In this second instalment in our series ‘An independent vacation rental owner’s guide to listings sites’, Homes and Rooms looks at who’s who in the industry. There are many hundreds to choose from, too numerous to list here. We focused on the better known sites.
The bigger listing sites are well known to many and have become household names. In fact, a small handful of big brands dominate the market. The major players include the groups Homeaway (thought to be the largest and about to be swallowed up by Expedia.com in early 2016), TripAdvisor, Priceline and, of course, the huge and independent Airbnb.
The first three of these own a variety of brands operating as listing sites. (See below for a list of major players.)
Selecting a listing site
When selecting a listing site to sign up with check out what they are offering, what you may have to pay, what the guest has to pay, who pays who and how long before you get your money. Some sites will hang on to your money until well after the guests have departed, so look carefully at their terms and conditions.
Are you happy with the security of the site – what precautions are in place to prevent scams? Consider too how much control of your property you may have to relinquish. Will you have direct contact with potential guests before they book? If not, what form of screening does the listing site have in place?
Different charging models
Listing sites charge for their services in different ways. Under the ‘subscription’ model, the owner being listed on the site pays a monthly or annual fee for the exposure – regardless of whether this produces any reservations. Often there will be a range of tariffs, the more expensive ones offering better exposure. Homeaway, for example, offers this way of paying at the time of writing.
Then there is the ‘commission’ model. Here, payment is by results where owners (as opposed to guests) pay commission per booking. Some prefer this way of paying, but the downside can be the size of the commission – sometimes as much as 25%. Homeaway also offers owners this alternative.
Ideally the cost of a listing site should be balanced against the resulting bookings. But that cost will be unknown until you suck it and see.
Analyze the performance of your listing sites
Homes and Rooms subscribers get a useful feature to help keep tabs on how their listing sites are performing. The Homes and Rooms Marketing Manager helps to maximize the effectiveness of owner internet advertising. It enables the owner to analyze the ongoing performance of any listing site they register with.
Listing sites may impose initial set-up charges for displaying on their site. We have also heard of sites restricting the number of photographs of the property and/or charging for any extra pictures used to promote it.
Look out for free listing sites
‘Free’ sites can be a great way to extend your marketing reach. Choose wisely and you can get guest bookings for free! Let’s take http://www.housetrip.com/ for example. Their website confirms: ‘It’s completely free to list your home on our site, that’s it – no hidden extra costs’. Plus they actively encourage their ‘hosts’ to send plenty of photographs of the property and its interior. The more pictures used, the more likely you are to get bookings, they say.
When you list with them, you set the rate you want – the rate you are happy with. Housetrip then display your property on their website at an advertised rate that includes their mark-up. Hosts pay nothing while their guests pay the mark up in Housetrip’s rates.
Guests pay their money directly to Housetrip who pay their hosts after the guests have arrived.
This can be a good arrangement with no charge for listing or setting up, no risk and wide exposure for the host’s property. The host gets the rate they have agreed. So, a source of free reservations. As part of your marketing mix, this could be a good choice.
The niggle here is that if guests are willing to pay your rates plus a mark-up that could be as high as 20%, are your rates too low?
If using a free site, take a careful look at the way it works, who pays, how much and what control you as owner have over the choice of guests. As we said, free sites can play a very welcome and useful part in your marketing mix.
Controversy over Book Now button
To ensure preferential exposure on a listing site, owners are often urged to agree to a ‘Book Now’ button. This facility streamlines the booking process for guests, bypassing the host and going straight to the listing site for confirmation. Which mean that the host does not get the opportunity to vet or even communicate with potential guests before their visit. Booking is taken out of their hands by a third party – the listing site. Many owners do not appreciate this loss of independence.