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May 02 2016

Are YOU in control of your own booking processes?


Front L 191Our business model is simple:  vacationers search for a rental home, find one that they want, contact the owner directly to discuss it and, if they choose, book it with the owner.  We firmly believe that direct and open communication between homeowner and renter results in success for both parties. 

Most of the large vacation rental websites, however, have moved in a different direction – one which provides greater automation in the booking process. With virtually one online click, vacationers can secure a rental home: quick, easy, painless.  The problem, as we see it, is that with that automation, homeowners lose control of the process of screening their prospective guests, establishing a personal rapport with them, and choosing a payment method of their choice. And although the vacation rental websites claim that vacationers are driving the demand for automation, it also enables the sites to impose extra fees.

So far, it’s been difficult to gauge how vacationers are reacting to these new policies implemented by HomeAway/VRBO. But it’s abundantly clear how homeowners feel about them.

Here is how one HomeAway/VRBO lister recently summed up her frustration with them:

“I advertise on VRBO/HA because I pay them to bring me a name, phone number and email.  I did not ask them to handle my transactions, demand I respond to each inquiry, monitor and scrub my emails of contact info, penalize me for the time I take to respond, become my credit card processor, create canned responses for potential guests, and generate even more emails to the guest that I am unaware of (payment due when the guest has paid), put me in a position where I am compelled to use a mobile app to make a response that automatically attaches a quote when I had no intention of sending one and now extract an additional 9% fee from the guest.”

HomeAway/VRBO explains to vacationers that the 4-9% service fee paid during online checkout is “to provide a safer and more secure booking experience, coupled with premium 24/7 customer support throughout your trip.”  As a homeowner who has rented out our Cape home for 20 summers, I am very confident that I can provide my renters a safe and secure booking experience, and if my guests have a question or problem during their stay, I would want them to call me, not a call center ten states away. 

These large vacation rental websites want us to believe that all vacationers want immediate, online booking.  When I book a hotel for a few nights, I don’t feel the need to speak to anyone personally.  But if I am looking for a home or condo for a week’s stay with our family, I have the responsibility of assuring a good fit, not just for me, but for my entire family. There is no sense of urgency on my part and instead a greater need for pre-booking communication to assure our happiness in the home.  I like to take my time, speak with the owner, ask questions about the home’s amenities and surroundings, and feel comfortable with my decision. 

From the perspective of a rental homeowner, my goal is to find tenants who enjoy my home, are respectful of it, leave it in good condition, provide me with a glowing guest review, and want to return.  The best way to achieve this goal is to have a phone conversation, which nearly always reveals more than email correspondence and is vitally important to establish a good rapport and a mutual sense of trust. 

The last thing I want is for a website to inform me that I have received a request to book and have 24 hours to accept or decline it.  

Some websites say that the more requests you accept, the “more popular” the site will rate your rental, and you will be rewarded with higher placement in search results.  I want to feel free to decline a request without fear of having my ranking suffer. 

Are you comfortable with this trend towards greater automation that is being imposed by the big box websites?

Are YOU in control of your own booking processes?
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About the author

Joan Talmadge

Joan Talmadge - My husband Jeff and I created WeNeedaVacation.com in 1997, shortly after buying our Cape home. My background includes teaching fifth grade for 8 years and writing and editing educational publications for 15. I get great joy from helping fellow homeowners successfully rent their homes. Jeff and I are proud to have two of our three grown children working for WeNeedaVacation.com, truly a family-run business. For me, the Cape and Islands are magical all times of the year -- whether it's walking on Nauset Beach, playing golf, or enjoying family and friends. Email Joan

11 comments

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  1. JoAnne Lavin

    Well, I’m back! Had NO idea I’d be posting again!
    I was up till 1:30 AM getting a refunded deposit back for someone who booked herself automatically via VRBO for a week I am renting to return guests! But, b/c I never block time off w/o the deposit (which should be here tomorrow) the week showed open & VRBO automatically took her credit card! We don’t even DO credit cards!!!

    I feel bad, b/c it is for a large family reunion & they were trying to find a home close to the larger ones they booked by ours.

    I was not very polite to who I was speaking with, to say the least. However, I made a point of saying I realized he was not the one who is ‘dictating the greed & control of VRBO’. I hammered home all the undesirable traits Home Away now possesses & said June 23 couldn’t get here fast enough for our GOODBYE FOREVER to them!

