beach house
1415 days ago
 

The problem with vacation rental websites

I am a devoted renter of vacation/holiday properties.  From Florida to Tuscany, Maine to Paris, Bruges to Buenos Aires, I have rented beautiful (and sometimes less than beautiful) villas, cabins and apartments.

beach house

Sometimes I’ve rented from management companies and sometimes I’ve rented directly, sometimes a few weeks out and sometimes months and months out.

Having spent my entire career in travel, and the last ten years in travel distribution, I’m a pretty savvy (I think) traveler.

I understand travel products, how they’re presented, delivered, contracted, and operated.

I know how to effectively search for travel products, and I’m probably more willing to take risks in booking travel than the average person.

So I’m getting ready to go on vacation to France and I booked, as you would expect, vacation rentals for my accommodations

And it was an incredibly painful experience – navigating un-navigable web sites, squinting at out-of-focus photographs, looking in vain for a description (in any language) of a property, wondering if the availability calendars were accurate, hoping the owner or manager of the property would deign to return my inquiry.

What exactly are the complaints?

Site navigation

Some sites, to their credit, had filters on their left navbars (not unlike Kayak as an example), but these filters are worthless if the properties aren’t tagged correctly in the database.

  • If I ask for a detached villa or chalet (and the site allows me to ask for that), I don’t want to see an apartment.
  • If I ask for Chamonix, don’t show me Samoëns.  The site has just lost credibility and I’m moving on.

Cross-site listings

I’m somewhat sympathetic to small property owners who list their properties on multiple sites, but what am I supposed to think when the same property is represented differently on different sites, when photos or availability calendars don’t match?

In almost every case, if a property owner had taken the time (and spent the money) to build their own site, the information on that site was generally much more extensive and useful.

But as a buyer, I don’t want to visit 30 different sites to see all the properties that might meet my needs. I want a site that aggregates data; it’s quicker for me to find what I want. In theory, anyway.

Property information

Every hotel company worth its salt knows it has to present photos of the hotel room (at least two), exterior, important features (pool, beachfront, rooftop deck, pistes) and possibly the surrounding area if it’s a selling point (Times Square or Mont Blanc).

I wish the vacation rental industry had the same rule of thumb.  Here’s what I want to see:

  • Front exterior view
  • Terrace/balcony view
  • Living room
  • Bedrooms
  • Kitchen
  • Dining room
  • Baths
  • Neighborhood

The more photos presented, the more confident I am in the validity of the listing. I also want to see a text description of the property, and it doesn’t matter if the text is in a language I don’t speak.

There are enough free online translators now that I can get a decent idea of what the property owner is trying to say.

As with photographs, the more text I can read, the more confident I am that the listing is valid and just might meet my needs.  It also shows me the owner or manager cares about the property and about communicating the value of that property to me, the buyer.

Availability – the worst offense

Why offer a calendar function (as every vacation rental site now does) then allow the property owner to ignore it?

At least some sites are now showing a “last updated” date on the calendar so I can see that the calendar was last updated three months ago and come to my own conclusions.

If the owner refuses to use a calendar, or hasn’t updated it recently (say 14 days?), hide the calendar and indicate up front that the owner must be contacted for availability. That allows me to decide if I have the time to follow up with that owner.

Acknowledgement of inquiry

Some of the bigger sites send an automatic acknowledgement of receipt of inquiry.  That’s nice, but it doesn’t help me understand if the property is available.

A majority of my inquiries went totally unacknowledged – that’s right, a majority. That is no way to do business.

Real-time booking

It’s still very rare to come across real-time on-line booking for vacation rentals, but it’s happening more and more often on management company websites (I never saw it offered by individual owners).

And it’s a blessing.  If I’m willing to take the risk of booking online (like I do for hotels or resorts) after viewing your beautiful site with lots of photos and information, let me. Please.

This industry needs some standards, and I’m not talking just about distribution.

Presentation, description, terminology, terms-and-conditions, availability, response – there was no similarity of behavior amongst the sites I visited.  I understand there will be regional differences, but ultimately it’s still just a unit of inventory to be displayed and booked like air, rental cars, hotels or cruises.

It’s clear this is one of the reasons the vacation rental industry suffers from an occupancy rate in the 30s instead of in the 70s like the hotel industry.

Make the product easier to buy and more people will buy it. Make it hard to buy and watch your customers go to a resort.

The primary challenge is obvious – hundreds of thousands of suppliers worldwide. Aggregating hundreds of thousands of units of inventory is hard but HomeAway is working on it, buying vacation rental sites around the world at a good clip.

It’s one thing to have the inventory in one place, but quite another to have it presented in a standard, useful and bookable way.

I reckon, from start to finish, I spent 20 hours total to find three properties for a two-week trip. And I’m an experienced traveler in the travel industry.

How long would it take the average person?  Too long, I’d guess.

So what did I book finally, and from whom?

  • A house directly from the French owner who has a really great website (although I found the property cross-listed on an aggregator site) with tons of photos and information and real-time availability, paying via PayPal.
  • An apartment from a France-based management company who had their own website, again with lots of property information, real-time availability AND online booking with a credit card.
  • A house directly from the English owner who listed the property on an aggregator website but loaded their page up with huge amount of photos and text describing the house, its contents and its environment, and real-time availability, paying via wire transfer (which cost me a USD35 fee from my bank).
  • All three were immediately responsive to my requests either in the same day (if I sent my request in the morning US time) or overnight if I sent my request in the evening US time.

