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Mar 29 2016

Are HomeAway’s new policies also reducing bookings?

homeaway-fee-It’s becoming evident that the recent decision by HomeAway/VRBO to join the other big box sites in assessing vacationers a fee may merely be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

A few weeks ago when I wrote “Why Homeowners are Outraged about Vacationer Booking Fees,” most homeowners were still not aware of many of the changes recently implemented by the vacation rental behemoth.  Since then, however, the backlash against HomeAway/VRBO has grown – and, in part, due to other reasons.

For one, homeowners are reporting that their bookings from HomeAway/VRBO are significantly off from previous years.

One Nantucket homeowner, joining our site for the first time, admitted that he was getting panicky because he only had 2 weeks booked through HomeAway, whereas he was usually nearly fully-booked by this time.  We’ve heard other stories from homeowners who claim to have lost bookings they thought were all but confirmed when the vacationers went to pay online for their booking and were taken aback by the new fees.  Understandably, they feel resentful that they now have to pay for something that had been free for years. 

Homeowners were incensed because HomeAway/VRBO initially presented the fees to vacationers by implying that they were imposed by the homeowner, not by the rental site. Although they temporarily added “HomeAway” or “VRBO” to “service fee,” it has been deleted, leaving it as “Service fee.”  This may lead many vacationers to believe that the service fee is being imposed by the homeowner or manager/realtor, not the listing site.  Homeowners are also frustrated because the extra service fee restricts their ability to either raise their rates or charge their own fees, e.g., cleaning, linens, etc.

In addition, many homeowners currently using HomeAway/VRBO dislike the pressure they are receiving to accept online payments, which is necessary, of course, in order for the fees to be assessed by the rental site.  While there is currently an option to view the vacationers’ contact information and “go around” the system – enabling valuable direct communication and for vacationers to avoid the new fees – homeowners often do not realize that doing so impacts their search order ranking.   

What’s more, vacationers are being told, “You must complete your booking or payment through the HomeAway checkout process in order to be protected by our Book with Confidence Guarantee. We can’t protect payments that are completed outside of HomeAway.” This message to vacationers clearly implies that any homeowner who does not buy in to the HomeAway Payments option may be untrustworthy.

It will soon be a moot point anyway because, by the end of 2016, all listers will be required to accept online booking.  While this might be acceptable for some homeowners and managers, others object to their advertising source dictating how they should run their business and restricting their ability to freely vet prospective renters.  And many homeowners balk at having to accept or decline a vacationer within 24 hours.

In recent statements from HA/VRBO, the company denies that these changes have adversely effected booking results for their homeowners, but we’re hearing significant evidence to the contrary.

Are you listed with HomeAway/VRBO? Have your inquiries and booking been as healthy this year as in the past? Do you mind that you will be required by them to accept online bookings by the end of this year?

 

Are HomeAway’s new policies also reducing bookings?
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About the author

Elizabeth Weedon

Elizabeth Weedon - Although I’ve worked for WeNeedaVacation.com since 2008, I’ve been a loyal homeowner on the site since early 1998, just a few months after the website was launched by the Talmadges. I grew up summering on the Vineyard and have managed my family's rental home there since the mid-1980’s. I’m passionately devoted to the Vineyard – and to WeNeedaVacation.com, which I credit with enabling me to hold onto the special property that has been in our family since the 1920’s. An enthusiastic member of the WNAV.com Homeowner Support Team, I am particularly involved with our new listers, providing assistance with the sign-up process and advice about how to create the most effective listing to ensure their booking success with us. I have recently taken over our press and public relations needs. And, with owner Joan Talmadge, I am also responsible for editing and writing much of the content on our website, our monthly newsletters, and the blog posts. My husband and I live in Wellesley where we have raised our 2 grown kids and our Black Lab, Maisie. Email Elizabeth

