HomeAway removes last remnant of independent guest-owner interaction

HomeAway has split opinion over its decision to alter the way in which potential guests can interact with a property’s owner.

At the turn of 2017, HomeAway shifted the ability for a traveller to find out more about a rental listing by pushing contact details for the owner to the enquiry and booking confirmation pages of a listing.

The former method was signalled front and centre on a listing, allowing the guest to engage with the owner to find out about more about a property – a process that worked the other way after initial contact, in that an owner could learn about who was going to being using a property for a trip.

In some respects, this change could be seen as a reorganisation of the site.

HomeAway sees it like that and also in terms of it benefiting owners and travellers in a “hugely positive” way.

An official says:

“The phone numbers are still available for travelers after a property is enquired or requested to book, the owner still has the opportunity to interact with the potential guest before the booking is accepted.”

But the move has not been accepted with the same amount of enthusiasm.

At the heart of the annoyance over the move is the theory that Expedia Inc-owned HomeAway is trying to keep the booking and interaction between guest and owner within the platform, essentially ensuring that people do not make a booking directly with the property owner.

Such a direct booking, of course, would see HomeAway lose its commission on the sale.

HomeAway has made no secret of its intention to push all bookings of all its vacation rental properties online.

This feeds further into the wider concerns that property owners have about their ability to manage listings in the face of other, more experienced and savvy owners.

Mickey Kropf, chief operating officer at Rented, says an owner can adjust and adopt online/instant booking, “but that will still do little to bolster search results against robust professional managers who optimize their listings, drive higher online conversion rates”, and, he believes, are “rewarded” by the sites such as HomeAway for doing so.

He adds:

“An owner can distribute across other platforms, but some, such as Airbnb, already essentially require online or instant booking and limit offline communications until after a reservation is made.

“Smaller retail distribution sites have tiny fractions of the budgets but may enable an owner to maintain control of the booking process and do so offline.”

HomeAway argues that the changes ensure a guest have a “safe and secure experience”, with automatic consumer protection thrown in.

But the official admits:

“It is also important for owners and property managers as it is a main factor to determine where a property appears within search results.”

Expedia Inc’s $3.9 billion deal to buy HomeAway in November 2015 has not been an easy ride, with a large backlash over guest fees just one of a number of issues that owners have raised.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Huw Thomas

    Companies like HomeAway unfortunately have got too greedy at the expense of apartment owners and the customers. How they can still carry on calling one of their Sites: “Owners Direct” beggars belief, it should be renamed “Owners Indirect”.
    Let’s hope some of the new starting rental enterprises take hold and beat these bullies.

  2. Chris

    The actions of HomeAway and other similar sites who are creating a stranglehold on the customer relationship will inevitably create a gap in the market for new portals to step in which value the owners and not just see them as a commodity.

    At the end of the day, these sites have no product of their own and so should listen to owners a lot more than they seem to.

  3. Jack Agnew

    This could be solved so easily. I think home owners would be willing to give the commission to Home Away in return for the ability to contact the guest as to suitability on both ends. If a guest doesn’t make a reservation there are always other options to rent. I think the objection to HA trying to control everything is that we are not hotels. We want the guest and ourselves to have a good match. HA still gets a commission and the guest gets to make a decision on more than photos that look good. Let’s compromise please

  4. G. Allen

    This is a bad deal. Its tough to close a sale when the guest has questions and can’t get a call into the property owner. Stupid fear driven management decision. Open this up and grow or lock people down and we will find alternatives. Home away is fearful and greedy.

  5. AGS

    Homeaway illegally somehow puts a block on the enquirer’s email address so that the owner cannot communicate directly with the enquirer. They have blocked the direct communication between the enquirer and the owner. I have concrete evidence that this is occurring. Home away puts a block on the enquirer’s email without the enquirer’s knowledge. They canot put a block on commercial or business email addresses. This is obviously done to try to force the enquirer to pay a service fee for the rental. There are no realistic benefits for the fee despite what Homeaway says

  6. Stephanie K

    I too, agree vrbo is forcing our hands and the fees are costing the guests more and more.
    I wish the guests would get smart about it and realize that when they book on sites like this is cost a lot more than booking direct with owners.
    As for subscriptions, I have tried both, and found that the annual ones don’t show up very well on the site, as vrbo makes more money from the pay per booking. Although, they want you to think they want you to save money by paying the one annual fee, you will feel the drop in your listings if you do and also if you don’t use the online booking which costs about 8% when you do the math.
    I just hope guests smarten up and open their eyes and start realizing how much more they are paying while supporting a site that is over charging both of us in many ways. I mark up all my rentals on this site by about 8% to cover the 13% fees they charge, so it’s still costing me 5% but the rest is covered by the guests.

    Not to mention the nasty notices vrbo adds to my account when I decline to many requests, because I care about my investments, they just want them booked so they get there fees.

    I support AirBnb and Flipkey and my properties will cost the guest less to book there than vrbo.

