What’s Your Plan If HomeAway Disappears Tomorrow?

This question was the crux of The Listing Site Independence Workshop. Since that workshop has since passed, I have summarize the learnings and takeaways here.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 9.12.17 AMThis is a healthy and constructive way to consider your vacation rental marketing.

And of course, the devil’s advocate scenario represents more than just HomeAway or VRBO. It represents all the third parties that you may rely on to generate inquiries.

When you look at the sustainability of your business through this lens, you accept that you are susceptible, you embrace that you are independent, or most likely, you realize that you fall somewhere in between.

Our first job is to figure out where we fall on this curve.

Our second job is to decide if we are comfortable there or not.

Owners or managers unhappy with where they sit should consider our Inner Circle for actionable and intelligent solutions on moving forward.

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • One Owner

    Vacation rentals will be a breeze for owners! Who really needs HA, I mean really. They are the monsters with poor customer service and they only care about themselves. Smaller companies where owners take personal care will thrive and owners and renters will be much happier.

    When was the last time any owner got a satisfactory answer in a reasonable time from HA reps?

    • Jane

      Absolutely. And there are still some smaller independent companies out there who would love to help with that personal care! Before you sign up to another website – check whether you are paying your money several times over to HA and then look again for an independent. ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ as they say!

      • TJ

        Are there still independent companies out there that get found on the first page when searched? I’m finding it harder and harder to find any site that hasn’t been ‘gobbled up’ by HA. They’ve recently taken over perfectgetaways and I find myself now paying twice over for the same site!!! Are there still any independents out there? Please help…..

        • Elliott Again

          We operate Free to list European portals here: AbroadAgain.co.uk

        • OttToyBoy

          I get excellent results from OwnerDirect.com (note there is no “s” in that URL).
          They are commission based but it does perform.

          • TJ

            Thanks I’ll take a look

          • Ken Middleton

            Thanks for the referral. I had never heard of OwnerDirect.com Just got off the phone with Debra there and am signing up this morning for their free listing. They encourage owners to mark up their rents by 10% to cover their 10% commission. No out of pocket expense to owner other than a $100 annual fee after your first two bookings and claim to have higher end clientele from Canada, US, Europe and Australia. Nothing to lose.
            Cheers,
            Capt Ken
            http://www.TradewindVacationsHawaii.com

          • Another vote for OwnerDirect.com – good in the Canadian market.

          • OttToyBoy

            My OwnerDirect properties are #96888 and #98362.
            I’ve listed for at least five years with them. I get about 3-5 good quality bookings from them each year.

          • OttToyBoy

            Their customer service is second to none. I had trouble entering my rates while they were creating their new infrastructure and they offered to do it for me (and they did). You’re correct that I have increased my rates 10% on their site to cover the commission — so far it works well. You get all the guest’s contact information and can use whatever form of payment that you’d like. I still prefer a non-commission advertiser — but this is a good middle ground.

            >>[they] claim to have higher end clientele from Canada, US,
            From my own experience, I would confirm this claim.

            Tell them I sent you. ;o)

          • Ken Middleton

            I sure will! Thanks so much for sharing this resource. What’s the name of your property and where are you located? How long have you listed on their site and any guess on how many bookings you have had through them? Matt, have you got a database of listing sites, like this one we can access, add to and share ou r experiences with fellow owners?

            Cheers,
            Capt Ken
            http://www.TradewindVacationsHawaii.com

  • OttToyBoy

    Rejoice, Rejoice! Take back our businesses. It would be *wonderful*.
    Make that personal connection with our guests like it used to be. Bring on the HA Apocalypse!
    We small owners would thrive again.

    • Sandra Strandebo

      Noo-Noo here from The Secret Garden, Vancouver, BC Canada.

      I heard yesterday that Air BnB was planning to build a 22-storey building in downtown Vancouver exclusively for vacation rentals. Sounds ludicrous to me, but – has anyone on here heard that rumour?

      • Kpetryla

        So what’s the problem? It would be nothing more than another corporate hotel.

        • Doug Johns

          Not so much of a problem but I think it would be a first for them… typically they rent out other peoples property and compete with hotels

      • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

        This is the problem when corporations become too big then move into directly competing with their own local customers. You see it in retail all the time with companies like Vera Bradley, who built an empire with small, locally owned businesses then went online and sold everything themselves.
        We need to market the charm of renting from locally owned individuals 🙂 The unique experience of your home.

      • Doug Johns

        Really ? I didn’t realize they were actually into bricks and mortar buildings. I know they are quite aggressive but that could be quite something. Where did you here that Sandra?

  • Andreas Georgiou

    If HomeAway dissapears then people with their own websites will have increased demand because past guests will naturally look them up since they won’t have HA anymore. If you think about it HA is used by most owners because if they don’t use it it will be their biggest competitor.

  • First of all.. I’d APPLAUD. I have not taken my quest to become independent of ad sites seriously enough and this would be the kick in the pants that Matt has wanted to give all of us for a long time.

    First, I would research smaller and active websites that would drive traffic to my site and place ads on them. I have recently found sites such as http://www.NorthConwayNH.com that is similar to a Chamber website but is privately owned.

    Next, I’m going to install WordPress on my computer so I can create my own site. (anyone know how?)

    Lastly, I am taking the money I saved by creating my own website and paying the best person I can find to do SEO on my site.

    • Elliott Again

      Hi Teena, we offer a wordpress install and hosting option. It is advertise on PeoplePerHour as an ‘Hourlie’ if interested in assistance in getting set-up, we’d love to help 🙂 http://www.peopleperhour.com/hourlie/install-wordpress-with-1-years-free-hosting-automated-daily-backups/164889?ref=search

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      Hi Teena…Kat here.