27 comments

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  1. Larry Mulaire

    I certainly understand the disappointment with Homeaway and VRBO. Their practices have been abusive to say the least and we have been on the receiving end of that. . What I’m not seeing in those letters is raves about WNAV bookings…. We’ve had one booking in 7 month or so. Don’t know what WNAV can do to improve this for us. To a person everybody who has stayed with us in past years loves the house and gives us the best reviews. WNAV appears pretty far down the list on search sites behind some local realtors even. If there is a way we can all improve that let us all know.
    Thanks,
    Larry Mulaire
    Barnstable

    1. Joan Talmadge

      Thank you, Larry, for your comments. I’m glad that we had an opportunity to look at your listing together, brighten the pictures a bit, and give it a little more attention with our marketing. I hope it will make a difference. I see that you have since received an inquiry for a 2-week stay in September.

      As always, please be in touch with us if you need any support in marketing or managing your home.

  2. Kristine

    We have listed our lovely and popular vacation rental for years on vrbo.com and that’s where most of our bookings came from. We were OUTRAGED by the new service fee (for what service? Indeed it’s only greed!) that vrbo.com started charging once they were acquired by Expedia. Plus the pressure to require online bookings (to make sure that vrbo.com receives that service fee). AND we just heard from a potential renter that they couldn’t request or book dates for early 2017 because we haven’t paid for our new subscription that comes due in over two weeks. Our inquiries and bookings are down by almost 80% since 2015. So we are DONE with vrbo.com and will not renew our subscription. it’s obvious that many other property owners and vacation renters are leaving vrbo.com as well. I honestly hope Expedia and vrbo.com tank. They deserve it. Such blatant corporate greed has got to go. And it’s heartening that consumers are waking up and choosing other ways to spend their money.

  3. Gina Brostmeyer

    Hello Elizabeth. I just listed my property this year with VRBO. I don’t think it was clear when I signed up how high the service fees were going to be but I have had good luck with inquiries and bookings. However, just this past month, I have had a surreal experience with a “chargeback” situation. A renter did not recognize the charge made on her credit card and disputed it but then resolved it with her credit card company within a day. HomeAway/Yapstone (their credit card processing company) withdrew the money from my account right away and started sending me emails to provide backup documentation justifying the charges(which I did). Even though both the renter and I are in agreement that the charges are good and even though the credit card company has provided documentation that the charges have gone through on the Renter’s credit card, this situation still has not been resolved. Emails are responded to with form emails and Ticket numbers and phone calls are answered by the “call center” and again we are given Ticket numbers. No one will help us or talk to us.

    I am so disgusted by this and it makes me so distrustful of their whole system. I have read other people’s issues with Yapstone and they are so much worse than my own. I would like to get out ofVRBO and use a different site, but I have no idea where to turn. My property is in Sonoma County, California. Do you or does anyone else have any advice for me? I would really appreciate it.

  4. William O'Fallon

    Ever since VRBO imposed their service fees we have seen inquires almost disappear. What had changed? Not the property, not the rates, not the economy to any great extent and our properties have all 5-star ratings. So, if all other variables remain the same, I can only attribute the down turn to the imposition of the service fees. The decline in inquires have not been a gradual transition, but rather an abrupt halt. We as owners, were told that the fees would be used to improve the marketing and yet, we have not seen any evidence of this. It appears this is nothing more than another example of Corporate greed in an attempt to pay for the acquisition of Home Away/VRBO by Expedia on the backs of owners and travelers.

    As far as I am concerned, management is lying as I was told that I did not have to use the Direct Booking. Yet, the truth is that as the new listing policy is implemented this month the failure to use Direct Booking will result in the placement of the property being moved to the bottom of the list if Direct Booking is not used. Also, I understand starting next year we will not have an option. This is new policy has not only resulted in a significant reduction in inquires, but also added fees to me as owner and much more in the way of an accounting effort.

    The policy may also put me in violation of NC law, namely the NC Vacation Rental Act.