I expect to have a wonderful time on my trip, but I don’t expect to see much increase in the occupancy numbers of the vacation rental industry if the industry doesn’t make their product easier to understand and easier to book.

À bientôt!

 
 
Valyn Perini

About the Writer :: Valyn Perini

Valyn Perini is a contributing Node to Tnooz and a travel industry lifer with experience in operations, sales and marketing, systems, consulting, and software development in the hospitality and travel industry.

Her was most recently the CEO of the OpenTravel Alliance, where she oversaw the operations of the organization, including developing and executing strategies to reach the goal of standardized electronic distribution of travel and traveler information.

Her travel career includes stints with InterContinental, Westin and Swissôtel, with PricewaterhouseCoopers as a travel technology consultant, and as the director of product strategy for Newmarket International.

Valyn speaks on industry topics at events around the world, and writes about travel when she can find the time.

Originally from Atlanta, Valyn now lives in Boston.

 

Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

  1. Rob

    Great, article and highlights the many key areas that could be improved when booking a holiday home. I know this post was first published in 2010, but looking at this now in 2014 and many of these issue still exist. I work for http://www.panoramicvillas.com/ and we have built our website around holidaymakers and owners. The majority of owners would not like to accepting bookings through the website automatically without any kind of vetting/approval process as this would cause them issues further down the line. Instead of family bookings, this would boot the door open for young groups, stag/hen parties etc… Once a holidaymaker makes a booking request, we then accept the booking or decline this depending on the owners wishes. Normally, this is a short time to wait for the holidaymakers booking to be accepted. All our communication is clear and keeps both parties undated on the status of the booking. Holidaymakers are informed once their booking has been accepted and can proceed by logging into their account and making the required deposit or balance payment via debit or credit card. We are in the process of rolling out and testing selective owners so their properties can be booked on our website without the need to submit a booking request. If anyone is interest, I will let them know how we get on with this.

     
  2. Tamara

    Valyn, thank you for this very informative article.

    I work on http://www.adriaticaccommodation.net and am constantly looking for ways to make the website as user-friendly as possible for both guests and owners, hence how I came across your article. Still working on it as we speak :)

    The availability calendar is indeed a major issue for us, there are not many owners who take/have the time to keep the calendars up to date which is very unfortunate.

    My site is rather new and ran by me alone, which makes it kind of hard to compete with the big guys out there but I enjoy it so much and receive only positive comments. It’s a very competitive market and it’s a lot of hard work but I wouldn’t want to trade it for anything else.

    Thank you for the article, I really enjoyed it

     
  3. Brian

    So are so “on the money”! We should make a list of these sites that are problematic and create worldwide boycott.

     
  4. Luis

    I believe the main issue is real time availability.
    Most properties are owned by people who are not travel experts and they are not used to update extranets, or not even to send an email informing about a week being already booked.
    We run a business with wineries in Spain where we offer real time inventory for winery visits that are with a Spanish time table. This we do with our Spanish brand http://www.turismodevino.com. The reason we can handle that is because we bring an interesting volume and also because the wineries have a clearer inventory in mind for their visits in Spanish language.
    However, when we try something similar for English spoken visits it becomes too caothic and we simply work on demand for our english brand http://www.winetourismspain.com
    Winery employees are not travel professionals, and we can see that their main problem is about making sure they get visits… but not so much about faciliating the live of those working in travel distribution!!
    Like for a property owner, the villa in many occassiones is a secondary revenue generator… for wineries the main revenue item is wine sales… That and the lack of travel experience are the key in my opinion. We are considering ways to ease the loading process… though these would work if a “decent” business volume is generated throguh the channel…

     
  5. Andy

    Valyn I would guess if you tried again today you’d have a very similar experience. In fact I am just going through the same pain trying to book somewhere in the Outer Banks, NC. Agencies that list their places WITHOUT updating their availability calendar is the most frustrating aspect – it appears available but then isn’t – I assume it’s intentionally designed to throw you to their site when they write back. I even had one agency tell me “I’m not really sure on how much or when they (HA, VRBO) update their sites; however we do update our site as soon as something books”. We all know it’s not HA et al that do the updating, but the owner of the listing. So, nearly 3 years on, has anything changed? Well yes I think it has… I found the search process through HA and VRBO identical (and very helpful in narrowing options) which is a great step forward on the aggregating road that you mention in your article, and a big upside of HA’s growth for the traveler. So much so that I was able to very quickly narrow options down to a handful of suitable places, out of hundreds, based on our family’s shopping list of requirements! If only availability calendars had been updated on all of them!

     
    • Pat

      Hey Andy -

      As vacation rental home owners we’d just like to invite you all to visit our website, http://www.ChristianCondos.net, where we really do keep our availability calendars up to date :)
      We too don’t care for the “games” many so called “by owner” online rental sites play.

