Recently, we looked at how HomeAway is transitioning to a booking platform vs. an advertising platform. Transitioning from a pay-to-play model to a pay-per-booking model is causing major headaches for some vacation rental homeowners.
Hosts listed on HomeAway received an email including this paragraph regarding 24-hour inquiry response changes:
Auto-declines hidden from search results: If a booking request for one of your properties is auto-declined because a traveler has not received a response in 24 hours, we may proactively hide the property from search results to help preserve your search ranking. You can easily un-hide the property when you are available again.
What exactly does HomeAway’s auto-decline change mean for homeowners?
This change has been a hot topic in HomeAway forums, and parsing exactly what it means has been challenging. Essentially this change means that when a guest inquires about a booking and a homeowner does not respond within 24 hours, their booking calendar will automatically be blocked off. At first, this may not seem like a big deal.
However, if a host receives a “Book It Now” (BIN) inquiry and does not respond within 24 hours, the inquiry is declined and their property could be hidden from search results altogether. Without views there won’t be bookings, leaving hosts feeling as though they are being penalized for poor customer service.
Note: Be aware that having a “Book It Now” toggle will not be an option much longer. Soon it will likely be mandatory. Airbnb is moving in this direction as well.
HomeAway’s reasoning behind this change this is to preserve homeowners Best Match ranking by not directing inquiries to you until you are “available”. Since declining “Book It Now” inquiries can cause your rankings to fall in Best Match search results, HomeAway pulling your listing can prevent your ranking plummeting. In practice, you could be missing out on other bookings and revenue.
Though owners may balk at the new changes, HomeAway’s stated purpose is to address hosts that had their search result in Best Match drop following automatically declined “Book It Now” inquiries. While avoiding that outcome for hosts is HomeAway’s stated purpose, it seems as though the true aim is to improve the guest experience.
As part of the transition to a booking platform, guests are front and center since they drive revenue for HomeAway instead of advertising revenue from hosts listing on HomeAway.
What leads to poor response times?
You might be reading this as a self-managed vacation rental homeowner, thinking that this could never happen to you. You are on top of your listings and you’ve always responded to an inquiry within one day. When you’re on vacation, you have a friend manage your inquiries or set yourself to unavailable voluntarily.
But what if you have a full-time job? What if you just get too busy with your day-to-day life? What if the grind of responding to guests becomes too much? What if a guest lives in a different time zone? What if a guest sends their request late at night after you’ve gone to bed?
Currently, HomeAway claims there’s logic behind their system. It will “recognize the difference between it being your first time [not responding], or once in 20 requests, versus someone who has 5 in a row,” according to Shawn Cordes from HomeAway.
However, HomeAway has implemented almost constant changes before and after their Expedia acquisition, leaving some homeowners feeling uneasy about their vacation rentals future. If an emergency comes up will they find their properties invisible when they come back?
Could HomeAway’s changes impact the guest screening process?
Some homeowners spend time verifying guest identities in longer exchanges that could put their response to the guest inquiry well outside of the 24-hour window.
HomeAway is trying to offset the need for homeowners to extensively message guests before allowing them to book. There will be more information about each traveler in the header of the inquiry or booking requests. Each inquiry will arrive with more verified information so homeowners can feel more comfortable.
Potential guests now have to communicate through the HomeAway platform. Yet, the form guests submit in the initial inquiry has been shortened to 500 characters. In addition, HomeAway has limited phone screening options so owners are not allowed to screen guests pre-booking via phone anymore. Now more than ever there needs to be more opportunity to discuss, not less.
Could a professional property vacation rental manager be a solution?
If you cannot commit to providing an inquiry acceptance within 24 hours, a property manager could be a great solution. A full-service vacation rental property manager can screen guests and answer inquiries in 24 hours or less.
Factors to consider:
- Make sure your property manager has a solution to respond to guest inquiries within 24 hours
- Check what guest screening measures are in place
- If your listing is posted on multiple sites (which it should be), how will your availability calendar stay up to date
If you have a property manager, they may be executing enough to keep your listing active on HomeAway but are they at the top of the curve? 32% of vacation rental guests receive a response within 2 hours according to Phocuswright’s A Market Transformed: Private Accommodation in the U.S..
A 24-hour response is the bare minimum to maximize bookings. According to Phocuswright, 22% of guests request to book 2+ properties when finding the perfect vacation rental. While they are shopping, it makes a huge difference if they receive a response quickly.
At TurnKey, we provide a quality response within 1 hour. That speed has led us to be the highest converting property manager on HomeAway in 2015 and 2016.
A fast inquiry approval does not mean you need skip proper guest screening. TurnKey partners with IDology to provide bank-level ID verification to prevent fraud and reduce the risk of damage. Homeowners that partner with TurnKey can rest assured that every time their home is rented, it will be by a responsible adult that has had their identity verified.
Fast inquiry responses which maximize bookings and contribute favorably to Best Match results are paramount when choosing a property manager as more vacation rental sites like HomeAway and Airbnb will move toward these requirements to cater to guests. But when choosing make sure there is a solution in place to screen guests effectively.
To learn more about recent HomeAway changes: What the New HomeAway Shift Means for Short Term Rental Hosts