Our 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?