      I was in same boat as you a few weeks ago. You can choose WordPress through whomever you choose to host your site. There are great videos on YouTube to help with learning curve on how to use WordPress. I followed Matt’s recommendation and bought a responsive booking theme from Themeforest, who are available to answer questions. There is a learning curve so you need time and patience. I work on mine a few hours a day. I must say I love the way it looks so far…and I love being in control of the look and feel of my own site versus a huge site like HA 🙂

      • Matt Landau

        Kat, can we see a sneak peak?

        • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

          Okay.

          I was stuck on getting my homepage to appear live and took me longer than it should to figure out 🙂

          I will be working on adding pages and content next, then finish homepage by adding blogs, etc.

          I had the slider turned on but it was making the page jump since my pics are not all the same size.. I will have to get with my photographer on that.

          Any tips or recommendations are appreciated.

          https://songbirdpropertiesllc.com/

          • Doug Johns

            @ Kat.. looks like you may need to resize the pictures in your slider.. they should be the same size (width & height) and you may have an optimum size according to the theme you are using. Just a guess but I would say 800 X 500 px. You can do this in the WP image editor.

            Also looks like you are trying to use some sort of payment gateway/plugin ? There appears to be some sort of a conflict going on, maybe just disable the plugin if that is the case…

            Great start ! There is a bit of a learning curve but well worth it in the end.. it puts you in the drivers seat 🙁

          • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

            Thank you! I knew the picture sizes are an issue but did not know I could edit in WordPress. I will work to correct that.

            I have not worked on payments yet…so I am assuming that is the issue. I still have a ways to go but really like learning all of this.

          • Doug Johns

            maybe not payments but you have some plugin that’s going wild on you if you go to your about page you will see what I mean.. looks like a booking plugin…

          • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

            Oh yes…it’s the same page that shows up on my “Book Now”. It’s the preset pages that came with the theme from themeforest. I haven’t tried to do anything with them yet. I am assuming I will need to change/delete one page and configure the actual ‘book now’ page. Am I thinking correctly?

          • Doug Johns

            Yes that’s right, you should think about at least changing your “about us page” to draft or delete it until you are ready because it appears to be causing a conflict and is creating all kinds of error messages. You may need to disable a plugin and/or adjust your comment settings

    • Doug Johns

      I would say that’s a pretty good approach Tina, particularly for North Conway in that most people that go to that area go there over and over and likely already have driven by your place but maybe don’t know the details.

      WordPress is an excellent way to not only get word out but to help with SEO. Internet search is going more and more local and WP is very good at helping people and SB get noticed.

      It looks like you have most of what you need already Tina in that the pics on your site are pretty good, you have some content and it should be a pretty simple matter to switch it over to wordpress. Looking at your site makes me miss NH.. We used to have a place outside of Jackson 🙁

      WordPress takes a bit to get onto but well worth the effort and once you get the hang of it you won’t go back… guaranteed. Responsive is one thing to look for and support for the theme is another. There are many good forums and lots of info on Youtube.

      We get most of our themes from theme forest and there are dozens that are geared to the Vacation property industry here are some of the ones we promote.. http://goo.gl/AxvM0h

      • Thanks so much for your suggestions! I’ve heard that Jackson misses you too!

        I’m going to do my darnedest to create a WordPress site today. The software is pretty much the same as I’ve been using for years on the Network Solutions package.

        I’ll be back with my beta version of the site for comments! 🙂

  • Elliott Again

    Great thought provoking post Matt. From our own data we see that rental owners with their own private websites get the best booking results; we allow direct links to them on our free to advertise portals. It would seem confidence is built in where an owner has invested time/effort in producing/commissioning a website, which leads to confidence in the professional approach that will be adopted in communication in taking the booking. A good example is from one of our vacation rental owners private websites here, with great video and testimonials: http://www.villaebeturkey.com/

    In regards to the customer service side of VR advertising portals, we have made it our USP to include live chat support widgets across our sites; to both assist holidaymakers choose the right property and owners to manage their listings in real time 🙂

  • Ryan

    The customers would get lost in a sea of junky, personal websites. It would become time consuming and frustrating. They would have no idea who they could trust to leave a deposit. Consequently, they would just stay at large hotels. This is especially true for international holiday homes.

    • OttToyBoy

      I sincerely doubt that would happen. It wasn’t that way before the HA juggernaut and I see no reason why the industry would devolve to such a state. It may take a week or two to re-organize, but if HA disappeared right now, this second, it won’t take long for smaller, less greedy, localized, and customer-oriented sites to set up shop.

      The reason that you don’t see that so much now is simply that HA, FlipKey & friends have made the barrier to entry so incredibly high. The industry has been monopolized by these few companies and have, effectively, shut down smaller companies who would otherwise compete in the space.

      • TJ

        Well said! I think what we all forget is that there once was a time before HA took over and it would mean going back to basics, but surely it would also mean that the bulk of the revenue you made would be yours and not going into a big pot, which right now seems to be trying to take over the world of vacation rental.

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      There are many personal VR websites that are professional looking. The cream would rise to the top and those with ‘junky’ websites would have to spiff it up to compete as that is how free markets work.
      Right now I rely on HA for 99% of my bookings. I began this last April and am building my own website using WordPress and a theme from Themeforest. Get the right theme and you will nail the professional looking website.
      Once that is complete I will work on conquering SEO as HA sucks up all the first page rankings in my area.

      • Matt Landau

        I tend to agree with you on this one, Kat.

  • Jamaicavilla

    Matt, I currently get all of my bookings from listing sites. I am however, busting my butt, trying to get my own site to take over and be my main source of booking.

    My efforts at time seem fruitless, but I am still going at it. hopefully, soon I can see some fruits of my hard work and finally be less dependent on these listing sites.

    • If up to now you have got bookings from listings sites – what sort of repeats have you got? Do you keep them engaged – they may not come every year but they often return. Have you had a booking from a recommendation? My first 10 weeks of 2015 are from repeats and the following week may be taken by the parents of another guest. I have other repeats scattered throughout the year.They really are your best asset, they know your home, they trust you, they can give an honest opinion. Work on them as well as your well as your web site .