       
  6. Juliana Raposo

    Interestingly, 2 out of 3 times the author rented from an individual owner/property manager who had their own website.
    As a VR owner, I think nothing comunicates credibility to a traveler like having your own website. I only have two properties, but we have our own custom website http://convivialstays.com which has real time online booking, a blog, and lots of content about our rentals and San Diego.
    Although most of our leads still come from agregator sites, our website is the crucial tool that converts inquiries into bookings.
    Juliana Raposo

     
  7. NIlan Peiris

    What an amazing old thread.

    The world has changed so much in the last 2 years, with many players offering real time avialability and a “book now” button for rentals

    http://www.housetrip.com – have great coverage over Europe and a really slick experience

     
  8. Peter

    Well put Valyn!

    I’m pleased to hear that an effective website for a vacation rental was the deciding factor in booking your vacation rental property.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I work for http://www.webchalet.com. We’ve been building websites for vacation rental owners and managers for more than 2 years now and currently host websites for about 3000 vacation rental properties all across the globe. We are beta testing our online booking system now.

    If interested in testing, shoot an email over to Peter@webchalet.com

     
  9. Endmoor Farm Holiday Cottages

    We feel the trick is to keep things relatively simple. It’s all very well filling your site with every scrap of info about your property but surely people want to know specifics, and they want to find it quickly.

    Simple navs and links to the contact page, unless you do online booking too.

     
  10. rentiniTravel

    It’s amazing how little has changed ever since this article was published two year ago! Nevertheless, it’s a great piece of advice for every vacation rental owners.

     
  11. Sonnenberg Canal Apartments Amsterdam

    I agree with Valyn’s point, there should be easier ways to find and book a nice vacation rental. On the other hand if you want a real authentic experience then spending more time on the choice is definitely worth it. I have at times spent up to 10 hours trying to pick the perfect hotel for a romantic getaway. And I do feel we all agree that the hotel industry is pretty organized in their distribution.

     
  12. Holidays in Spain

    If anyone is interested in renting direct from owners I suggest taking a look at http://www.campaya.co.uk . And there are no monthly or yearly fees for home owners to show their property on the website.

     
  13. Thailand Holiday Villas

    This is an interesting review of the writer’s approach to booking a holiday villa, with pertinent suggestions as to what potential guests seek in reserving a vacation rental. Most interestingly, from our point of view, was the fact that Valyn ended up booking three holiday properties, effectively all of which were booked via the villa owners or managers rather than via a rental listing directory.
    This probably reflects the fact that an owner who is keen to generate business and ensure an excellent guest experience will, by definition nowadays, ensure that they have a comprehensive and independent website. Lazy rental sites will put off potential guests from the outset, whilst those that reflect the owner’s determination to respond to guest wishes should eventually prevail. Concomitantly, the renter who is more specific and more detailed in their original search, will be rewarded with more appealing and more attractive options.

     
  14. Vacation Rental Websites

    Well said. We feel strongly about usability, and not just on listing sites. Don’t forget that much of the booking and final research is done on the property’s website itself!

    When PhoCusWright asked 8000 online travel bookers why they didn’t book a vacation rental property last year the #1 reason was ‘not enough information’! Web usability standards don’t just apply to e-tailers and search engines!

     
  15. Sam Roy

    We recently stayed in Nice France in one of their (www.riviera-express.net) Riviera-express apartments. It was supposed to come with WIFi, cable TV, washer dryer, telephone etc. Wifi did not work with any of our laptops and IPAD. Cable TV was actually internet TV with practically no english channel. Washer worked kind off but had no spin cycle; we had to wringe by hand. The worst of all we did not have hot water for five of seven days. No shower for 5 days. Do not pay in advance by Paypal. I could not get any moneyback because Paypal does not support buyers.

     
  16. Who should not stay in vacation rental homes : by a VR owner!

    [...] Finally, a sensible post on vacation rentals from a VR site. Read it here. [...]

     
  17. Check-in-London Serviced Apartments

    Hi Valyn,

    Great article and even better comments !

    I must say i agree with you on every point and indeed serviced apartment and holiday rental agents like ourselves http://www.check-in-london.com are taking the necessary steps to improve our systems and offer online instant booking for our customers.

    However the challenge in implementing this system lies with the fact that the inventory available at any point is not comparable to the inventory available to the hotel market thus making the task difficult for property managers to update accurate availability especially during peak season.

    We think, rather than publishing inaccurate availability, it is easier to operate on a booking request basis.

    Tanielle
    Check-in-London Serviced Apartments

     
    • Robin Morris

      Hi Tanielle,

      We have provide website and booking systems for clients that offer both real-time booking and enquiry forms.

      Although a challenge, our clients do get their property managers to log in and update their rates, the ones that mandate only online booking and work with property managers aware that their availability has to be up-to-date are far more successful with it comes to converting visits to bookings.

      http://www.tribalogic.net/property-agency-website/blog
      http://www.booksterhq.com/

      Robin
      Tribalogic

       
      • Chris Swaap

        Hi Robin (Tribalogic),

        Do you have an API, data interchange or some other means for your clients to update your booking system automatically? We have master database and we are happy to sync this data with a booking system but we are not prepared to manually update yet another database as mistakes are inevitable.

        From some initial research I have carried there is already an open standard that may support this kind of data exchange – RFC 5545 (icalendar). It wouldn’t be difficult to implement and would make a tremendous difference to the likes of us.

