Vacation rental owners who advertise on HomeAway or VRBO or vacationrentals.com, you might have noticed some significant changes in the past few weeks. I tend to be obsessively involved in following the goings on in the vacation rental world so, I can tell you that owner rental forums and Facebook groups have exploded in the past week or so with angry owners and unhappy travelers.
1) Starting on February 16th, the HomeAway sites started adding a booking fee to every reservation. At the moment, the booking fee is quietly added when a traveler starts to make their deposit payment. The booking fee is between 4-10% of the total rent (but not taxes). The amount paid is based on a sliding scale that is determined by the amount of the rental — the higher the amount, the less percentage the fee.
2) HomeAway/VRBO has said in several statements that they have done research and found that travelers won’t mind the charge.
3) Supposedly, this fee is added on to ‘protect’ the traveler from a fraudulent listing, as well as support available 24/7. Their terms and conditions can be found here. I have a feeling that their protection is similar to the protection that cost me an extra $150 when I purchased my last living room set. It was supposed to cover the costs of professional cleaning if needed, but in reality, all I got for my $150 was a tiny bottle of spot remover. There was so much in the small print that it was almost impossible to qualify for what I thought I had paid for.
4) With the implementation of the new service charge, HomeAway lowered the fee charged to the owner with a pay-per-booking listing. They also say they will be announcing something new for people with subscriptions in April. I’ve heard through the grapevine that it probably will not be a reduction of the price of a subscription, but rather an incentive for enabling payment through the HomeAway website. We’ll have to see in April. HomeAway has been saying for several years now that they have a goal that all homes on their site will be online bookable by 2016.
I had not planned on commenting on this fee. Frankly, it is a bit overwhelming — the helpful discussions on the vacation rental forums have changed to angry owner rantings. People seem obsessed and anger makes them very vocal. There is even a new Facebook group of angry owners against the fee. I had planned on staying out of it and waiting for the smoke to clear instead of jumping headfirst into the explosion. Frankly, I just wanted to ignore it for now. But, in the past week, I’ve received quite a few private emails and private messages’s to my Facebook page asking my opinion and what I’m going to do about it. So, here it goes…
1) Continue listing with HomeAway, but possibly with only basic listings. Currently one of my properties has a platinum listing, the others are basic (the traditional way that HomeAway has been set up is the higher tier you purchase, the higher up your listing will be in the rankings. This, too, has recently changed somewhat). Actually, I am more concerned with Homeaway’s change to their “best match” than this new fee.
2) Revamp my listings on Flipkey (TripAdvisor) and AirBnB, the biggest competition to HomeAway. I will look into other up and coming sites like vacationhomerentals.com, homeescape.com, and connectingrentals.com (which I just found out is based here in Maine).
3) Look at regional sites – not just listing sites, but places like the Maine Tourism Association (they are the ones who run those kiosks at the rest areas). Perhaps if I don’t spend as much in advertising on HomeAway, I can use those advertising dollars here.
4) Spend more of my advertising dollars for my own website and Facebook page. Currently I get about 25% of my bookings directly through them already with very little advertising money.
5) My first 10 years owning a vacation rental, I rented entirely through Craigslist (with close to 100% occupancy). My rentals are different now – different set up and location, so I don’t know how effective it would be now, but time to get back to basics, I guess.
6) I have concerns about some of the owner rantings that I’ve been hearing. Feedback is definitely heading towards HomeAway, and it’s not good feedback. Unfortunately, I have the concern that owners are ‘biting their noses to spite their faces”. Homeaway’s rating on bothYelp and Sitejabber is currently 1 1/2 stars. Won’t travelers who have never stayed at a rental house be spooked if they look at reviews like that?
I honestly will not get in the middle of all of the fuss. No, you won’t see me picketing in front of HomeAway’s offices in Austin, Texas. In my opinion, HomeAway can make changes if they want, if they think it will bring them more money. I’m sure that somewhere in the pages of small print that we owners agreed to when we signed up, we gave them permission to make changes. I’m not happy, but I will adapt.
That’s the American way, after all, isn’t it? Things change. Things always change. We need to adapt to the world around us. We have to.