    1. Robyn Allender

      We have experienced a similar drop in reservations since Homeaway group took over our perfectly adequate site in France named HOMELIDAYS. For 7 years we sourced 90% of our bookings for our apartment in France from HOMELIDAYS. We paid an annual fee of a little over 200€euro. That was the only amount we paid, plus we and our potential renters could contact each other directly and freely. This saved us on more than one occasion from renting to the Spring Break crowd and “ladies of the night”. How can you prevent this with online booking when there is no contact possible until after the boooking has been confirmed?
      We had no need for card payment as we offered payment by bank transfer, cheque or Paypal and never had any payment problems or complaints over these 7 years.

      The last two years with HOMELIDAYS under Homeway’s control has been a disaster for us!!
      As an example of how 2016 is ending, for a total advertising outlay so far in 2016 of 581€euro on one only ex-HOMEAWAY site we have received just 3 reservations. Total income from these 3 reservations was 1,929€euro. Just over 33% of our gross return derived from this site has gone out to our HOMELIDAYS paid ad. fees, (and banner promotions) while the number of reservations we have received has plunged.
      If it were not for TripAdvisor we would have received no other bookings this year.

      The latest service fee addition has been a major deterrent it’s true, but in our case it’s the amalgamation of sites by HOMEAWAY that has been the most difficult factor. For our rental, the number of properties online for our small city on Homeaway site has increased from 200 to over 600 which has lead to excess supply and insufficient demand. In a race to the bottom we are seeing reductions in rental prices across the board.

      If anyone knows of a service fee-free alterative to Homeway please spread the news.
      We shall not be renewing on HOMEAWAY as it makes no marketing sense to do so. Instead we are putting 1/3rd of the amount we paid out to HOMEAWAY this year for an ad.on another French-based site that has no online booking and no service fees to owners or renters. The resulting booking numbers from this new ad. placement can hardly be any worse, but in 12 months time I will be able to tell you the result

  5. Ginna

    AirBnb is playing the same games. I went in to check my ABB listing recently only to discover they’d pulled a “HomeAway” (which is interesting, because HomeAway has been pulling “ABBs”, trying to control every aspect of the booking process. Seems like HA and ABB are in competition for who can be the most hostile and authoritarian toward homeowners. IMO, they be in a nice tie but for HomeAway’s also charging owners for the pleasure of being brutalized by them). I discovered that I wasn’t suddenly and unbeknownst to me, offering guests a 6% discount for stays of longer than 7 nights! I had no idea I was being so generous! I also discovered that they’d cut my description down to about four sentences.

    However, if I got on instant booking, I’d have the “right” to describe my house more fully AND I would enjoy the right to not be penalized should I decide to cancel a reservation!

    I deactivated my listing on ABB.

    These two companies are completely out of control.

  6. Elizabeth Weedon

    Thank you all for taking the time to provide us with this feedback. It’s pretty interesting that you all, to a person, feel so similarly! (Usually there’s at least one outlier who has a different experience or point of view). I’m sorry for the angst you’re feeling over what’s been happening lately – and I truly hope that, if your home is listed with us, we will be able to provide you with all the inquiries and bookings you need.

    I know these things for sure: we will do everything we can to make you successful, we will continue to be there at the other end of the phone or email with advice and support, we will never restrict your ability to communicate with your guests prior to booking, we will allow you to take payments from your tenants however you see fit, and we will not charge vacationers a fee to use our site! You homeowners pay us to advertise your home – not butt in where we’re not wanted or needed!

  7. Ginna

    I can tell they’re burying my listing (again). Bought a Featured Listing in March and got a ton of hits. Bought it again in April; crickets.

    HomeAway uses people’s properties as weapons against them. I can’t wait to be done with HomeAway. And every opportunity I get, I tell people to use the Big Box sites only as a last resort and to go over the weneedavacation.com for Cape Cod rentals.

  8. Camille

    In addition I have been contacting all of my past rental clients to contact me directly through my personal email or go to weneedavacation.com for future inquiries. I do not reply directly through VRBO anymore with new inquiries-it seems they have not yet “taken over” my bookings but then again I have not signed up for credit card payments. I am so sorry I signed on with them this year.