        Our availability can already be seen on our web site at http://www.bolehillfarm.co.uk. We would be reluctant to duplicate this manually. The only sensible route would be an automatic the transfer.

         
  18. Holiday Rentals Apartments

    Thanks Valyn, this is excellent content and for website owners, these are valuable insights.

    I am surprised though that you didn’t say anything about property reviews. Most site offer these, however, they are far too easy manipulated.

    Some new sites like HolidayRentalsForMe.com have integrated social media plugins into their site, so all comments / reviews made on a property comes directly from Facebook user accounts – so you get to see personalised recommendations on vacation homes from your own friends networks.

    With that only addition, I agree with your other points entirely!

     
  19. Carl

    Although, I own several vacation rental websites, I have my own opinion on some owners.

    Many of the people that own vacation homes are just flat out rich millionaires. Renting out the vacation home to them is just a hobby or another tax write off. They can’t be bothered to update the calendar or reply to your inquiry. If they don’t rent it, who cares? They’re already rich! If you catch them on a day they have free time or are not on the golf course, then maybe you can get the opportunity to rent the house. But this is not their opportunity, it is yours (in their eyes).

    Other owners actually need the $$ to pay the mortgage. These are the ones that you want to deal with! Unfortunately there’s no way to distinguish between the two.

    I’ve always had good luck dealing with agents. They always seem to know availability, prices, etc.

    Carl

     
  20. 10 Signs Your Vacation Rental Website May Not Be Attracting Bookings

    [...] people who are looking for a cottage to rent. Reading an article by Valyn Perini on Tnooz – The Problem with Vacation Rental Websites supported most of my thoughts – it makes a good read as do the [...]

     
  21. Chris Swaap

    I must admit that my pet hate with accommodation web sites is what I call the ‘smoke and mirror’ sites. The ones that have beautiful photos of a pile of towels, a vase of flowers, the soap dish etc but never a picture of the room or anything actually useful. Very artistic but absolutely useless from a decision making point of view. I personally am unlikely to book accommodation with businesses that have this kind of web site.

     
  22. Kendal Cottages

    I’m not sure that site quality should really have a significant bearing (although I suspect it is likely that it does). I know lots of very honest owners with very mediocre websites. Conversely I suspect there are plenty of professional scammers out there that are able to create a convincing-looking website.

     
  23. Dan Nedelko

    Hear hear. These are all great points there is no consistency to Vacation Rental booking sites, particularly with the payment process. Most of these sites want you to contact the owner then you go through the insecurity of handing out your credit card to a stranger on the phone.

    Very disconcerting. Also quality of the site does make a difference to me personally. A low quality website indicates to me that they’re either disorganized or a small operation.

     
  24. John McCulloch

    My wife and I run a single cottage in Scotland as a vacation rental or self-catering, see http://www.parkneuk.co.uk. We try to maintain a high standard, and many of our clients keep coming back to us. Margins are very tight in this business, and our advertising budget is small so we only register with a very few of the better directory sites. We maintain our own on-line availability calendar and we refer our clients to this from the directory sites wherever possible. The reason for this is that, although many of the directory sites have availability calendars, they are incompatible and often very difficult to update. What is needed is an industry standard availability database that can be linked to the databases on the directory sites and updated automatically.

    We have an on-line reservation form, but we do not take any payments on-line. The reason for this is that we are constantly subjected to scam attempts. People make a reservation by email and ask us to take payment from a credit card number that they give us. If it is successful they know that they can use this card number; if not, we receive the dirt and hassle from the card company over fraudulent card payments. We could lose our ability to take card payments. For this reason we always require a validated address before taking a card payment. We validate the address by sending out a letter and getting a response. In the case of late reservations, we ask the client to bring address validation information with them, (e.g. photo driver’s licence), and then make the card payment.

    One perennial problem is that many of the sites advertising our property have no contract with us at all. They set up a web-site and then populate it with information harvested from other directory sites on the web. Often this information is poorly presented, out of date or just plain inaccurate.

    One I found recently even had us plotted on a map – they had picked up our postcode from some other website. Unfortunately they had picked up our office address rather than the cottage address and so plotted a position some 30 miles from where the cottage actually is.

    Another I just found today supposedly has links to our own website. When you click on this link, you get a message stating: “Sorry this establishment is no longer trading. To search for alternative establishments please click here.”

    Some scam sites will accept bookings and take deposit payments without ever contacting the owner or passing on any money to them. They are committing fraud, but do so from countries where the police cannot take any action.

    Other sites provide no link to the owner’s site, and no means of getting in contact with more reliable information – they exist only to attract traffic to “pay-per-click” adverts on the site.

    These scam sites spoil our reputation and undermine the confidence of our clients. I spend a lot of time searching out these scam sites, identifying the site owners and taking steps to get the inaccurate information removed.

    The well-informed traveller would be well advised to make his reservations either direct with the owner or via recognised organisations such as the national tourist organisations.

    Kim McCulloch

     
    • Chris Swaap

      John McCulloch – “We maintain our own on-line availability calendar and we refer our clients to this from the directory sites wherever possible. The reason for this is that, although many of the directory sites have availability calendars, they are incompatible and often very difficult to update.”