      • Matt Landau

        Wonderful point Moorgate (and actually the subject of my next blog post).

  • Since I started marketing my own home 10 years ago Homeaway have taken over many of the smaller sites that used to produce results for me – they have been swallowed up and it has become a monster. I am in a very competitive market of Disney World Florida area. I monitor all the advertising sites and am ruthless at getting rid of those that do not perform. Homeaway is overpriced for the results it produces without spending lots of extra money to make your advert visible – even then it does not mean that if you get a booking that you are making the cost of an advert per booking (I wish) so it has to produce more than one booking. I have concentrated instead on Facebook, my personal web site and specialists in the area that offer something more. I also try and make sure that guests past, present and future are all keep in the loop as far as my villa is concerned – I also advertise on some sites that only charge if you get a booking through them. I offer various payment methods in US$ and GB£. But above all it is my relationship with my guests that keeps them returning or recommending me to friends and family , plus a lot of hard work maintaining high standards. Responding to emails and phone calls at whatever time it is. It is not a breeze, it is a business and you have to work at it.

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks for the comment, Moorgatevilla. Just to play devil’s advocate, “Homeaway is overpriced for the results it produces” could be viewed as a bold statement, no? They guarantee a booking http://www.homeaway.com/info/about-us/legal/terms-conditions/HA_no_booking_no_fee_ and I think they average something like 30x ROI per year on memberships. I don’t know many other small business marketing services that can compete with that…

      • Matt – my argument is that 1 booking is not enough – in a competitive market like mine – where prices are relatively low compared to other areas – and therefore my margins are extremely tight it is not enough to guarantee me a booking. I have seen a number of first time owners believe they have to be on large sites like Homeaway because of the traffic figures. I am president of our HOA and so have talked to many owners that feel they should be on these sites to get the enquiries. They think it is something they are doing wrong when they do not get the bookings. Sometimes it can be – they do not respond promptly or appropriately – had a test response that was “Yes we are available” – (now they deserve to fail). Homeaway can work in some areas where there is less competition – not pages and pages of homes to trawl through – but in Florida there are thousands of homes so unless I spend even more to get the high pages I will never be found. So if you have a high rental rate and a less crowded market it may be possible to get 30 x ROI – I would challenge the figures in Florida. Besides – I have less costly ways to generate bookings and pretty full calendars so why would I pay any money to a site that wants to charge me so much with the guarantee of only 1 booking?

        • Matt Landau

          It’s a great low-risk marketing option for those who are either new to the industry or uninterested in any other forms of marketing. If you’ve got other ways to generate bookings (like you) then you’re golden!

          • Not golden, hard working and want lots of bang for my buck – I find other sites give me better value. My opinion, but as I often say what works for one owner and their home will not work for another. I think the best option for those starting out is to pretend they are trying to rent a home where there’s is located Go on search engines, try and see how good it is to use, do homes near you come up and then try a listing. Some sites will take your money and list you, some will have a restricted number so you have to go on a waiting list. Others will let you try before you buy. Make sure your listing is attractive and accurate. Set a budget and if a site does not work for you then kick it in to touch. There will be other sites that will work for you or have a unique feature. I have dropped 2 sites this week that are no longer performing – and remember past performance is no guarantee – sites that have worked for me in the past have not updated or kept up with changes in how people access information. They no longer drive traffic to me. Also remember that guests expect a personal web site with lots more information than a listing site can give or they may be put off renting. Lots of stories about homes just on listing sites being fake – and all of us know how we could make a fake listing up by trawling other homes. If Homeaway works for you then great, but I would never rely on a one stop shop for my home – so I consider it important that I list on various sites that target different markets. While it might be a great intro it is not the be all and to think that it solves all your problems is foolish – again we come back to your original question – what if Homeaway disappeared tomorrow – without alternatives you would be back to square one.

      • Coaster Ricas

        Thanks for that perspective, Matt. If I may go a step further:

        I compare aggregate rental websites to the airlines. Do I wish their personal touch was better? Yes. Do I wish their prices were lower? Yes. Do I wish “things were like they used to be”? Of course. The fact remains that I can get into a machine that takes me from one side of the planet to the other in ~12 hours at “supersonic” speed, in the air,
        sitting in relative comfort. I can fly (a literal miracle) from my home in CostaRica to my mother in North Carolina in a total of four hours, sometimes for under $500. I frequently drive four hours without stopping for food or drink, so why do I care if Delta gives me a sandwich when I am defying gravity?

        HA and TA have higher prices than the old days. So do the airlines. So does my villa. Their agents are not very sensitive when I call them, but that happens (maybe) once a year. They are conglomerates, but they are essential in my getting the result I want . . . just like Delta. Lesser alternatives exist, it’s true, just as I could DRIVE from CR to NC, but that is neither efficient nor practical. There is nothing cryptic in what they do. They
        are clear in what they offer for the price I pay, and I generally receive that. And without hidden luggage fees.

        I pay HA & TA about $1600 a year. While I understand that others are less, I gross that amount in three and a half nights in my villa, and I have 121 rented nights so far in 2014. Most would agree that’s a pretty good result.

        I complain as much as anyone when it’s time to pay HA or when I have a problem. But when I survey the situation in its entirety, I am pretty thankful they exist.

        I’m just sayin’ . . . .

        • I own properties in Buenos Aires, London, Brussels (Belgium) and South of France. Homeaway and VRBO were quite efficient but since April we noticed a decrease of inquiries. Most probably airbnb is now bringing the all market down especially for luxury properties. Not sure that VRBO and Homeaway will survive. We have now starting to develop our own website whitehousevacationrentals.com, a facebook page and a youtube channel but it is a hell of a job to get those known. Hard time.