    Asking how that could possibly happen, when I replied that we were in the process of working something out w/return guests for that week, b/c their chosen week was already booked, (so they were now trying to juggle schedules) he blamed the vacationer! Said, “She obviously ignored your email & just went ahead to put a deposit down to book on her own. The system is set to do that, if the week is not blocked off.”

    While on hold during this latest FIASCO, I was emailing back ‘n forth w/the woman who had put the deposit down. She understandably, was very upset, willing to pay in full, everything right then & there, just to have it.
    I told her we don’t take credit cards & she was then willing to FedEX overnight, payment in full. People are coming from Germany for this family reunion, as well as other parts of the country & our home is w/in a mile from the larger ones they booked.
    I told her I could not, in good conscience, dump my return guests, who were now doing all they could, to switch weeks, just so they could be back there. (& hopefully, keep returning!)

    I told her about weneedavacation & that she needed to use you to find something. There would be no hidden fees or agendas & the user friendly site would be refreshing, I’m sure.

    I told her what they said about it being her fault. But she said she was able to put down her deposit before she ever heard back from me, so that was a lie on their end.
    I was gone all day, so I didn’t see her inquiry till several hours later, when she felt secure, she now had it.

    With their new system, they are able to also auto VOID any inquiry you don’t get back to on time! (under 24 hrs)
    So let’s hope everyone listing w/them never has a busy enough day to not be able to get on line to check to see about a possible rental! No one is allowed to get married, die, or any other emergency that may pop up, or you lose that rental! If you can’t check your emails via Smart Phone, forget it! Well, I have a flip phone. So I guess I’m out of luck there. LOL
    I saw their ‘canned replies’ & it’s all set w/an acceptance or decline, complete w/your name, as if you, personally wrote it to them! Never mind you never saw it at all!
    Then it overrides your wishes of how payment is to be made & in what time frame it’s expected.
    HELLO???
    I think what we’ve been doing w/it for over 15 yrs. is just fine, thank you. We don’t agree w/your payment policy & prefer ours.

    I told him I was dealing w/inquiries from their site on my own b/c their fees are equaling fraud w/me. I was then threatened in a round about way, for taking MY rental in MY own hands! I cut him off, telling him HA has NO RIGHT to take MY property OUT of MY hands!
    I said I hoped our ‘conversation was recording, so they can get a real clear view of what people think of them, b/c I’m certainly not the only one. I was sure many owners would be jumping ship to be free again, w/a site that caters to who is paying them, to work as a team, to do business. I mentioned weneedavacation many times.
    Told them they all need to take lessons.

    I’ve recently said the same to another site we are brand new to, knowing we were dropping HA. Having some issues with them too, already. Altho they don’t take on your property like HA does & it’s not a big deal to have direct contact w/possible guests.

    On CL, I saw a post from someone looking for a rental, Mid to Lower Cape, for 8. Posted his frustrations using VRBO/Home Away for several days! I had to laugh & reply. I told him to try weneedavacation. He was thrilled. Found a spot in Harwich w/in a few hours. Same rental week my latest nightmare w/VRBO was from.

    I think some of these sites are just too big to be managed well, by anyone. Just getting someone in your country to deal w/you is hard enough. Let alone your state.

    I’m sure weneed will be picking up A LOT of ‘new’ homes for vacation rentals.

    Thanks for letting me ‘vent’…again. 🙂

  2. JoAnne Lavin

    Totally agree w/this. We are not renewing w/Home Away after having them for 3 seasons. In fact, I just emailed them when they notified me our subscription is running out next month. I told them why too. Called them ‘Greedy’. And said their ‘service fee’ certainly wasn’t a benefit to us in the time we were w/them. As I found their customer service lacking & limited.

    I’m quite aware when it expires & am looking forward to it. Like the owner above, I want control. I enjoy creating a rapport w/guests prior to arrival, meeting them upon arrival & calling them the night prior to departure, to make sure they had a great time!

