From the WNAV Office

Cape and Islands directly affected by massive change in vacation rental industry

Written by Elizabeth Weedon
4.7/5 - (6 votes)

New booking fees imposed by major vacation rental sites are causing a ruckus across the country – and they’re affecting vacationers and homeowners here on the Cape and Islands as well. Growing frustration and anger is surfacing from both sides of the rental process.

Following the booking platform model of Airbnb, other “big box” rental sites such as HomeAway/VRBO and TripAdvisor/FlipKey now charge vacationers a fee for every rental. And the fees are not trivial, ranging from 5 – 16%.

Why are vacation rental homeowners and property managers upset as well as vacationers?

The only way the sites can protect their fees is to restrict access to contact information between the two parties, who could otherwise go around the site to avoid the fees. Limiting communication between owners/managers and vacationers increases risks to both parties and removes valuable trust created by direct contact. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Listen to our podcast about Booking Fees

Homeowners are also upset because they are no longer able to control and manage the booking process. The sites now require that all payments be made through their platform, incurring an additional 3% credit card processing fee, paid for by the owner. In some cases, the owner doesn’t receive a penny of the rental deposit until the arrival of their guests.

Furthermore, any fees added by another party make it very difficult for the owner/manager to charge the same rental amount they had been without the fee and still remain competitive. And it’s even tougher for them to charge their own extra fees such as for cleaning, linens, or pets.

Here is a reaction from one vacation rental homeowner on the Cape:

Regarding the VRBO service fee and communication restrictions: It is no longer practical for us to use VRBO to market our rental property on Cape Cod. We consider the renters who stay with us our ‘partners’ in the house because their rent helps pay for the expenses we incur every year. VRBO pays nothing towards these expenses yet has tried to insert itself as our ‘partner’ in the property with their expanded fees and oversight of communications. David P., Mashpee

What are vacationers doing to avoid the fees and limited access to the owner/manager?

Not all vacation rental sites charge a fee. Regional or niche sites like allow vacationers to use their sites for free, and they often list similar inventory. We do not control the booking process in any way and, in fact, strongly encourage direct contact between both parties. The trust this promotes – and the misunderstandings this prevents – makes for a positive experience between our homeowners and their guests.

We have also heard that many vacationers search for other ways to contact the owner of a rental home found on a big website. They can Google the listing title or other unique description of the home to see if it can be found elsewhere such as on social media, a fee-free site like ours, or a homeowner’s personal website.

We are receiving multiple calls a day from exasperated homeowners who believe that the Big Box, one-size-fits-all, global sites are prioritizing automation over personalization and their own profits over those of their clients. Our season on the Cape and Islands is short, and our homes are unique. There is no one better qualified to manage each home better than its own owner or property manager, and there is no excuse for that process to be controlled by a third party to their own gain.

The fees charged by the “big 3” (HomeAway/VRBO, Airbnb, TripAdvisor/FlipKey) are carefully crafted revenue producers providing no value to either vacationers or homeowners. Restricting communication hinders the exchange of information, the asking of questions, and the building of a relationship between owner and vacationer. If vacationers and owners communicate freely and openly from the start, vacationers could certainly determine if a property will meet their expectations, and owners can determine if the inquiring party is suitable for their home.

Vacationers should seek out listing sites that support direct, informative, and friendly communication with owners prior to booking to assure enjoyable and carefree stays. Avoid surprises – communicate. Roselle L., Edgartown

About the author

Elizabeth Weedon

Elizabeth Weedon - Although I’ve worked for 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 managed my family's rental home there since the mid-1980’s. I’m passionately devoted to the Vineyard – and to WeNeedaVacation, which I credit with enabling me to hold onto the special property that has been in our family for nearly a century. An enthusiastic member of the WNAV Homeowner Support Team, I endeavor to keep my finger on the pulse of the Cape and Islands vacation rental industry so that I can provide homeowners advice about how to ensure their booking success with us. With owner Joan Talmadge, I am also responsible for editing and writing much of the text on our website, our monthly newsletters, and Homeowner Blog posts.