  9. Jerry

    We have been on both weneedavacation and VRBO for many years and the recent changes are terrible! VRBO is now sending out emails using my name to prospective renters, often containing inaccurate and false information. They are communicating with renters as if they were me! In addition, all emails are monitored through the VRBO site so we now learned to provide email address on first contact. Not that we are getting many inquiries through VRBO lately, I don’t think prospective renters are interested in providing credit card information when they want to make an inquiry on a potential rental.

  10. Nancy

    VacationRentals.com is VERY user unfriendly, at least to homeowners. Updating the calendar and booking a reservation is WAY more complicated than it needs to be. Requiring me to put in a renter’s email? I don’t think so! I just put my email in every reservation. You know they’re going to take that email and do something with it.

    The fee is completely bogus. I logged in the other day to update my calendar and it took me 4 times of hitting the “back button” to get around forcing me to sign up for online booking and taking credit cards. A renter told me after the institution of the fee that the site blocked her from seeing my email address after we had communicated a few times.

    As said above, my home is NOT a hotel or motel! Communication and the ability to screen potential renters is key.

    My subscription expires in a few days. I unclicked auto renewal and took down my credit card information. Goodbye HA/VRBO/VR! Good luck to ya!

  11. Ginna

    It cannot be stressed enough how lucky we on Cape Cod and the Islands are to have weneedavacation.com, esp. with owners like the Talmadges, who have assured me personally that they will never sell out to the likes of HomeAway, owners who don’t give lip service to us, a la Brian Sharples, about how they understand what being a VR owner means, needs, etc.

    Owners over at HA’s Romper Room Community forum are begging for a “site like the old VRBO”.

    We on CC are so lucky that we have one. I feel so sorry for VR owners who don’t have the like. And I tell friends and others to always first look for a “boutique” VR Web site before resorting to the Big Box sites.

  12. Ginna

    To add, a commenter on your first posting on this topic got it exactly right when he described the HomeAway culture as being that of “BULLIES”. They really are bullies. It is surreal to me to watch our private properties, businesses, and livelihoods being used by HomeAway as leverage against us. Many owners, though, are complicit in that they went along with the first steps which were obviously leading to this and gaining momentum as they went along. Those of us who saw it coming back in the fall of 2014 were pilloried on Community by these owners, treated like traitors and enemies, banned from commenting at the request of these owners.

    Now those same owners have come around to thinking that, handing HomeAway complete control of the administration of their businesses wasn’t, and isn’t, such a great idea after all.

    Hate to say we told you so, but….we told you so.

  13. Lisa Fabian Lustigman

    Thank you for your email notifying us of the HomeAway Service Fee situation, which we were unaware of. In my view, the view the fee is unconscionable and I am not surprised that our inquiries (let alone bookings) have dropped from HomeAway/VRBO. On reading your article, I telephoned HomeAway. The Service Fee is not negotiable. If we do not use their features such as Request to Book (within the 24 hour deadline) or their credit card service, for which they take another very hefty charge for each payment made, our listing ‘rating’ or ‘ranking’ will decrease on the search engine. So, a bit chicken and egg – if there are no inquiries and our ranking becomes less and less visible…

    I had pretty much the same response as Susan (above) from HomeAway. They said they were adopting the same policies as TripAdvisor and Air BnB. We don’t advertise on either of those sites. At the end of the day, the proof is definitely in the pudding – of our new (as opposed to regular returners) bookings, many more have come from Weneedavacation for summer 2016 than from HomeAway and I certainly hope this trend continues. I am not someone who usually responds, or blogs, but if there are on-line forums for homeowners and prospective renters, this information needs to go out there.

    Thank you again for notifying us of what is going on.

  14. Camille

    My inquiries with VRBO have definitely gone down this year- and I do NOT use online bookings. I want time to personally vet potential clients. My experience was the same as Susan. Until this year I was getting more inquiries through VRBO so I hope more people transition to We Need a Vacation as I will not renew with VRBO next year.