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      I agree with what you are saying. I paid just under $2k to have my modest home in a low market region listed on all three HA sites (in April this year). All of my bookings, except two (1 from Flipkey and 1 from Airbnb) come from HA. From May to now I have, basically, paid HA a “10% commission” for listing with them and paying extra to be within the top 3 on the list for my city. Not bad…by the end of the year I hope it will be more like 6-8%.

      Question is…how much will I have to pay next year…and the year after…and so on.

  • A really good thought provoking question Matt and one many people should worry about! Why?

    Two owners have called me this week as they are “lost” and want co-marketing. They only use VRBO and OD (one each). They are not tech savvy, not “in the industry”, just people who have rented for years and their next door neighbours clean and all was well, until now. If HA disappeared then they would be in panic. They are already going there anyway as HA has got too big.

    Now the real danger is HA not disappearing, but being acquired by a single model business, based on “Book Now”, no subscriptions. Think Priceline. That’s up to 1 million properties which could be forced to adapt or accept. 60% couldn’t accept anyway due to margin or tech incapacity. Plus the guests would end up paying more so there would be a whole new world for guests to tap into online as time moved on with direct business, new listings sites, etc. “Necessity is the mother of invention”

    If this happened in one week or 6 months, I suspect this would be a major event and have a lot of immediate repercussions across the industry. TripAdvisor could expect some new business! But they may be swallowed as well!

    Personally I like a challenge and their growth has caused massive issues of course. It would be better if they just slipped quietly into the night.

    I can see you are a columnist for HomeAway and Flipkey. Suggest you don’t moot this HA disappearance concept there!

    • Doug Johns

      Well said Richard ! I have seen many changes in this industry over the past 25 years and personally I believe that there is plenty of room for a couple of owner oriented listing sites that want to stay small enough to service their customers properly. From what I can see that may well take the form of more regionalized players but whatever happens I see both HA and Flipkey simply getting too big… how can they keep their finger on the pulse of the industry when their only interest is really their shareholders ?

      We have been at this for a long time and most of our business comes from repeat customers and or referrals… really it’s the only thing that you can bank on … although I have been following Google and Google + quite closely because I think whatever they decide to do could be an absolute game changer.

    • Tarkan

      I completely agree. If VRBO / HA changed their business model to (e.g.) airbnb style which is currently so fashionable, what would happen? You couldn’t pay to rank high and you’d be lost in the crowd. So, as a result this is just like HA/VRBO disappearing completely. If their model disappears, they’d count as they’ve completely disappeared from the space.

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks for entertaining my theoretical question Richard, and with some realistic variations! Regarding your columnist point at the end, this post actually wasn’t intended to critique HomeAway. In fact, I think it’s a healthy perspective to take about most good things in life: if they were to suddenly disappear overnight, what would be our plan to survive? Always worth pondering for a well-rounded perspective.

      • If it disappeared tonight, then the rental world would be pretty upset! You only need to watch the net when there is an outage of any of the big listing sites!

        The real problem everybody alludes to on here is size and power. It only takes a few hundred million to put a new face on the whole industry. Could be good or bad!

  • Jamaicavilla

    I must confess, up until last year, i was not keeping up with my past guests. I have since dusk off my list and started to keep in touch, most recently twice per month.

    Prior to that I would send out a newsletter maybe every quarter. My most recent email featured my new video, which got 50% open rate and a 23% CTR.

    I have tried FB so far no success, I am active on twitter and most recently pinterest.

    I have my own website (www.Jamaicaoceanviewvilla.com), I recently added a pop up for a new ebook and so far I have acquire 3 new email address. I try to make sure only the people who stay on my site for a while receive the pop up, so far so good.

    • I am not talking about advertising on Facebook – I am talking about a Facebook page – which everyone can do – put up photos, news fromm the area – anything that you think would interest guests. Mention it in any replies to enquiries. Other thing to do is become active on any relative forums. I am have only been doing it seriously since the start of the year and already have 2833 likes for my page and more importantly I have had 12 weeks of bookings and hopefully a few more in the pipeline since then.

      • Doug Johns

        That’s interesting Moorg… Your are the first person I have heard from that has had luck getting actual bookings from a FB page… many people gets “likes” but likes don’t pay the bills… any chance on a link so we can see what you are doing ? I have tried but gave up because it wasn’t doing anything… maybe i should have stayed at it…

        • http://www.Facebook.com/MoorgateVilla I have the page as much as a tool like my web site but as I say the bookings come from being on forums, giving advice to people wanting to travel Florida in my case, by being free with information – which is what only what guests would ask you anyway, by gaining their trust you are a lot nearer getting the booking. I use the Facebook page to update them on what we are doing when we are over there( deck painting last May/June) and suggestions of alternative places to go and things to see – plus news from the big attractions too. I am lucky that we are in an area that is constantly changing and evolving, but it is all part of engaging the customer. Past guests also comment and say if they like changes and they remain involved with our home. That puts it in their minds if a friend mentions going to Florida. New people are attracted when I post something – today for example I posted the video of a Disney wedding cake – it has been seen by 966 people since this morning – and one of those has looked over my page and liked a number of things including pictures of the pool – that is a possible renter. It may not be today or tomorrow but everyone of them is a possible. Think positive.

          • Matt Landau

            Good stuff Moorgate! You may also get inspired by my friend Ben: https://www.vrmb.com/facebook/

          • Doug Johns

            Excellent Moorgate !!! As before you are the first that I have heard that is getting good results from FB but I can see why, you are putting a lot into it… you appear to be taking a blogging approach which of course is a proven method the only difference being that by using Facebook you can only target facebook users… Facebook is proprietary.

            If you are having that much success with FB, I would really like to see you with an open door to the rest of the world 🙂 Many people, myself included don’t use facebook on a regular basis.

            If you were to use a blogging platform you could post to Facebook, G+ or anywhere else you want to. In addition if you were blogging you would become a recognized authority for your area and rank as such with organic search.

