Are Guests Comfortable Booking Direct?

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I had a guest who had booked us through VRBO a few years ago, had a great time, left a great review. They then rebooked the same way 5 years later. It dinged my ego :confused: . I worried if they didn't trust us. Turns out they didn't realize they could have booked directly, or so they said. If true, shame on us.

At any rate, that made us ask the question, how comfortable are guests with booking directly from owners?

I ran a survey in 2 Facebook groups that I have access to - both physician groups familiar with vacation rentals, so a group biased towards renting vacation rentals. The survey was small for sure, 104 responses, but the results were interesting.

1. The first question asked how many people would book directly from the owner.
2. The second question asked how concerned they were about these 7 areas:
- Will someone be available to help me if problems arise?
- Will the property be as advertised
- Will I get scammed?
- Will I lose my money if I have to cancel?
- Will the property be properly cleaned?
- Will there be hidden charges after I book?
- Is the property safe?

I have uploaded the full document here (and added some slides below). Nothing earth-shattering for us in the Inner Circle but it is good to have some actual numbers to go along with our suspicions.

The top 2 common concerns that guests have with booking directly from the owner are .... (1) fear of losing money and (2) of being scammed.

Safety, hidden charge, proper cleaning, and if the property will be as advertised were of least concern, but still high with about 25% of participants being very concerned with these issues (as opposed to somewhat concerned or not very concerned).
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Hopefully, you will find the information useful as you try to book guests, directly or otherwise.
@[email protected] @Heather @Matt Landau
About author
Sherry
Sherry Woodhouse and her husband Darrell Looney bring over 20 years of experience running Mais Oui, their villa in Jamaica, remotely from their home in Illinois. As self-appointed ambassadors and advocates for preserving and embracing Jamaican culture, they set out to create a vacation experience that was deliberately different from the all-inclusive resorts. No one should come to Jamaica and leave believing that Jamaica is only about sun, sea, and sand or rum, rasta, and reggae. In the process, they created a limited-edition boutique villa with a strong focus on the guest experience and continuously tweak their product to keep raising the bar.

Comments

This is a really interesting post to me, and actually may be a great representation of what confuses me about how good hosts think about direct bookings. It just seems to me that if someone rebooks you through an OTA, and that they likely shopped around and clicked on multiple other listings that were competing for the same stay, and then after considering those options decided that your home should be where they spend their vacation that it’s a win worth celebrating vs a loss because of who transacted the payment. I dunno, it just seems like having people evaluate their options in a marketplace then choose you is something to be proud of regardless of if they want to book on an OTA or book direct because that means you’ve done a great job as a host.
 
Yes, ultimately a booking is a booking but I guess it depends on what you want for your business. My dream is for a business where 90% of my guests are past guests or their friends and family. For now, I get bookings from multiple sources; however, my best guests come from my website. They appreciate what we have created and they are more likely to be good to our staff.

For me, the study gave insight into guests’ minds and provides information that I can use to improve my relationship with guests as well as my strategy to get more guests, regardless of where they come from but directly from my website in particular. It amazes me how guests put blind faith in the OTAs as being safe havens etc. If only they knew about the millions of dollars Airbnb for example pays on PR, NDAs etc but yet still it enjoys the trust of the masses. Article here
 
It has been said that The first business of any business is gaining and keeping customers.

While this is of course true, there are a lot of varying steps that have to be completed in the process of gaining customers, and these vary from business to business.

When I think of that quote in the context of vacation rentals, it always changes to this:
The first business of any vacation rental is gaining and keeping guest's trust.

To me, all of the questions that were asked almost become irrelevant without the context of trust in a particular owner and their property (or manager and their properties) being established, and to what degree.

If a guest has stayed at a property and dealt with an owner/manager before, their trust level should be exceedingly high, so much so that it can practically be taken for granted and becomes irrelevant for our purposes.

So the question becomes; How skilled is the owner at developing confidence and trust on the part of the first-time guest?

In my market, I have to say that based on my own observations, the majority of time the answer to the above question is somewhere between 'not very good' and 'lousy'. Which is kind of a bad thing in so far as how it affects the general perception of us as an industry.

Thankfully, it also makes things a lot easier for those of us that are very good at engendering trust.

The other thing that I continually find fascinating is the guest's blind belief in vacation rental websites and that they somehow protect them or provide them with anything over booking directly with an owner.

I had occasion to educate a guest about this recently, and what is below is taken from my email conversation with them.