    When Home Away asks for the email of the people I book, I put my own down. So I get all the bothersome advertisements their website sends out to those who use them to book with. I imagine they also collect others emails, to try to get them to use their site, over using others, as well.
    More junk mail. Just what we all want. lol

    I have deliberately contacted the inquiries from them, from my own, personal email &/or a call, explaining to them the fees they are paying & if they book direct w/me, they won’t pay them. All but 1 was very grateful. The odd ball, for some reason, thought I was doing something dishonest, going ‘around’ the site to maybe benefit myself more, somehow. I was stunned! I told her she was welcome to book thru them, if she wanted to pay over $100 more for our home. She then called to say they settled on another home! Oh well… ‘no good deed’… as the saying goes. LOL

    I do contact inquiries via their email system, just letting them know I’ll be contacting them again. This way, I don’t get ‘punished’ for not contacting them promptly. It’s automated, so as long as it sees I made contact, even w/1 line, it’s happy w/that, to keep the score better. 😉

    There’s A LOT to be said for the smaller, much more personalized WeNeed site. Customer service is excellent & everyone speaks very clear English, b/c hey…you’re speaking w/people right here on the Cape for the most part. Other sites, I’ve spoken to people not even in this country! That too, can create a language barrier w/some of the thicker accents & fast talking ‘help’. Frustration, does not even begin to cover it.

    So, soon to be FREE of HA & much happier for it, I’m sure!

  3. Doug

    Joan:
    You are absolutely correct with this analysis. We have used VRBO for the last 5 years. Their latest changes take control away from us owners and impose unwanted additional fees for services we don’t want and that we can’t opt out of. We will definitely be looking elsewhere for next season.

  4. Doug

    Joan:
    You are absolutely correct in this analysis. We’ve been using VRBO for the last 5 years, but with their recent changes
    they have raised fees and taken all control away from us owners – not good. We will abandon VRBO and look elsewhere next year.
    Doug

  5. Betty Martin

    Joan, I read the review from the quoted vacation rental owner wondering if had been written by me… I have every confidence that “we need a vacation dot com ” is about to explode with listings because you are offering EXACTLY what a homeowner or property manager wants and needs.

    I was so happy to find you and experience your personalized attention to details. I will certainly tell my friends about you ! The experience with the new “trend” big business outlets has soured me on using them at any cost… and cost is what they are all about. Thanks for Being You!

  6. Donna Watson

    Well said Joan. We have been working directly with our rental guests successfully for many years.We like the interaction and being able to help the renters with questions about our home and the town. Homeway and VRBO are clearly out of control in imposing fees on renters, and requiring owners to use their booking program.

  7. Ginna

    I asked HomeAway/VRBO many times last year, “If travelers want the instant booking process, then why do you have to employ such Draconian and punitive tactics to get homeowners onto it? Of course I never got an answer. The constant refrain from HA is, “It’s what travelers want”.

    But they dropped the, “It’s what travelers want” thing when they imposed a 4 -9% Service Fee on them. In that case, they could care less about what the travelers want. What we literally never hear is, “It’s what the owners want.”

    Well, I’ve been naughty and “not in compliance” because, as I told HA, I will never, ever hand control of my private property and business over to you, so my listing is now buried and getting virtually no views. So, that goose is cooked. No more VRBO for this owner.

  8. kathleen werber

    This model has worked very well for us. I’m pretty good at screening tenants and finding a good match for us. There have been only 2 blunders in 25 years. Basically, I like knowing who’s sleeping in my bed.

  9. Anne Camille Talley

    I couldn’t agree more! The bigbox websites are charging more and, with insisting on their own process, making it ever more work for owners. Why in the world would I want that? I am VERY happy with weneedavacation.com. This is my third summer and it gets easier each year, just the opposite of what I hear about VRBO et al.

  10. Kathryn Wolf

    I am fairly new to the landlord world. Based on the advice of the previous owner of my home and the staff of weneedavacation, I always talk with my prospective renters before I send out my lease. I also list my home with 2 realtors on Martha’s Vineyard. While it seems easier at times because they handle the paperwork and collection of fees, I have no contact with the renter. It doesn’t feel good from my perspective. My only negative experience with the care of my home came as the result of a realtor based rental. I think that they felt no connection to me and treated my home as a hotel room. Every year, I have debated whether to continue with the realtors. Next summer will be the one with just renting through weneedavacation. I have no rentals through the realtors this summer so it won’t be a difficult decision.
    I would never consider listing with the big box websites

  11. Pam

    I agree with your posting. I like being in control of the booking process. It is very important to have communication with your potential guests. I have many, many return guests and I am sure it is because I have been in contact with them before, during and after the rental process.
    Thank you for the article and how you choose to handle bookings.

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