  15. Laurie welch

    Ps. MY PROPERTY IS N. O. T. A HOTEL!!!!!!!!! And I will NOT rent it to just anyone who will pay me money. It’s personal. It means more than that. If I wanted to run an INN, B&B or HOTEL I’d buy one.

    I. AM. FURIOUS WITH. HOMEAWAY AND VRBO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Laurie welch

    I agree completely!!!! I interview all prospective clients and will not book any other way. They will lose my business. Also..when you want to block/book a week it won’t allow you to unless you enter the renters email address. This means if I have family down or book with other sites that they are requiring information that is not their business….obviously for future solicitation purposes and my family would be livid! It’s BS! I am furious with them!

    I have been accepting checks and never have kept a security deposit in 10 years due to careful interviewing. It’s my understanding that the fees will be calculated into into my rate REGARDLESS of the payment method I accept. I do not accept CC’s Bc I don’t want someone to challenge the bill. I know I am giving a high end immaculate product and I don’t want to be hurt on the back end either!! As a resort retailer I know how consumers can play games with credit card challenges.

    This is why big predatory businesses like Homeaway are so scary in the power they weild. I am happy that We Need A Vacation is a viable, friendly and sane alternative. I just hope the breadth of their exposure continues to widen.

  17. Ginna

    I’ve been on Weneedavacation.com and added VRBO in 2013. VRBO worked very well for me, until last September. It was like a trap door opened. I went from consistent growth from 2013 to 2014 to 2015, with at least one inquiry every month of the year, including the off-season, to September 2015 being my first month w/o any inquiries. That was followed again by Oct., Nov., and Dec. with zero inquiries, and only 2 in January, then zero again in February. It was shocking, to say the least. That is not a slow decline. That is an over-the-cliff plummet.

    The only reason I got bookings in March is because I bought a month of their Featured Listing, but I have been told by CS that they are doing away with Featured Listing. Of course! Anything that helps homeowners, HomeAway is going to destroy.

    I have spent hours on the phone with HomeAway discussing these issues. Every call I have every made included the CS rep. asking me, “Where else are you going to go?”. It became clear to me that this line, or some version of it, is in the script they are told to refer to.

    Arguing with HomeAway, trying to use logic and reason is a futile effort. It’s surreal, in fact.

    From top to bottom, HomeAway has become scarily and bizarrely hostile to homeowners. It is clear they have an attitude that we are their employees, there to help HomeAway/Expedia, not the other way around.

    They change the contract on a whim and with no care as to even the legality of it, let alone the ethics. Yet they actually deactivate listings they deem “not in compliance”.

    I was banned from their homeowner’s Community forum 14 times in the first six weeks after joining (i’m kind of proud of that). Left for a year, and made again only a few weeks before the COO banned me yet again because I made a comment that I’d been told HomeAway will be going to a no-communication model, i.e.: we can’t speak with inquiries until they’ve booked and given HA their CCs.

    It’s a profoundly poorly run company. It is authoritarian and fascist in nature now. It’s actually scary. Today I read an owner’s comment on their forum that he’d been charged for renewal five days before his renewal date and despite turning the auto-renewal off. This is exactly the kind of thing HA would do. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tell him he can’t get a refund and it’s his fault for not taking down the CC information.

    As to the topic of this post, I have gone from 100% inquiries every month for three years to five months with no inquiries in the past seven months.

    It’s because of the games they play, the tricks on their site to keep homes no on instant booking from even showing up in searches that otherwise meet the traveler’s criteria.
    It’s all manipulation, strangulation, coercion, punishment over there.

    When a company manages to turn the tables such that they are using people’s private properties, businesses, and livelihoods as leverage against them, it’s time to leave.

    I will not be renewing with VRBO. This has been an agony.

  18. Sandy Swenson

    Hello Elizabeth, Excellent article and absolutely accurate. I have a home in Yarmouth Port that still has 2 weeks left ; very unusual for my home. I have had two inquiries since February… short ones under a week pre and post summer, with minimal service fee to one guest who was non committal and the other wished to pay by check. I do believe that my August weeks remain empty b/c service fee for 7 days is $127. Ridiculous and totally unfair to my guests.

