Rarely in our 23-year history have we witnessed such a hue and a cry from vacation rental homeowners as we did a few years ago when HomeAway/VRBO decided to require vacationers to pay a service fee.
Why are homeowners so upset about a vacationer fee?
- Reducing revenue: Having to pay fees of 4%-15% (!) on top of the rental rate of a home, vacationers may be forced to opt for a lesser priced home. It may also prevent homeowners from increasing their rates as they normally would – or even force them to reduce their rates – to remain competitive.
- Restricting communication: The only way vacation rental websites can monitor and collect vacationer fees is by restricting the ability for vacationers and homeowners to communicate directly with each other prior to booking. Otherwise, if able to connect directly prior to booking, homeowners and vacationers could cut out the “middle man” and save both parties the fees. But restricting communication between parties is the antithesis of what we believe is best.
- Controlling/limiting payment options: In order to charge vacationers their service fee, these vacation rental websites must also control the payment methods used, which would have to be through their booking site, preventing homeowners from allowing other payment options such as personal checks. (Naturally, booking through the website also incurs fees to the homeowner.)
- Greater risks for all: HomeAway/VRBO’s justification for charging vacationer fees is to provide travelers with a greater level of confidence when booking a home online. But restricting vacationers’ ability to communicate with the homeowner/manager prior to booking only increases their risk that the property may not be a good fit. And, of course, homeowner risk is also increased when accepting an automatic booking to whoever requests one.
Why WeNeedaVacation.com is the better alternative
In response, WeNeedaVacation.com co-owner Joan Talmadge states, “We do not agree with the path that the major rental websites have taken. We firmly believe that it is in the best interests of both the vacationer and homeowner to communicate with each other freely – prior to booking – to determine if the home and the vacationing party are a good fit. Making that personal connection between the homeowner and their guests is vital to the success of renting.”
Being a locally owned and operated niche site devoted exclusively to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, we are able to provide vacationers with the trust that the big-box sites are charging their vacationers for. Our listers and listings are all vetted prior to activation to avoid scams, and we have a extraordinary amount of direct communication with our homeowners prior to and after activation of their listings.
Feedback from homeowners
We are closely following the buzz on social media, other vacation rental blogs, and the press, and here are a few examples of what we’re hearing:
“Just seconds ago I lost a renter that used my home last year because of this fee. $1500 bucks gone because of a $120 service fee.” Kyle D.
“I have not had a rent increase in 4 years and need to have one in order to stay in business. Now that home away is increasing fees in under “booking fees” of 5%, my rent increase can’t be realized and I still have to pay yearly subscription plus 3% credit processing.” Jim C.
“I was threatened by the [HomeAway] customer service agent that if I collected the rentals fees directly from my guests instead of going through HomeAway payments my listing would be put at the bottom of the list.” Dynie S.
“For me, the issue is a loss of control by the owner due to Homeaway/VRBO’s inserting itself into communication between owner and guest (moving toward blocking email and telephone info), finances (requiring online payment), and instant booking (24 hours). The traveler fee being implemented may also interfere with the ability of owners to set their rates and, in my opinion, gives HomeAway undue influence over the local marketplace. For example, I raised some of my weekly rates for 2016, before the announcement of the Homeaway/VRBO traveler fee. If I used their auto/online features, my guests would be facing a steep increase in rent.” hjl/Katama Delight of Martha’s Vineyard
How do you feel about HomeAway’s recent decisions? Were you aware of them?