Considering abandoning Homeaway to go independent. Anyone done this?
Hi, we own and manage a successful vacation rental home in a small Michigan resort. Homeaway's ongoing steps to increase their control is pushing us away quickly. The booking fee is hated by all of our guests (and us!) especially returning guests. The recent redaction of email addresses from communication troubles us, as we background check every prospective guest using information available online, we can ID nearly everyone with some combination of name, phone number, and email address. Background checking is important to us.
A couple questions:
- Does anyone have advice from their experience leaving Homeaway/VRBO?
- Can I import reviews from Homeaway and have them listed as authentic reviews on myvr website?
- Can I use my existing domain name with a myvr hosted website?
Our biggest concerns are the lost exposure from Homeaway and the lost image/status from our 5-star review history.
For the marketing/exposure concern, we're comfortable with proceeding because many guests see the rental sign at the property in the small resort, and we have many returning guests. Also there are other steps we can take to increase exposure. At our resort, Homeaway has been dominant although airbnb is getting some listings only recently.
Any advice is welcome, thanks in advance for taking time to respond.
@Scott-Boerman - I don't think you're alone in the frustration of changes coming from HomeAway, and other listing sites. We all sense that when others take a piece of the pie, it ultimately comes out of our own bottom line...even when they charge a guest directly. It's really marketing 101.
But that said, I never like to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". If HomeAway is generating bookings for you at all, then it has the potential to help your business.
The key is leverage - balance - not being dependent on any single source for your bookings. We all it "LSI" = Listing Site Independence.
Continue to list with any site that is profitable, ie. you get enough bookings (not inquiries) to make it worthwhile.
Have your own website with MyVR to be your control center. This makes using more sources of inquiries so much easier. Yes, you can use your own domain name - in fact I highly recommend it! BRAND YOUR COMPANY.
Make it easy for prospective guests to find you on GOOGLE or other search engines. They will be motivated to find you to avoid the service and booking fees.
I do copy reviews from HomeAway to my website - I don't think you can "import" them, but you could (or pay someone to) enter them manually. They are "authentic" on your website if you say they are. There is nothing to note whether they are entered directly by a guest or by you.
I would also recommend that you always drive all listing sources to your MyVR website, but do everything you can to AVOID sending anyone to a listing site (where the cost to book is higher, and they get to compare you to the competition). When someone asks what my VRBO listing site is, I tell them I can look that up for them and let them know, but in the meantime, they can check out all of my properties at once on my website at..... and most of the time, they like that better anyway!
Hope that helps!
Hi Jenny, thank you for the thoughtful reply, I understand the points and agree with them. Our situation is a bit unique in that it's a small market where many (most?) customers know the resort to some degree, and they find their rental by driving around and/or repeat visits/word of mouth. But of course there are some (?%) of first-time guests who search only via website for the first visit, and Homeaway is the primary venue for that (although it is fragmenting to some degree).
Our property is long-established, I think we're close to being the highest-selling private property on the resort. The high seasons sell out pretty quickly, if the property could be duplicated the property it seems that we could likely keep a duplicate property filled during high and shoulder seasons as well.
We're branded with a unique name, with a sign at the property pointing to our branded domain which currently points to Homeaway for the nuts and bolts of booking. We completely understand and agree about LSI as much as possible - hence our thought to use myvr rather than Homeaway as the host for nuts and bolts.
The ultimate uncertainty is whether we would remain filled to our satisfaction without the Homeaway-driven traffic. The immediate thought is to bring the nuts and bolts to myvr, reach out to all previous guests and point them to myvr, change our branded site to point to myvr of course, and leave the Homeaway site functional but integrated into myvr. Then we would see how many bookings are Homeaway-driven (vs. Homeaway facilitated).
When I read the fine-print, it appears that to integrate a Homeaway site into myvr we would actually get a new Homeaway site through myvr, and our current listing would be abandoned. This is disappointing as we have a 5-star review history, and new customers appear to rely heavily upon ratings and longevity, both of which would be lost. So that makes us wonder why bother with a new Homeaway site through myvr. But of course we don't really know the impact of these things, so there is a fair amount of speculation of course.
We'll continue to consider the options, trying to separate the desire to separate from Homeaway with the business case.
Any more thoughts or advice from anyone would be welcomed!
@Scott-Boerman - sounds like using a PPB model with your existing listing might be worth a try. Now that VRBO/HA are no longer sending the guest info on subscription listings, the only real difference is cost to you. With minimal bookings from that source, your cost might be less, and as you become less dependent, that cost will continue to shrink. If you're only expecting a few bookings, that may be cost effective. The best way to estimate would be to look at your last 12 months to see what those bookings would have cost you with a PPB model instead of a subscription?
Thanks for the added information. PPB at Homeaway would cost more than annual after 2-3 guests, so the $400/year is not a big issue. (Our rates are 300-900/night.)
We're not looking to reduce management/marketing cost, both Homeaway's and myvr pricing seem appropriate +/-. (the only cost save we contemplate is credit card fees, but that's another topic). Our main issue is control - we screen pretty hard, our minimum age to rent is 30, we try to avoid the younger hard partying crowd. These things are hard to scrutinize through the sanitized Homeaway conversations, we find more relevant information outside of the conversation. (the potential guests we try to avoid are often social media users:)
Our driving force is the maintenance and cleaning necessary to keep the home in top condition, and the relationships with neighbors and our cleaning crew. It's a large multi-family home so back-to-back cleaning is tough enough already, and much tougher with rough guests. There are full-time resident neighbors who naturally do not enjoy weekend hard-party groups. Hence our scrutiny.
So for us we're not looking for an aggregating site to juggle our multiple listings - we have only the Homeaway listing and we're pretty much filled up year after year. We're looking to be more independent to maintain more complete control while - hopefully! - not losing any revenue.
Great tip on looking at the past 12 months - we can review each reservation and guesstimate whether each guest would have found/booked without the Homeaway listing.
@Scott-Boerman - I think as the dust settles, the online screening process will become easier for all of us. In the meantime, you might also look at your inquiries (download them asap while you still can from your pre-MyVR days) to see how many of the inquiries you received might have just booked or escaped proper screening otherwise? It might be less than you think? Good luck!
We too were saddened by HA/VRBO's decision to redact Guest information, but they were just following suit. All the other listing companies were already doing this. I can't imagine leaving them, however. In our experience they have been the best company to work with.
We began using all of MyVR's marketing channels for our listings, starting with AirBnb in October. Booking.com in November, and integrated our existing HA/VRBO in December. In our experience HomeAway is far and away the best source. Best guests and their cost to us is the lowest. Plus, their booking fees to guests are also the lowest.
Still, because we meet each and every guest, and so many return, we tell them to book direct for NO Booking Fees. Our efforts have pushed direct bookings through MyVR up to 36% of our revenues Year To Date versus 38% from HA/VRBO and 24% from AirBnb.