Instant bookings and changes in "best match" algorithms are coming to listing sites like VRBO. But what are they, and what do they mean for you?
One of our sales people received a call this week from a homeowner in Hawaii; let’s call her Lucy. Lucy was reaching out to us because she owns two condos in Hawaii. After successfully self-managing the two homes for 8 and 10 years respectively, Lucy started to notice change.
Since the changes recently implemented on the big rental sites, I am just not seeing the bookings I used to get. I thought I might be to do better with you."
This is not the first time we have written on the subject, and this is not the first time homeowners have come to Rented.com with similar complaints and concerns. Recently, we looked at “what consolidation of companies in the vacation rental industry means for homeowners,” and our readers were vocal in response to our prediction of increased and additional fees (e.g., traveler fees) and instant, online bookings from booking sites like VRBO and Airbnb (Ed. Note: Thank you for being so vocal with your responses! We always love hearing what you have to say!).
In addition to telling their stories on our blog, homeowners are voicing their concerns all over the the internet. A New York homeowner named Maura Paler recently shared her story:
As a self-employed reservation agent for vacation rental properties, Marua has been using online listing sites (OTAs) like VRBO for over 13 years. Of the recent changes, she said, “I do feel taken hostage by the new algorithms, [and I’m] not at all happy...despite being one of their oldest customers.”
Regardless of whether or not one is “for” or “against” these shifts in the industry, it’s clear that major changes are coming to the vacation rental industry… but what are they? And what can homeowners do?
VRBO Instant Bookings
What is instant/online booking?
HomeAway states that “online booking allows a traveler to submit a reservation request by clicking a button on your listing with a commitment to pay. It’s a free feature that you can control through your dashboard that streamlines the booking process for you and your traveler.”
This feature is meant to help homeowners and managers get bookings faster while giving travelers a more instant way of booking travelers.
After a request for an online booking is submitted, property managers and homeowners have 24 hours to accept the reservation before it is automatically declined. In that period, HomeAway and VRBO encourages you to speak to and vet the traveler.
HomeAway also isn’t the only listing site that’s emphasizing conversion and more instant bookings on its platform:
Why are instant bookings and online bookings coming to vacation rentals?
Booking a stay in a vacation rental today is not easy. With guests reaching out to 10 properties and taking 6 days to book one, the process today is not streamlined or efficient for any of the parties involved.
92% of customers prefer being able to book online instantly, and HomeAway is responding to that. Half of properties on HomeAway today are online bookable today, and HomeAway’s goal is to have 100% of listing be online bookable by the end of 2016. Mike Janes, CMO of Vacatia, said:
Half of HomeAway's business is not instant-booking. Expedia will change that immediately. This also will increase consumer acceptance of vacation rentals even more.
Skift likewise reported that “Vacation rental owners who transact their rentals offline can get away without charging guests a booking fee, but HomeAway is threatening to boot properties that are not online bookable by the end of next year.”
Best Match & Optimizing Your VRBO Listing
Why is my listing no longer showing up on VRBO?
To increase conversion, HomeAway has changed the way search results function from static to dynamic results in what it calls “best match.” This is a major departure from past practices.
Listings are sorted primarily using the owner’s subscription level. They are then sorted within subscription levels based on “best match” and listing quality. With five levels of subscriptions, only homes belonging to the “Platinum” subscription level will be appearing first.
How do I improve my VRBO ranking?
The primary factor that will determine your ranking will be subscription level. Pay more, receive more inquiries.
To influence your ranking within your subscription level, optimize your listing and try to get the highest listing quality.
To get a better listing, do the following:
1. Make your listing online bookable.
With 92% of guests preferring to online book, they’re significantly more likely to inquire should you have that option available.
2. Respond within 24 hours, and improve your current response time.
Tripadvisor found that those owners responding within 6 hours had double the chances of booking.
3. Get at least twelve 5-star reviews from your guests, and avoid getting bad reviews.
Paula at Afford Anything had a great tip for avoiding negative feedback in your reviews: Give your guests a comment book, and let them voice their suggestions and complaints there rather than in your Airbnb or VRBO public reviews.
4. Provide at least 24 photos of your property, and use a professional photographer!
Professional photography greatly increases the chances of an inquiry. Photographer Tyann Marcink recently wrote a post on how to increase bookings through photography and has helped clients see upwards of 39% more in additional bookings and revenue through professional photography!
5. Use a professional copywriter!
Guest Hook recommends these five tips:
What are my other options?
If so many owners, many of whom have been loyal customers of the sites in question for years if not decades are unhappy with the changes, why are these companies moving forward anyway? The answer comes down to who these companies see as their ultimate customers. Think about it, for every owner or manager, there are hundreds, if not thousands of renters hitting the sites daily. Given that is where the volume of the customers come from, whom do you think they will design their product for? That’s right, the guest; the same guest who may be coming to the site for the first time, rather than the owner who has been listing on the site for 5 or more years. And in designing for these guests, what are they designing? They are designing for exactly what travelers and guests say they want: instantly bookable properties just like they are used to when booking hotels.
As we've said before, homeowners will be forced to face many decisions in 2016. Would you sacrifice the guest volume that comes with using the major platforms to maintain listing site independence? Will you continue using the big listing sites? Or will you pass off the work to a property manager?
If you need help finding a property manager or would like to discuss VRBO's instant booking & best match with an expert, call us at (844) 736-8334 or chat with us below.
Has VRBO's Book It Now affected your business? Let us know in the comments below!