            All you would have to do is change your site to a wordpress site… do the same blog/content or whatever you want to call it and have it post/publish automatically to anywhere you want including FB, G+ , twitter

            Well done FB page and you have shown me that I should be paying more attention to it… thanks !

          • Thanks – I do have a ulterior motive. When we bought our home nearly 10 years ago it was my dream- so although we sent some money over initially my husband said that the house had to stand on its own merits – I treat it as a business – because that is what it is. I see such low ball rates in Florida – £250 per week for a beautiful home does not pay the day to day running costs. (I am not talking about the initial cost or if people have a mortgage) which for homes of the same size will be roughly the same as there is no competitive market in utilities. Despite installing several energy saving devices a home in Florida is expensive to run. I am not in the business of subsiding someone else’s holiday so I work at it. I aim to cover all my costs and allow me to update when I want to , plus have money in the bank to pay for all the things that inevitably go wrong. We go out twice a year. I do all the bookings myself and never take tour operator bookings – they are taking the Mickey out of owners (apologies to that famous mouse) . I love my home in Florida, I love the friends have made as a result and I love visiting there and seeing so much more than the theme parks ( though they are great too) If that feeling ever goes away I will sell up.

          • rentmoreweeks

            You could use Google Plus as your main blogging platform, just as you are using Facebook. Google would then index the posts instantly and forever.
            You can also syndicate the posts automatically to Facebook and Twitter and semi automatically to Pinterest. So you get 4 times the exposure plus Google would see what you are doing (which it doesn’t in FB as FB hide their pages from Google).

          • Will give it some thought. I really have not thought about Google Plus and blogging as such, I am learning all the time. I do what I think people would like but as you say by just using Facebook I am missing out on a market – though I may need to buy another home as I am already turning people away as not got availability for the dates they want.

          • rentmoreweeks

            Good on you with the bookings Moorgatevilla.

            Don’t get concerned about the term blogging.

            Blogging has changed, it used to be about producing longish articles 2 to 4 times a month. Now owners only need to produce mini posts of a paragraph or so, along with a nice photo. This “bite size” content is more suitable to social media and people are more likely to read it and share it than they are long articles.

            Many short “info posts” are better than the odd long post.
            Here’s a perfect example,
            http://bookingsplus4g.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Screen-Shot-2014-10-03-at-15.42.47.png

          • Jamaicavilla

            I got a question for you. when I post on my page it only seen by a limited amount people. what are you doing to ensure your post are viewed by a significant amount of people. my facebook is Jamaica Ocean View Villa.

          • It is pot luck and trial and error mostly. Obviously in my case I put things that are relevant to the Disney area – and it is amazing who views it and then mentions it and so the spiders web grows. If something does not provoke a reaction then move on. Posting pictures of my home get the biggest reactions, followed by anything Disney related. If it is different then so much the better. However the smaller posts are also important – they give information that is useful to guests. Posted about a local winery and I know several guests have done the free tour and wine tasting. It is about engagement. I am not an expert but I do go with my gut instincts, based on my own experiences and talking to guests both before they book and after.

          • Jamaicavilla

            Thanks.

      • Interesting. Generally I hear the same as Doug. I did come across a lady in Portugal who ran a good small rental business and a huge amount of business came via her Facebook page. Still don’t know why, not did she!

        However we have a few Facebook pages and one just gets likes night and day with no work, the others get work, but are nowhere near as popular. I’m pretty sure its a “locale” thing,

  • Well, I sure don’t see HomeAway going “poof” anytime soon LOL but I do see the VR marketing channels becoming narrower every year as HA and others swallow up all the best performing sites. This is definitely the handwriting on the wall to all VR owners who value their independent style of management. I have a nice little owners web site with Web Chalet and it actually has some decent analytics but not enough organic traffic is coming there and that worries me. If HA/VRBO isn’t a producer for me any longer, how would people find us? I know a little about SEO but I’m clueless about the Google Adwords game and how to drive people to our site. I have a Facebook page but that’s lame for generating bookings. I know nothing of Google Plus or Circles except I have an account. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had great success with VRBO and I’ve been lazy…letting the inquiries just flow into my inbox and happy with the results. When HA has a new rate increase or mandate to keep my search position high, I just blithely go along with the program. I’m sadly a VRBO Zombie!

    • Doug Johns

      I’d take a close look look at Google + Amy… I’ve been watching for sometime how it has been evolving and it has the potential to turn our industry on it’s ear.. I wrote a post about it here… ( http://goo.gl/jWlMs0 )

      • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

        Excellent article! Thanks.

        • samuel

          Excellent intro, but how do you do you actually do it?

          • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

            If you have gmail you can set up google+ and circles (people you connect with), it is google’s social. You can post pictures and links to google+ as well as post. From his article it shows how doing so adds yet one more think for google to verify your business and website which boosts its ranking. Add a youtube video helps…shars the youtube link on google +.

          • rentmoreweeks

            I should mention that it is against Google guidelines (rules) to place rental properties on Google local. Owners that do so risk their Google Plus page being removed. Vacation rental agencies can place their offices, along with opening times, on Local if they wish.

            I spent a long time discussing this with Google and they don’t want the public turing up at properties that are either empty or occupied by other guests.

    • A common problem Amy. You could go looking for non-exclusive agency/partners who could help. The rental world now needs knowledge and work to dodge the big boys. We network woth other direct contracting in selected destinations. We supply free websites to owners and advise them on how to help, but just having a website with a correct “Title Tag” is never enough!

      Matt has lots of great advice, Doug is correct on G+.

      Question to Matt? If you had to advise on one book (there are lots) on how to market your own property online which one would it be! Not the photos or presentation etc, simple online SEO, social, network, linking, analysis etc. Feel free to be self promoting!

  • Jamaicavilla

    I do have a FB page, which I have been adding pics and deals but no success. Maybe it how I am doing it. I have not added FB to my inquires, will do that going forward.

