacation Rental Hosts

OTAs play a pivotal role in the success of vacation rental businesses. They offer unparalleled visibility, putting your property in front of millions of travelers actively searching for unique and comfortable stays.

By listing your property on these platforms, you tap into a vast reservoir of potential guests, boosting your occupancy and revenue.

Benefits of Using OTAs

1. Global exposure

OTAs provide a worldwide platform, enabling your property to be discovered by a variety of traveler segments from every corner of the globe. This exposure can significantly boost your bookings.

2. Streamlined bookings for guests

OTAs offer user-friendly interfaces that simplify the booking process for guests. Travelers can easily view your property, check availability, assess your level of service, and secure their stay, enhancing their overall booking experience.

3. Credibility and trust

Being listed on reputable OTAs lends credibility to your vacation rental. Travelers often trust these platforms due to their – real or assumed — verification processes, leading to increased confidence in booking your property.

4. Payment security

Most OTAs handle payment transactions, ensuring a secure payment process for guests. This eliminates guest concerns about payment fraud and provides confidence to book.

What is an OTA? Online Travel Agency Defined

How OTAs Make Money

OTAs operate on various business models, generally catering to both hosts and travelers.

Commission model

The most common approach, the commission-based model is where hosts list for free but pay a percentage of their booking amount to the OTA as a commission for every successful reservation. This incentivizes OTAs to promote your property as their earnings are directly linked to your bookings.

Many of the OTAs that use this approach also charge a commission from guests.

This is the model used by Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com, Expedia, etc.

Subscription model

In this model, the OTA charges hosts a fixed amount to list their properties on the platform, regardless of the number of bookings. This model is used by platforms such as Furnished Finder.

The platforms may or may not charge guests a booking fee.

Hybrid model

Some OTAs offer a hybrid model, combining aspects of both commission and subscription fees.


A few OTAs have their own distinctive model. For example, Hopper doesn’t charge hosts or guests a commission. Instead, it adds a dynamic markup to the rate provided by each property. Got2Go doesn't charge hosts either while guests pay a service fee per booking or an annual subscription.

Maximizing Your OTA Experience

To make the most of OTAs, optimize your property listings.

High-quality photos, detailed descriptions and competitive pricing can significantly enhance your visibility and attract more bookings. Moreover, prompt responses to guest inquiries and positive guest reviews can bolster your property's reputation and search rankings, leading to higher conversion.

Make sure you’re taking into account each platform’s unique requirements and preferences and optimize each listing accordingly.

OTAs vs Metasearch Engines

OTAs and metasearch engines serve distinct purposes in the online travel industry.

OTAs, as mentioned earlier, are platforms where hosts list their properties, and travelers can directly book accommodations. These platforms facilitate the entire booking process, including payment transactions and communication between hosts and guests.

Metasearch engines, like Google Travel and TripAdvisor, aggregate information from various OTAs and other sources, allowing travelers to compare prices and availability across different platforms. Metasearch engines redirect users to the respective OTA listings or direct booking websites to complete their reservations.

While both OTAs and metasearch engines contribute to a property's online visibility, OTAs offer a platform for booking directly while metasearch engines redirect to an OTA or direct booking listing.

Key Takeaway

Embracing OTAs is not a choice for most vacation rental property managers and hosts — it’s a necessity. By leveraging these platforms wisely and effectively, you open the door to a world of opportunities for your vacation rental business.

Ready to find out how Hostaway can transform your business?

Hostaway is proud to support thousands of Property Managers and Airbnb Hosts Around the world. We take pride in being Top Ranked in Vacation Rental Software Review Sites: Capterra, G2, Software Advice, Trust Pilot, to name just a few! Check out our reviews and read the Hostaway Case Studies from real successful and growing Short-Term Rental Managers!