      John I agree entirely. I have discussed this till I am blue in the face with some of the bigger and smaller directory sites. We could be on anything up to 10 sites that offer ‘availability’. How am I supposed to keep that lot up to date? As I produced and manage our own site (www.bolehillfarm.co.uk) it would be simple for me to provide a feed of some sort to these other ‘availabilities’ but the sites are just not interested. I assume they are trying to make you use their site exclusively. Well it just isn’t going to happen.

      The industry desperately needs a mechanism to keep these directory sites in sync with each other. Our web site, driven from our booking database, will always be the master as far as we are concerned.

      There is one small UK business (targeting the UK) that I am currently talking to that is interested in at least discussing developing a sync mechanism between our database and theirs. If you are interested let me know and I will pass on their details (the product is still in early Alpha).

      I agree with Valyn Perini that it would be useful for the guest “If the owner refuses to use a calendar, or hasn’t updated it recently (say 14 days?), hide the calendar and indicate up front that the owner must be contacted for availability. That allows me to decide if I have the time to follow up with that owner.” It would be very simple to do. It would stop the phone calls saying ‘your’ site says you have availability. We try to set these sites to unknown but most don’t see to have the option therefore the only other option is available.

       
  25. luxury villas spain

    Rental vacation homes are ideal for a lot of people and situations; that young couple want that private, romantic getaway for the week or the stressed out businessman. They don’t want service or, in a lot of cases, to even see any more people than needed. The rental home is ideal for them. It is also a great idea for extended families such as grandparents and grandchildren or for groups of high school friends that want to get together for “old times sake”. The Rental home can save money and be a lot of fun, but it may not always be the best choice for families! What are the disadvantages of a regular family in a vacation rental?

    A regular family will likely have a variety of different aged children and they will all know each other enough to argue and fuss. This will have gone on for some time and the main time they all act proper is around strangers. This means they will be better behaved in a hotel, and that means less fussing and headaches for everyone.

    Also, at the hotel there will likely be a childcare facility for young children and a game room or activities for older siblings. This means that the children will have others of their own age, and probably interest, to do things. There will also likely be family events scheduled to promote family time. This means no one person is responsible for trying to find things to do. This will make the kids happier and that should make the parents happier.

    Safety can also be a factor, especially around things like swimming pools. At a hotel there are always responsible adults around and some one will be watching the pool, usually a hotel staff if not a proper life guard. The kids can run, jump and splash with nary a concern for the parents, and that isn’t true at a rental home.

    Meals will be easier as no one has to cook at set times or even cook period. With a rental vacation home you can dine out, but it is much simpler and more convenient to have everything done right there, especially with a large family. The house may come with a cook, but you still have to set the menu and hope the chef can cook it the way you like. At a hotel restaurant there is more flexibility.

    Rental homes for vacation are nice and can be ideal for some, but they do have some disadvantages for families!

     
  26. Joe Stradinger

    Valyn

    Great blog and I can totally understand your frustration.

    After selling my last internet Company in 1999, I have been investing in all types of destination real estate over the past decade from FL to CO to the Virgin Islands. As both an owner and a seeker of destinations, I have felt much of the same way. Finally, I decided to do something about it with the launch of my new venture JoeOptons.com which is in Beta. We are a fast growing travel site for both Owners and Seekers of destination properties. We provide UNLIMITED photos, videos and links which we feel is one way to properly represent a property as an owner and the only way for a traveler to truly understand what he or she is renting. Please check out our story in plain English. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kohBjcuPMhE

    I would love anyone’s comments and critique.

    Joe

     
  27. Melaney

    Hello, my family owns a vacation rental company in Oak Island, NC and we will be in business 20 years next year. I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon your write-up, but I wanted to make a few comments. Your information is very true, and within the US, there is an association we have belonged to for many years. Vacation Rental Managers Association. If you go to VRMA.com or DiscoverVactionHomes.com this will take you to a listing of all vrma members and have links that go directly to their site for the area you wish to vacation. Many of these members have real-time on-line availablity, and booking.
    We are all very much aware of the industry changing. The vacation rental industry is beginning to break out of their shell, and people are realizing they can rent a private home with all the amenities for the same price or even cheaper than a hotel room/resort.
    I invite you to visit our site at http://www.rentalsatthebeach.com and please feel free to comment or critique. I would love any feedback.
    Maybe one day, you will come and vacation on our lovely barrier Island here in North Carolina.

     
  28. Rob Kall

    It’s absolutely possible (but not necessarily easy) to:

    a) standardize inventory
    b) enforce quality standards of inventory
    c) make vacation renters book online

    We offer an online platform specifically for this purpose and our customers (on both sides of the Atlantic) receive real time bookings w/ CC info every day.

    A quick tip to everyone: unbiased user reviews for each property increase online conversion tremendously.

    Check out our self test quizzes.http://www.bookt.com/YourSuccess/QuizAndReports/

    Best,

    Rob

     
  29. Jane Bennett

    Robin, hi – there will always be owners like me I’m afraid, who resist offering an online booking facility:

    • it is very reassuring to have had some degree of personal contact with potential guests and vice versa and • even the most comprehensive of websites may not anticipate everyone’s interests and needs, and many people simply skim read anyway. Be assured – after 6 seasons, I know!