  7. Andy R

    The news about HomeAway standing between potential guests and hosts is not surprising. Each play by the major companies in the sector has been about maximising the revenue that they can get from the guest. We, the property owners and managers are ancillary to the process. Having experience of the drop off in bookings from HA from a number of years back, we knew we needed to be less reliant on these listing sites. There is a well established process to becoming listing site independent and it works. Whilst you can, use HA as a shop window and build out your own customer base. Guests want to get a good deal and they know how to search to save. Offer a great product and a great service and pay attention to the changes in the market place.

  8. Jack Agnew

    This move is so outrageous. A property owner has the right and even obligation to know who is staying in his/her property both to protect his/her investment and in respect to neighbors to not host party animals, Spring Breakers and renters who sneak in more than one pet. The fact there is no serious competitor is dismaying for we home owners who do not want rental companies or websites to decide who stays in our private property.

  9. Julia Currant

    I am leaving HomeAway, [Owners direct] because of the interference with my booking system and the greed that is shown by them in insisting I only have booking on line. I have just one cottage in Wales and have managed it very nicely thank you for 10 years with no complications. I will not have my guests pay Homeaway my fees, which is then not paid to me for several months and then be charged by homeAway for the privilege!
    Before being taken over Owners Direct gave me exactly the platform I wanted, ie the cottage was advertised by them and I then managed all the booking proses. I am now with Independent cottages very good and giving me the same as O. D. did in the first place.

  10. Richard Iarrobino

    The strategy is totally greedy in that HomeAway already charges a huge listing fee for the owner. Then they want to charge a huge service fee to the guest for booking too. For that reason I have stopped using them after over 15 years of doing so. I started back with a site they bought up who charged only $35 a listing. Now they charge $350 AND hundreds of dollars of service fees to boot. Nothing but GREED.

    Owners and guests need to switch to more reasonable listing sites like RedWeek.com.

  11. Bruce

    The title of this article is misleading. Today I was able to email a prospective guest directly by using the address provided by Homeaway/VRBO. I have never enabled on-line booking and so the guest does not pay a commission. I paid a subscription fee of $399 in May of 2016 and this works out to 3.5% of my bookings income through the service. In other words, although the company is trying their best to twist our arms into paying their commission, and on-line bookings and credit card handling, I have found a way to avoid this and I suspect you can too. Last year I signed up with AirBnB because I believed the doom and gloom about Homeaway. Since then I seem to get about 1/3 of my bookings from AirBnB VS. Homeaway, and I’m a superhost! Besides having to lower my prices to compensate for their guest fee, AirBnB guests tend to stay shorter, more last-minute and be younger and more international. No problem there. It’s a good gap-filler.
    Bottom line, use the services for what they’re good for. With any luck, Homeaway has gotten the message about keeping off-line booking available to its subscription holders.

    • Bruce

      Hi, this is Bruce again. Update: I have not renewed with Homeaway and am stuck with Airbnb only. Homeaway now insists on only on-line booking, and considering how this has changed from how they used to be, I am very disappointed. I am no big fan of Airbnb but at least they don’t pull the rug out from you after getting you used to the way they do things. I have not been approached by Homeaway to “re-up” which is disappointing, since I want to refuse and rant about how horrible the changes have been. Airbnb gives “superhosts” (get ready for it) a NUMBER to call! Gosh, how generous! Too bad non-superhosts have to wade through the FAQ’s to figure out what they need to do.

    • Simone V.

      Hello Bruce, how is the situation 8 months later? How is the visibility of your home on H.A. websites? Do you get the same number of requests?

  12. Nigel Goodwin

    OwnerHolidays is going from strength to strength, and attempts to bring owners and travellers back together again. See http://rentaltonic.com/ownerholidays-welcome-listing-site-revolution/

    Just hit 1,000 listings worldwide, heading towards 10,000 by end March, and we have only been going for 5 months.

  13. Wendy Harrison

    I have a small business of 4 holiday cottages in Lincolnshire. Gradually over the years – 20 years experience – I have been trying to drag myself away from the large companies (Sykes, Country Cottages etc) as they have always taken 28% of the rent. I welcome Airbnb as they are able to advertise my listings and although they take a cut it is nothing like the others. However, recently I have been finding the guests are gaining more power with the threat of “bad reviews” should everything not be 100% up to what they consider to be their standard. My internet service in one of the properties is intermittent, I am on the case but a recent guest used what I would consider to be bully tactics with me for a reimbursement of his rent. Sadly I gave in and he was successful despite finding out that he had used the internet when he was staying. Surely the most satisfactory way forward is for the guests to contact the property owners direct? I have a great website and I am trying my hardest to get it out there for prospective guests to see. The best deals have got to be directly given from the owner.

  14. Best of Boston

    I am a host on Airbnb and VRBO and am seeing most of my traffic heading to Airbnb. Used to be 90% on VRBO 10% on airbnb. Now 50-50. airbnb Site is way easier to use. VRBO is just a clunky mixed up mess. When i travel I use airbnb.