    From time to time I go to tripadvisor and Fodder, but not very active in either.

    Its difficult due to my work commitment, but I will focus in these areas some more. Any specific forums you would suggest. Thanks

  • Tarkan

    Being self-sufficient is a dream for all VR owners and I strongly agree with Matt Landau’s views and he’s is very right to advocate this concept. However, when your market is overwhelmingly overseas countries having repeat guests becomes a very and very difficult task. For example sending a mail out saying that you’ve a promotion next weekend wouldn’t attract a previous guest enough to justify to travel 5000 miles to your property again! Also many people don’t want to go to same overseas destination every month or every year or even every 5 years! If you market your property in a radius of 200 miles then being self-sufficient would be multiple times easier. So marketing techniques required for these two very different segments require very very different techniques I believe. Matt Landau, may be you should consider this separation at least sometimes in your posts or advise.Up to now your advise seems like much more focused on attracting 200 miles diameter crowd I believe (still very useful though!)

    • Matt Landau

      Great feedback Tarkan. I too am based in an international destination (Panama) so we don’t have tons of weekend visitors. Will take this into account in future blog posts for sure 🙂

    • Great comments Tarkan. Its like trying to get new insurance business, you need to canvass people when they are thinking about it once a day or hit them everyday and then they loath you.

      Only a few companies can help on this scale and they know all there is to know about your guests (Facebook and Google). These may be game changers in the near future as directories, sorry marketplaces, become too large and bogged down by income objectives, not personal ones.

  • Ann

    Thanks, Matt. These comments are perfect timing for me. I started with vacationrentals.com in 2001, before it was owned by HomeAway.. They recently revamped the entire website and it is not nearly as good as it was, nor is it nearly as easy to navigate. I am not tech savvy and I have spent hours on the new site. I have always done all the contacting and correspondence and it is harder to do this now. I like being the person who relates to the guests. As to contactingVR – I tried for the first time ever and it took forever! My contact with VR expires in March and my goal is to have something else in place prior to that, but I do need help.
    One of my biggest problem is that my budget is low (one condo) so need to maximize it and not being tech savvy, but I do have time to devote to it. I would like to use a smaller company or have my own website. One question. How do people find your website? When I google vacations on Fla. east coast (Daytona area) or something similar, HA always pops up first. How would I get people to my site.

    Any suggestions are appreciated. I’ve read the ones below and see some great ideas that I hope to put in place. i live in Orlando.

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      SEO…Search Engine Optimization is how your site will get listed on first page of Google and other search engines. WordPress will be the foundation you want for your website as that is what Google uses so it reads it loud and clear.

      This is the YouTube video I watched to get me going with WordPress, but there are many:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGIHNxg2rvQ

      He will show you which plugins to use that help with SEO. If you buy a theme, which I highly recommend, they will have some of those plugins already installed.

      You can also use Google Adwords to adverstise your site. So the money we spend on HA sites and commissions on sites like Flipkey and Airbnb could go instead to advertise our own sites and probably spend less.

      If you really are not a do-it-yourself person when it comes to tech then find someone to build it out for you and show you how to make changes.

      • Matt Landau

        Kat, I don’t know if anyone has told you this today…but YOU ROCK!

        • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

          Aw…shucks…you just made my day 😉

      • Doug Johns

        @ Ann you are in likely one of the most competitive places on earth for our industry and WordPress is likely not only the best way to stand out but it is likely the only way… internet search is going local and the more of an authority you are on your local area the more you will stand out… try to collaborate with local businesses…

    • First of all lucky you – living in Orlando. I would try Facebook as that has no cost to you. Build your own page and put on lots of photos. Then join as many groups that cover going to Orlando or Florida. Lots of people who come to see the Mouse often also go to the coast. Some of our guests love the Daytona 500 so even if it is not race time they want to see where it takes place. Mention launch dates at Kennedy as that could mean a trip to that coast. Local knowledge of Orlando and the coast will be lapped up by the people on the forums. Maybe you can help me – I have a guest who is looking to renew her wedding vows next year and wants someone to come to our villa to do it – non religious ceremony – any ideas of people to do that?

  • Ann

    Matt, thought you would like to know that professional photos are in the works. I’ve talked with some, but how do you know if you are getting an excellent photographer? I’ve looked at their photos and talked with them.

    • Matt Landau

      Nice, Ann! Frankly, I just look at their portfolio. Perhaps there are some more experienced photographers reading this, who could make more concrete recommendations.

    • Eli

      Hi Ann, Matt’s right, check their portfolio and if you can, contact their previous clients. Also, if you can find one, it’s worth going with somebody who specializes in vacation rental photography specifically (or who at least has done vacation rental work in the past). Any real estate photographer can expose correctly and ‘shoot the corners’. Somebody who truly understands how to create the desire for a vacation is going to focus on different details than somebody looking to sell the house. You might also want to look for somebody who’d be willing to get you some video as well. A full scale video production endeavor will cost a bit more, but many photographers can get you short moving shots of the same scenes they’re photographing stills of.

  • Michael

    Its a really good question and more opportunity seems to be coming, I think. It clear that an owner adds value to their renters with the authentic personal touch, specialized insights and communication. So having personal sites and social media accounts is pretty important, it adds credibility and help build rapport (its a missed opportunity not being there). I think just as important is to maximize exposure by levering marketing of listing sites, it simply provides more exposure and opportunity.

    It also appears that the bigger the principle listing sites get there is more local competition. I think we will see a segmentation where niche sites targeting specific travelers/audiences will perform well. Marketing is not easy….so a blend of both is a great strategy.

  • I know this is not completely thread based, but we worry about all the same things owners do and one of these is conversions from a website. It is hard enough to get traffic but once there its needs to convert. So all the usual about photos, foreign languages and path from look to book apply. The big companies recruit psychologists for heavens sake!