    Holidays are important to us all. I appreciate that many busy people do not necessarily want to put in the effort, yet the annual holiday is one of the year’s biggest outlays and in investing simply one lunch hour in researching it, they are going to miss some gems. Anyway, what happened to the fun of the chase? ;-)

     
    • Robin Morris

      Hi Jane,

      I was being a little bit optimistic with the lunch hour booking! :-)

      I suppose I see it is as giving the guest the choice rather than eliminating personal contact.

      It is not about avoiding answering questions that are missing from the website. Yes, you are not going to be able to answer all questions that people will ask, potential guests can be pretty imaginative on the question front I am sure… but you don’t have to – we get thousands of self-catering bookings through our platform where no previous contact has been made.

      The experience for the guest does not have to change – a friendly hello can be made following a booking.

      I think it may boil down to…

      “it is very reassuring to have had some degree of personal contact with potential guests and vice versa”

      which I have read to mean that it is reassuring to the owner that the guest is not booking for a stag party etc.? If so, you are right that online booking does not help you there, although how likely is it that a stag party will tell you that is the purpose of their booking over the phone either?!

       
  30. Jane Bennett

    Andy said “It’s one thing to suggest a certain standardisation and more seamless experience, but let’s not lose what is great about this industry – I’d hate to see a mass aggregation. It would lean too much towards function; a sense of the individual could be lost. That would be a terrible day!”

    That’s my feeling too. I would never book a self-catering property via an agency because to me, the personal contact is ultra-important. Only the owner may be able to answer specific questions I might have about the property, or about the area. Some would even say now that having direct contact with the owner is positively advisable, in the light of recent press reports.

    An automated on line booking service is therefore never going to feature on our (single unit) property’s website – and the second reason for that is that I am passionate about our property; it’s that same passion which converts enquiries to bookings. I love the personal contact with my guests and it’s this which enables us to give a better service to them when they are there. I also get a clearer feel for who is coming – important when it is one’s second home.

     
    • Robin Morris

      Jane, I completely agree with you that it is great to get the personal touch and that may be a motivating factor for someone looking at self-catered properties.

      There are also questions about the house or area that could be difficult to answer on a website (although I can’t actually think of one that is impossible).

      However, it is important to see it from the prospective guests perspective too…

      Would they rather have the chance to book a holiday in one lunch hour or send requests to 3,4 or 5 places they like the look of and await for the varied responses from owners? Multiply the time they spend speaking to you by 3,4 or 5.

      The property owner may by in different time zone and not speak their language.

      Having an online booking facility does not mean going with an agency and nor does not mean you don’t give guests the ability to ask you questions – it does however give the customer the opportunity to avoid a lot of hassle.

       
  31. Christine David

    I can fully understand your frustrations with some holiday rental owners. I have had the same problems myself. But I do take offence to you tarring all rental owners with the same brush. I am a rental owner and go to great lengths to make sure that all my adverts are giving the same information and that all my availability calendars are up to date. I also reply to all enquiries, usually within a few hours, even when the answers to the questions asked are in my adverts or the dates requested are clearly shown as already booked in the availability calendar. I wish potential renters would actually read the information presented to them.

     
  32. Ralph Averbuch

    Hey Robin

    I do agree that booksterhq is pretty straightforward to use from a customer persepctive. But that video demo I put together still highlights what sometimes feels like an intractable problem.

    Despite leading everyone to the, I thought fairly simple, calendar and booking system I’d plugged into my own little self-catering (it’s vacation rental in the US isn’t it?) website, people were still emailing to ask me when it was available!

    I guess people really prefer to communicate by email rather than do the self-service thing.

    Ralph
    http://mull-escape.co.uk
    Twitter: mullescape

     
  33. Robin Morris

    We spotted this problem of real-time booking on the small property owners websites and thought we would do something about it.

    We offer a product called Bookster Self Catering (GBP only at present) that is attempting to put real-time booking on vacation rental web sites.

    We have had a great response so far but there are still many more skeptics than there are believers – a contact form, email address or phone number are the preferred method by some margin.

    Take a look here http://www.booksterhq.com/ and see an example of Bookster in action – http://mull-escape.co.uk/availability/

    We will keep plugging away!

    Robin Morris

     
  34. Anna kaklamani

    I’m an owner of 4 villas. For each villa I have 4-5 listings. Having an up-to-date calendar to all of them, means that I have to spend one hour to update them everyday. Knowing however how important it is, I had to find a solution, as my time is really important. The last few months I use BookingSync.com as it synchronize automatically most of my listing and my website calendar. People seems to appreciate that the calendar is accurate. I wish it could also synchronize my clients feedback, as this is also a problem of having more than one listings. You cannot ask the clients to leave a comment in all of them. As for online booking, I find it really good idea, but not that easy to use. Clients might ask so many questions before to decide to book, which means that they don’t feel secured for something like paying online yet.

     
    • Pat Brown

      Who do you use for your online booking service?

      Any problems or things that could make it better?

      Thanks,
      Pat

       
      • Anna kaklamani

        Hi Pat,

        I don’t use any online booking service so far. BookingSyng.com that I mentioned is for managing and synchronizing the bookings at your portal listings and at your website. The method I use for payment is bank transfer or PayPal. I feel that the clients need to contact you personally before to decide to book. Do you have any good advice on that?