  15. Adam Milward

    Anyone who interacts with these big corporations as a property owner knows the nightmare that they have created. They make it nigh on impossible to communicate by phone and when you eventually do get through to someone they often have a very tenuous grasp of English and an even more tenuous grasp of the particular context your business might exist in as a UK business. Resolving even what might be on the face of it relatively minor issues becomes a lengthy odyssey which is as baffling as it is frustrating. If you go down the route of email communication, you wait days for a response and when one does come it generally fails to address any of the issues you raised and is instead robotic corporate speak drivel.

    These corporations all have one thing in common; a desire to strengthen what is already a stranglehold that they have on the industry. They did it to hotels some time ago and lazy, short sighted hoteliers were complicit in allowing their industry to become slaves to large multi national corporations. Small businesses have no protection from them and political institutions such as the EU stand by and do nothing or collude with them particularly if their head office happens to be in a capital at the very geographic heart of the EU.. National governments such as that of the UK just watch as Booking.com for example re-register their UK arm in the Netherlands and thus avoid paying VAT to the UK taxpayers on the tens of millions of pounds that people in the UK spend on breaks away. This happens at a time when public services are stretched to breaking point by the need to cut public spending. The tax authorities would rather hammer smaller businesses who don’t have teams of corporate lawyers or accountants schooled in the art of sharp practice.

    I am no fan of Trump or Le Pen but I really understand where the anger that feeds their support comes from. If you feel increasingly disenfranchised, unfairly treated, and exploited you feel a real need to lash out in whichever way you can.

    My experience of the tourism industry is that these companies are uniquely loathed by their “partners” and when the day comes that either technology or commerce leads to their demise there will be no shortage of people wanting to dance on their graves.

    • Gavin Pereira

      Spot on Adam well said. There seems to be very few businesses left these days where small business owners can go about their business without paying a tax to a large corporation (comission fees).

      Uber loss making modern day bandits stealing local cab drivers income by forcing them out of business.

      Hungry House and Just Eat (although their business model is fair)

      Booking and Expedia to hotels
      And nown air bnb Expedia HA to apartment rentals which are mostly small to medium businesses.

      And then to top it off all these lot do not pay any national taxes as mentioned above, not even corporation tax so how is this fair?

    • John Hazlewood www.sharingXchange.com

      what a stupid comment. can someone delete it please

      • Kevin May

        Kevin May

        @john – why?

        and, BTW, you don’t get to decide when a comment is deleted anyway 😉

    • Simone

      Standing ovation!
      When that day?

  16. Richard Vaughton

    Owners and managers are polarising more and more as small manager suffer and get purchased and large managers go direct more and more. Mickey says: “robust professional managers who optimize their listings, drive higher online conversion rates”. There is an element of truth to this, but these managers are also gaming the systems (raising prices, tickling calendars etc) and a large percentage also don’t want instant or Request to book. They are very unhappy when the guest thinks the service fees is the deposit and HA are the booking agent. Phone calls, complaints, booking cancellations, lack of trust etc. Honestly its a mess. Now owners and managers are being needled for lack of conversions. They should adopt one model or another not hybrids that do not serve either party well. I am sure they will soon however and then inventory managers can all move their attention onto new pastures.

  17. Rita holzhauer

    There is no need to book through them and pay their fee. Go to regional listing sites. Book owner direct and save about 500 dollars. This site books northwest Florida. Destin and Panama City Beach

      • Kevin May

        Kevin May

        @john – instead of criticising with just a few easy words, perhaps offer some slightly more cerebral analysis of the situation?

        • Robert Fleming

          Would somebody like Rentivo, say, please create a blockchain platform that us owners can sign up to and kiss big brother goodbye.

    • Gregg Tonkin

      Just what web site is that? I’m sure I know which one with a whopping 321 properties listed in the whole state of Florida! Maybe I’m wrong and I am looking in the wrong direction

  18. Bob Bourassa

    No matter how they put it, we all know this is yet another move by HomeAway to restrict contact and ensure they get their service fees. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

    I believe this is just another step in their overall goal and within the next couple months owners phone numbers will cease to exist and they will hide all traveler contact information from the owners until a booking is made, just like AirBnB.

    The result of all of the decisions by HomeAway / VRBO has been felt far and wide by vacation rental owners. Some have just given up and sold their properties. Others have turned their rentals over to agencies to manage. And then there are some owners who are totally oblivious to the changes. Believe it or not, there are some owners who aren’t even aware there is a service fee. Yup!

    We can’t tell what HomeAway / VRBO will do in the coming year, because we have to wait until after they do it to find out. But, you can bet your ass it will not be good. We can only speculate as they offer no advanced notice of anything. Best of luck to all you homeowners and travelers. Buckle up, the road is going to be bumpy.

    • Terrie

      Yep, their service fees have also gotten higher and higher over the years. I didn’t even start trying to book directly with owners until vrbo fees got so absurd. I used to book every vacay with them and I’ve used alternatives for the last several due to this.


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