  19. Bill Taylor

    Thanks you for your article. I agree entirely with what you say. Recently a person who does birding wanted to rent my place in May (which is good for the cape). We went back and forth and I learned that he saw many negative reviews of HomeAway/VRBO and wanted to book it via credit card to protect himself. At that point he mentioned fees and I thought that maybe VRBO was charging fees but having worked with Homeaway and other online companies they purchased over the years I assumed it was just them and not Homeaway.

    This is all very troubling. One of the benefits of using HomeAway was that the person renting my place did not have to pay fees. After all I pay them to advertise. I guess this is just another example of greed and sleazy behavior by companies.

    I suppose I might need to look into someone else. If everyone is doing this then maybe it is time to provide a free service for people to list their rentals. After all creating such a web site and then having owners support it we might be able to provide renters with this service for free and with more integrity than HomeAway/VBRO. I just renewed my contract but I will seriously consider not renewing in the future

    As for fewer bookings I can attest that I haven’t rented a week through them for two months. I have had 5-6 serious inquires but then (unlike in the past) they don’t rent. Perhaps the fee is driving people away but this year is very different that in years past.

  20. Curtis Barnes

    Who needs HomeAway or VRBO? WeNeedaVacation.com has worked for me for many years, and is the only service we use. Already sold out from mid-May to mid-September again this year — for the third straight year using WeNeedaVacation.

    Thanks to all m,of you for your leadership and support in the vacation rental industry. Keep up the good work!

  21. Michelle

    I agree with this in it’s entirety. This is my first year with HomeAway/VRBO and I am shocked by all of it. I signed up for the year in January 2016 hoping that it would further increase bookings but I have yet to have booked one week through that site.

    I have been with Weneedavacation.com since 2002 and it is fabulous site. To date my calendar is almost full for the peak rental season July – August 2016 exclusively through repeat guests and Weneedavacation.com.

    If HomeAway/VRBO does not rescind these policies this will certainly be my first and last year using their site.

    Thanks again for such a wonderful service!
    .

  22. Tracey Fabricius

    Couldn’t agree more, I was a very happy HomeAway customer and had great success with bookings on their site. Their services were excellent and I couldn’t have asked for a better option, until that all changed. For me the fee was an issue, particularly with how it was rolled out, but the bigger problem is their “Best Match” search results. It has cut my traffic in half and I have not had a single booking since it was implemented.

    I’m now listing on multiple sites and have created my own website and purchased Google ads, all to try to get back to where I was. Very disappointing and the real insult to injury is that the HomeAway customer service is reading from a script and genuinely doesn’t care about the immense problems homeowners are now facing. The HomeAway blogs are on fire with very angry and upset homeowners, with people talking about needing to sell their properties because they can no longer generate the revenue they once could.

    Thank heavens for sites like WeNeedaVacation and the fabulous customer service they offer. A true lifesaver.

  23. Susan

    Your article is spot on for me. My bookings have gone down this year and in particular to no bookings since the fee was implemented. I also use weneedavacation since 2004 and have been very happy with this site, although in the last few years until now I have had more bookings through home away. I hope more people transition to weneedavacatin.com.
    On home away, I was using online booking until yesterday. I feel it is underhanded and cancelled it. I do see I am now rated lower a direct result of cancelling online booking. I also see they will soon force me to adopt it again . I have complained to home away directly and their response was basically “yes I see your bookings are down sorry.”

    1. Elizabeth Weedon

      Thank you , Susan, for your feedback. We, too, hope more folks will continue to transition to our site. Since March 1st, shortly after HomeAway/VRBO instituted their booking fees, our site has seen a 12 1/2% increase in vacationer traffic over the same time last year. The Cape and Islands are fortunate to have a local, niche site like ours as an alternative to the big box sites, but many areas are totally dependent on the larger, more expensive, and controlling sites.

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