    So in this push please don’t forget the payment method as this is so heavily promoted by the big boys via credit card and security/trust messages. Most WP sites I see are nice these days, but they lack a serious look to book/checkout confidence message at payment time. There are many ways around this and many more coming. Its worth spending time on this!

  • Blamona

    My biggest object is “subliminal scare” tactics they use to drown out the little guys. For example the wording of Book it Now makes it seem like you can’t trust other payment options on other sites (such as your own website) so vacationers feel that other sites could be scams.

    Even if their own sites aren’t scam proof or couldn’t create fishing, yet the implication is that you could be scammed going elsewhere.

    Dirty

  • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

    How many of you received the Homeaway survey to vacation rental owners and managers? The nosey survey that asked all kinds of questions including what other vacation rental sites are you familiar with and which other ones do you advertise (which is the point I said ‘noneya’ and quit the survey).
    The questions made me think Homeaway is looking at which other sites to gobble up, and restructure how they are paid. I wonder if they will switch to the Flipkey/Airbnb model of charging a percentage to VR owners and a fee to guests…making VR’s more expensive to the guests who will complain to the VR owners who will, in turn, have to reduce their rates to compensate.
    Homeaway, Flipkey and Airbnb are not going away…but that does not mean we must stay 🙂 They exist because we stick with them…period.

  • Eli

    I suppose the best thing to do would be to dominate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube & Tumblr. Design a professional website with vibrant, professional photography and videography. Maintain an active, helpful blog and nestle your way into the blogs of those that are active in your industry. Use your blog to gain native traffic with sound SEO, and also to provide rich content to the email newsletter you should be maintaining. Make sure your website has a secure online booking engine in place. Make sure you’re trying to capture emails of potential future guests. Make sure you’re paying close attention to your analytics data then use that to appropriately guide your online re-marketing advertising campaigns(Google Adwords, Facebook, etc). Pay attention to everything above and adapt to the inevitable rule changes as they happen. Breathe. That’s our dream plan at least 🙂 (We’re giving it our best shot here: http://www.tortugasvillas.com)

    In all reality though. If I was a single vacation rental owner and wanted the Medium Effect Dose to success….If I wanted the most bang for my buck I’d do this:

    1) Create a simple website focusing on beautiful pictures and guest reviews.
    2) Keep in touch with guests (past, future, prospective) with an informal email newsletter.

    Embrace the niche of being small. Vacation rentals are a more personal way to travel – use that to your advantage. Podunk can beat professional if you do it right. Authenticity, sincerity and a little bit of organizational smarts to hold it all together can really go a long way.

    ….and again the photos. You have to have beautiful photos – people need to dream.

    • Doug Johns

      Well said Eli… great site you have !

  • Matt Landau

    NOTE: Let’s please avoid using this forum below an opportunity to bash HomeAway as that’s not what I stand for (or particularly enjoy reading). My goal with this exercise was not to envision an industry without HA. But to hypothesize a scenario in which the one very powerful marketing support that most people rely on…is taken out from under them. In that scenario, as with most good things in life, I believe it’s healthy to think “What would I do?” and use that (at least vague) plan to gives your current (non-Apocalypse) positioning even more stability.

    • tokillamockingbirdfromtexas

      My apologies for my harsh tone regarding HA’s survey…it truly hit a nerve.

  • Matt, your questions are so thought provoking! With the realization that the megabuck company is not going to go away, it’s still a good idea to poke at the sore tooth of thinking about it. It is possible that Homeaway will become too expensive in either new owner restrictions or commission dollars to force folks to other alternatives. As we experience more and more changes, we push back against these changes, especially when it is obvious that they are being created to take a bigger chunk of our pies. If there is little or no profit, what is to keep us paying their rate?

    There are start-ups appearing in the market place, and I suspect there will be many more. A listing site that emulates what VRBO used to be, enhancing the “by owner” would, in my mind be ideal. The positive thing about what is happening with the push-back is that we homeowners are becoming more aware of not just what we don’t want, but what we DO want. We are being forced to educate ourselves, and as we become more knowledgeable, we also have more control. Honestly, I never would have thought of myself as a marketer, designer (either web or interior), salesperson, PR person, etc if I had not bought a vacation home 15 years ago! I’m quite pleased with all I’ve learned, and every day there is more.

    I might be naive, but I think as long as I have a cool place (or places) for people to go to, they will keep coming. I’m much more worried about the politics of restricting vacation rentals than I am about Homeaway.

    • Matt Landau

      LOVE this Debi. You go girl!

  • Maria Rekrut

    I have used VRBO and Homeaway for the past 10 years and have found that VRBO has produced both the best result and the best return for my financial investment.
    I’m now finding that the larger sites that you pay 15% is what will be bringing me the biggest return in investment in the future. I’m not bothering with the smaller listing sites that I have to pay for as they haven’t brought any financial return.

  • christopher werner

    I too have invested time and money in the event that VRBO or Homeaway go away. It began as ‘insurance’ and has since turned into more as i offer other owners in my area a chance to promote homes, businesses, and events. So, in some ways, losing the ‘big boys’ would be good for business while making it a bit harder at the moment.

  • rentmoreweeks

    Interesting question and thread.

    I saw that Amy said “I sure don’t see HomeAway going “poof” anytime soon” and I guess that’s true but I do see it going “pooooof”.

    I believe that the market is changing. Destination marketing is in the ascendancy whereas vacation rental marketing is in decline. This is for a number of reasons but the bottom line is that our guests go on vacation, they don’t go on vacation rental. A combination of technology, internet speeds and social media have changed the game and the big listings sites are now little more than phone directories with photos. They are an Ipod in a smartphone world.

    Potential guests want more. They want to know what there is to see and do near their chosen location. They want personal recommendations. They want insider secrets. They want MORE.

    Owners that become the ‘go to’ local expert for their location are being rewarded with high ranking positions within Google.