        Regards,
        Anna

         
  35. belen_arg

    I work in a real estate company and I know what turist and travellers feel when they get dissapointed because what they rented is not what they wanted. I think that a supporting and reliable team is one of the most important things to look into when selecting a place to stay.

     
  36. Hola from Spain

    On http://www.spain-holiday.com we more or less cover whats said in the article – except for realtime booking. We have tested realtime booking, but we found that people needed a contact before booking – I guess to ease their mind. A holiday home is not a standard service like i.e. buying a flight ticket. So your website must be very well made for a visitor to jump the ‘book now’ button on the first visit.

     
  37. Elizabeth Oliver

    Excellent article highlighting that vacation renters or self caterers are still falling behind what is required by the travelling public. However, I know many owners in the UK who have full online booking facilites including my own.

     
    • Pat Brown

      That’s good news Elizabeth. Please send contact info of your online booking system and it’s cost. Thanks, Pat

       
  38. Gareth K Thomas

    Great article and some really great comments. It’s great to hear people asking for online booking as it’s something we’ve always believed was greatly needed in this industry. Convincing property owners/managers of this can be a difficult one at times though. The guest wants to book online, but not all owners/managers want to accept online bookings.

     
    • Pat Brown

      Do you know of an online booking/real time system for the little man? One that’s free or inexpensive enough a poor owner in this economy can afford to utilize. Of utmost importance is accuracy, reliability, etc.
      thanks,
      Pat
      if you will send that info and a site or two that uses it already as reference

       
  39. Wendy Boyrie

    I look after a few gites and villas here in the South of France and I’ve found this article very interested – some things in it that you don’t think of at ‘this end’ as much as you should I think.

    Something else I found really helpful is this book:
    http://www.freeholidayletsbook.com/ – you can get a copy free posted to you.

     
  40. Kendal Cottages

    Although, as you say in the article, it can be cumbersome to look at multiple different websites, I think it’s naive to assume that the rental that meets your requirements the most is inevitably going to be on the listing site(s) you choose. There’s so many of those listing sites out there that it’s not usually realistic for an owner to advertise on them all, and so few that actually deliver a good return for their fees, that many savvy owners get their business elsewhere. And, although I’m generalising, it’s the savvy owners that often have the nicest properties. :)

     
  41. Shane Hayes

    Valyn,

    I agree with all your comments which is why we set up http://www.tripinquiry.com.

    We are attacking the problem from a different perspective. Tripinquiry is kind of like a mashup between Tripit, Paypal and Escrow.com.

    You begin by forwarding those emails from listings websites (initially http://www.holidaylettings.co.uk) to plans@tripinquiry.com and then we build an easy to use list that you can use to manages your communications

    We went live today Thursday the 9th with a beta (well more like an alpha really) of the tripit bit.

    We would be deighted if you or any other readers would take a test drive and give us some feedback.

    Shane

     
  42. Anthony Green

    I was involved in building a site catering to this niche a couple of years back. Most of the problems came from the extremely fragmented nature of the market, which firstly made it very difficult to actually connect with all the different property owners, and secondly made it very difficult to achieve the kind of consistency that would be useful to renters.

    There’s a huge opportunity here for the person who manages to solve this puzzle!

     
  43. Andy

    “It’s one thing to have the inventory in one place, but quite another to have it presented in a standard, useful and bookable way.”

    That’s the problem IMO – too many sites chasing an inventory at all costs with consequent loss of attention on the experience. We at Getaway Earth have realised it’s futile to chase listings, the market is way too competitive, so we’re focusing on being personal. (Bob love the video and I think you DO capture the spirit through that medium). And we hope by attracting owners (and agents) who are personal, we will bring an experience that’s engaging and ultimately successful for the renter.

    It’s one thing to suggest a certain standardisation and more seamless experience, but let’s not lose what is great about this industry – I’d hate to see a mass aggregation. It would lean too much towards function; a sense of the individual could be lost. That would be a terrible day!

    I do agree with you Valyn and there is so much more we listing sites can do to present the listings in a more functional way. We do suffer from some of the problems you mention but we’re young and are constantly questioning/refining the product. BUT, never losing site of what makes this industry so great – the people behind the homes.

     
    • Andy

      I rediscovered this article after more than 18 months since I last posted here! During that time we’ve redesigned and refocused our site to address many of the issues addressed in this piece.

      We now insist on holiday rental listings from owners who are committed to spending time building a beautifully presented and professional looking listing. The new look has been live for a few weeks now and it’s great to see so many owners responding and devoting time and attention to their listings. We weren’t sure owners would embrace it, quite the contrary. It’ll never be mass with this approach. But that’s precisely the point!

       
  44. Philip Dawes

    One reason that listing sites may be hard for holidymakers to use is that they are also difficult for rental owners too! If in English then it is barely understandable and some are just so complicated to use that I’ve just given up! As for availability calendars – some are so complicated that only the website owner knows how to use them and they are not going to share their secrets with anyone!
    On the whole most websites (or at least those based in Continental Europe) are far too complex to navigate easily – a lot suffer from poor transalation problems – and some are just trying too hard!