VRBO is a WEBSITE, run by tech billionaires who don’t care about anything except how much money they can make off of you and me. Go to a website like TrustPilot.com and read the reviews of VRBO, by both guests and owners.​
They are not a party to any bookings made through their site, and they don’t care and don’t get involved.​
They advertise that bookings on their site come with $1 Million dollars in liability insurance. This is nothing more than a meaningless offer that sounds good. That insurance only kicks in after the owner’s insurance has paid out, and I carry $3 Million dollars on each of my properties. Any responsible owner will. VRBO’s marketing is mostly just fluff to fool guests.​
If you call them with a complaint about a property, they will tell you to go on the site and find another one! They don’t guarantee your stay, they don’t offer you any protection and they have nothing to do with you or me or my business, other than to introduce us.​
Your rental is governed by one thing only: The rental agreement and Terms and Conditions that you agree to in your booking with me. Everything else is meaningless and has no legal standing. That’s the truth. And that’s why we have all of our guests complete our own booking form and agree to our Terms and Conditions, no matter where they first find us. Any professional will. You don’t rely on third party advertisers to regulate your business operations.​
The only reason they try to convince guests like you that they are involved in the booking transaction is to justify the $399 traveler "service fee" they charged you because you booked with us through them. In reality, all they do is make money off of the vacation rental industry for advertising. If you have a problem and call them up, they’ll just tell you to call your credit card company. You have the very same protections from your credit card company when you book directly with us. So calling VRBO would have done nothing for you.​
Don’t believe me? Check out THEIR Terms and Conditions at this link here: https://www.vrbo.com/legal/terms-and-conditions
Here’s the first clause, for your convenience:​

1. The Site is a Venue and We are Not a Party to any Rental Agreement or other Transaction Between Users of the Site.​

We urge all users to be responsible about their use of this Site and any transaction entered into as a result of either listing a property or renting a property. We do not own or manage, nor can we contract for, any vacation rental property listed on a Site.​
Go ahead. Check the link and read the rest of the info if you want.​
The important point is that when you rent a vacation rental you are always dealing with the owner or manager, and you need to understand that. A third party website has no legal standing to help either you or me in any circumstance.​

In my experience, most guests are completely shocked to learn the truth about how these sites work, and how much they are paying for little more than the privilege of shopping through their listings.

Education is key, not only to empowering guests, but also in gaining their trust.

Amongst a lot of other things owners can do independently to earn guest's trust (that list is a whole other post, for another time), helping them to understand the truth about OTAs accomplishes two things at the same time;
1) break the stranglehold of blind faith they have in these websites, which is based only on distorted marketing messages put out by the OTAs, and
2) build confidence and faith in the helpful person who armed them with knowledge about the truth of the listing site claims, and the high charges they levy on guests who use them.
 
Thanks for sharing this report! I will tweak my listings and be sure and answer some of the worries people have. I do believe more people are catching on to the book direct concept, especially once they have stayed somewhere and want to return. 58.8% of my 4th quarter reservations were from repeat guests.
 
Thanks for sharing! I never had any data, but I suspected that the fear of being scammed would be a top concern with booking directly.

I agree with ToonTownRob ToonTownRob that it’s about earning and maintaining trust. Hopefully we do that with every guest we host, but how do we earn trust with guests who have never stayed with us and are browsing our direct booking sites for the first time?

One way is with a tool like Revyoos (cc: @Christophe ) which aggregates reviews from OTAs and allows you to display them on your website. One real benefit of OTAs is that the reviews can (mostly) be trusted to come from real past guests, and are more difficult to fake. Displaying OTA reviews on your own website instantly boosts credibility and makes guests more comfortable booking directly.

Building up reviews on a Google My Business page is another way of gaining credibility online apart from OTAs.
 
ToonTownRob ToonTownRob, you are right on about trust. From the comments, that theme resonated loud and clear. What also also clear is the blind faith in the OTAs especially since they have the power to give them money back. Those points you made about the OTAs are spot on.

SScurlock SScurlock yep, that’s the idea. How can we made sure we do all we can to build trust
 
BRAVO to Sherry Sherry for this amazing resource!

1) As a person in the know, I might book on AirBNB because their insane "extenuating circumstances" policy amounts to free trip insurance, that kicks in when real trip insurance would not cover. It's very easy to get out of your trip and get you money back with AirBNB. I would consider whether their fee was appropriate for that protection for me. This policy is a very valuable hidden benefit of AirBNB. I find it shocking that AirBNB doesn't tout their extenuating circumstances policy as the free trip insurance it ends up being. If your mothers aunt dies, and the funeral is in two weeks from now, so you want to stay at home to get ready for that, you will get your money back! If the freeway 4 hours from your destination has a detour (not closed-detour) you can get your money back.

2) I find it interesting that respondents assume they have all sorts of protections through VRBO when they have almost none. They will have the exact same interaction with the "crazy owner" as if they booked direct. I think the only thing VRBO offers is protection that the property "exists". The other perceived benefits listed by respondents are false, and I think its interesting that VRBO has managed to give a vibe of doing more than they do. I think its very hard for us to change this perception, and that would be the task at hand, if we wanted people to be more comfortable bypassing VRBO for the first stay.
 
Thank you for putting together a very useful, thought provoking article. The OTAs have their usefulness for marketing and it is on vacation rental owners/managers to then convert the guest to book direct for repeat stays. As you have discovered, that is not easy and some guests prefer to use the platforms. I price accordingly: I always want the best pricing on my website for book direct guests AND I always want to cover the commission fees on bookings coming from OTAs. As your survey data shows, tackling this issue is a marathon, not a sprint, for owners AND the communication power of the giant tech platforms is massive.
 

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