    Google themselves seem to be depending less and less on SEO factors and leaning more and more toward social indicators, after all you can tell a lot more about someone by watching, listening and talking to them than you can by looking at their driving licence.

    Matt asked me to say something about Google Plus as some of you have mentioned it here and I specialise in using G+ for vacation rental marketing purposes.

    Here’s my advice.

    Don’t look at Google Plus as some Facebook wannabe, look at it as a social signpost that points you in Google’s direction and vice versa.
    When you post to G+, real people interact with those posts. Some people plus one them, some share them, some comment on them. Google uses this engagement to assign you social currency. Those that are socially rich are starting to outrank those that are not and that includes the big listings companies in some cases.

    For more on social marketing and G+ see http://bookingsplus4g.com/vacation-rentals-and-the-rules-of-engagement/ or just have a good poke around the site for more info.

    If anyone would like to know more about Google Plus feel free to ask.
    Alan Egan

  • If they disappeared, I would start my own company to replace them… I could get into that! But that’s not really what you are asking….
    It’s the scary truth, we spend only $650 per year – per house on the Homeaway bundle. That’s it!
    Our ROI vs Homeaway membership averages 183% (ave 47 weeks).
    We also have our own website, which is hard to track the number of bookings, because everything is linked back to Homeaway. From what can track, we get about 15% of bookings from our website and 15% from return guests, leaving 70% wide open.
    Our marketing strategy has always been to keep things as lean as possible, leaving us money to invest back into the properties.
    We do have a strong social media presence… we just got our first booking through Pinterest, but if Homeaway closed its doors we’d have to find another one to open and fast!

    PS: Matt how has your business been doing since you went cold turkey?

  • EurekaFred

    This is extremely apropos for my husband and I right now. We are in the midst of discussions (rather emotional at times), as I want to try other options to improve our bookings and he is wanting to sell our beloved condo in Roatan. Due to changes at HA which do not work for our situation, our inquiries and bookings have plummeted during the past 5 months. I do all the work on our site and at this time last yr, we were completely booked for winter. Not the situation this year. I don’t want to sell…..he is panicked and just wants out.
    I will be eager to read what others are doing.

  • EurekaFred

    I have a separate website for our property which has gotten us one inquiry, no bookings. I spent a session with an SEO specialist to help me tweak the site for that issue, posted lots of photos, named our condo, keep in touch with past guests, but this year, we’ve just been spinning our wheels. With the costs of maintaining the property, we have to have bookings. I am constantly trying to work on ways to ring the property to the attention of more folks waiting a Caribbean vacation in a high end condo at very reasonable rates, but I’m starting to feel defeated.

  • rentmoreweeks

    Hello EurekaFred,

    Have you thought about making a Google plus page? Call it something like – Roatan Holiday Guide and Vacation Rental.

    Tell the world about Roatan, tell them about the beaches, the day trips, the diving, the kite surfing, the culture, the rum punch, the golf courses, the plant life, the animal life, the stand up paddle boarding and the fish and snorkeling.

    Tell them about Honduras, and the Bay islands, the restaurants and the bars, show them photos of the sunrise and the sunset, show them pictures of people having fun, tell them about the weather and the history, tell them old pirate stories and tell them about the Underwater Museum.

    Tell people what’s on too. Carnival, festivals, Fish Friday, live bands, etc.

    These are the reasons why people visit Roatan. Wave a huge Roatan flag and prople will notice.
    Lightly brand all of your posts and post details of your condo now and again (less than 10% of the articles).

    This form of advertising costs nothing and creates thousands of digital footprints.

    It’s very easy to syndicate these posts to Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. You can get a ton of exposure this way.

    Here’s a video that shows what I mean http://vimeo.com/97724914
    If you would like to know more about this concept have a look my website http://bookingsplus4g.com
    or drop me a line. Good luck.

    Alan

  • tdistinguishedg

    Great question Matt. I am going independent and here is why. I like HomeAway/VRBO and I think that they offer a great product so I would be sad if they went away but like anything in life most owners would find substitutes like Flipkey and Airbnb. However, I did just receive HomeAway’s recent survey where I am assuming that they were gathering information on fee increases. I am making the commitment to go independent because I cannot afford a fee increase and I am certainly not able to pay a 10% commission for each booking and here is why. I have a property manager that charges me a 25% commission so if you add on the 10% commission for HomeAway plus the 15% occupancy transient tax I have to give away almost 50% of my income to pay fees/taxes plus I then have operating costs on top of that so lets say 20-30% occupancy cost so that only leaves me 20-30% of profit which is not worth my time to run my VR.

  • Hey, just started a website http://rentalvillacuracao.com, You can place there your Villa’s located in curacao for free, as for other sites take a % commission per inquiry / sale..

    Hopefullly some people will use our site here.

    • self reply.. haha..

      I think I should target the global market. I know there’s money to make out of it without taking any of your money for renting or placing your properties there. If loaded with clean ads, and few aff links there should be more than enough for the webmaster, instead of taking a % commission on top of it all…

  • Johanna Drucker

    One of the ways that many vacation renters have used to replace the HomeAway calendar (which used to be free for all) is to sign up for the Orbirental service, which provide a free calendaring solution to property owners. Check it out at https://www.orbirental.com/free-owner-calendar.jsp

    Note that the solution provides calendar synchronisation with AirBnB, VRBO and Flipkey. They also provide a way to streamline the process to manage the editing and sending of check-in instructions to your customers.

  • Andy

    VRBO SUCKS. They took $3700 from my VISA. Sent me a confirmation email with no information about the rental. Called a dozen times got passed everywhere. No one could give me the address and a reservation payment receipt to show the front desk, no physical address to even KNOW WHERE TO GO when my wife and two young daughters land in a foreign country! No phone number nothing. When I called the last time 12 hours before leaving to the airport, I got a phone number. I had to write it on a napkin. They said they could not send an email! I have never seen anything like this! WORST WORST WORST! So disorganized.