     
  45. Bob Malkin

    We have such a hard time getting people to know the Waterfalls are the view from the house and swimming holes are right out our front door. People are always mesmerized by the water sounds & sights from inside the house and on the veranda A river runs right next to the porch and no matter how we try we can’t seem to capture it in video or photography. Any idea?

     
    • Peter Simpson

      Depending whether you can access the skills, you may want to consider capturing the sounds then adding them to the video mix using offline editing software. This would certainly give a more accurate reflection of what sounds the visitor will hear when visiting the property – hope this helps.

       
  46. Eric Mason

    Valyn – Well thought out and concise and, yes, it’s where many are today with their websites and content. One thing to remember is given that owners too have their own sites, and the cost is usually a concern when they develop it, there will most likely always be some population of sites that are not completely on par with the larger operators. All that said, I don’t think I can add to or improve on the other many well thought-out responses but as Vacation Rentals continue to attract new clients, clients that may have little experience with Vacation Rentals, it’s very important to deliver a user experience similar to, or on par with, other familiar B2C companies in order to convert the shopper into an eventual Vacation Rental aficionado.

    Cheers!

     
  47. Tim Choate

    Wow – You struck on every theme we are trying to solve at RedAwning.com. I came up with this solution based on my own exhaustive planning for a 2 week trip to Italy. I couldn’t believe how painful the online vacation rental experience was. So I decided to build a business around fixing those problems and creating a great vacation rental experience for owners and renters alike. Please take a look and send me suggestions as we are still getting going, starting with the wine country in California.

     
  48. Ben Colclough

    Totally agree. Before I started a travel company I remember listening to Isango present at a conference and talk about how initially they asked suppliers to create listings, but soon bought it in house because of quality issues. I naively thought that was the exception, but soon learnt the only way for an intermediary site to provide reliable accurate well presented data is by managing it all centrally. In reality few end-suppliers are going to reliably update availability data on your site unless you make it super simple and you represent a significant proportion of their business.

    I can’t see a way around this for the vacation rental industry so I guess management companies will be here to stay. The only glimmer of hope I can see is if an intermediary site manages to harness and build a community, with loads of accessible webinars and tutorials to train the suppliers to present their data well. Etsy has done well at this, but then I would argue their sellers are more passionate about their product and more design oriented anyway.

     
    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi Ben

      “Only way for an intermediary site to provide reliable accurate well presented data is managing it all centrally”

      Well, no, there are alternatives both in execution (as an intermediary) and in business models (not being exclusively an intermediary) that address this problem

      :)

       
      • Valyn Perini

        Ben, I found many holiday rental owners quite passionate about their properties, but perhaps less than sophisticated about translating that passion online. Presenting data well, as you point out, is the key.

        Alex, knowing your bent for distributed marketing as opposed to distributed inventory, I would say an intermediary could be the solution here but only if the supplier was willing to adhere to certain consistent rules of presentation dictated by the intermediary.

        I came away from this experience with less-than-positive view of large aggregators of holiday rental properties because there was no enforced consistency of presentation, leading to endless frustration for me the customer, as well as for me the person who has seen consistent online presentation of product work wonders for sales in other travel segments.

         
  49. Sarah Wilt

    Hey. I have to agree with you. But I’ve been looking at MetroFlats.com lately for rentals. They are easy to use.

    Sarah =)

     
    • Paul Parr

      I just checked out Metro Flats for Siesta Key, Florida. None of the first page listings were on Siesta Key most of the sites within the individual listings were from listings on VacationRentalHomes website. I agree with Valyn, vacation rental sites can be a mine field.

       
  50. TravelSync

    We are trying to make this vacation home more enjoyable. With our latest technology call RIMS, independent property owner can upload their accommodation and allow for real time booking. This Reservation Inventory Management System is design to connect property owner to an international group of potential customers.

     
  51. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Amen…. I echo this… booking a one week rental in Crete this year…

    What I have learned is that Rental Sites are REFERRAL pages nothing more. Once you accept that – the experience is at least tolerable.

    But if anyone thinks that sites like Home and Away are good for booking then think again. I actually counted the number of interactions we had with the vendors to get to the point of purchase.

    Note I didn’t count the number of times I looked at the sites in the search process. This was from the moment I had narrowed down the choices to a candidate list…

    candidates – 5
    Interactions with each (average) 5
    Post Decision booking emails 5
    Post booking interactions (mostly clarification) 2
    Customer service transactions 5

    OK so I am a little weird but I did this deliberately to see what the experience was like.

    Way to go Ms VP

    Cheers

    Timothy

     
    • Sam Roy

      We recently stayed in Nice France in one of their apartments. It was supposed to come with WIFi, cable TV, washer dryer, telephone etc. Wifi did not work with any of our laptops and IPAD. Cable TV was actually internet TV with practically no english channel. Washer worked kind off but had no spin cycle; we had to wringe by hand. The worst of all we did not have hot water for five of seven days. No shower for 5 days. Do not pay in advance by Paypal. I could not get any moneyback because Paypal does not support buyers.

       
      • Pat Brown

        Wow Sam … it sounds like yawl had a nightmare experience rather than the relaxing paradise our vacations ought to be. Come to sunny Florda and stay with us at the beach in beautiful Destin. We pride ourselves on being your hosts not just people you rent from!
        Pat and Emily

         
 
 

Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel