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Enabling online bookings on every HomeAway listing

 



Brian Sharples
CEO of HomeAway

In February 2015, HomeAway celebrates its 10th anniversary as a company. Thanks to you, the HomeAway vacation rental marketplace has become the world’s largest with more than one million listings. In 2014, we will host more than 800 million website visits and 7 billion page views. We remain totally committed to helping each visitor book the perfect vacation home with you, our valued owners and managers.

 

As we look forward to the next two years, our #1 priority is to enable the vast majority of listings on our sites with the online booking option. By “online booking option”, we mean a listing that has 1) an accurate calendar and rates table, 2) a booking-request button, and 3) a commitment to accepting (or rejecting) reservation requests within 24 hours. On these listings, travelers will know that dates and rates reflect reality, and that they can book their preferred property within a day. If the vast majority of listings achieve this, then the traveler experience on HomeAway will compare favorably with the best travel sites on the internet.


What does this mean for how owners and managers will interact with guests?

Think of an online booking as a reservation request, with a commitment to pay, that can be confirmed with a single click. Travelers who use the booking-request button enjoy the speed and convenience of a streamlined reservation process. This does not mean that inquiries are going away. It also does not mean that you and the traveler are required to transact on our website. Travelers may still send inquiries, as they do now. You will still have the option to communicate, book, and pay outside of our system, as you do today. Online booking is simply an additional option, alongside inquiries, that allows travelers to expedite reservation requests.


Will credit card acceptance be required for online booking? Will other forms of payment be allowed?

For those of you still waiting to adopt online booking, know that it will become more flexible than it is today. By mid-2015, accepting credit cards will not be a requirement for online booking. We plan to expand online booking to work with payments that occur outside of HomeAway websites. This means you will have the option to confirm a booking request online and accept payment offline or using another website (e.g., by check, bank transfer, or your own payment processor). Think of this as the “book now, pay after” option. We will continue to encourage and reward credit card acceptance as the fastest and safest payment method, but you will be able to adopt online booking without it. Most travelers strongly prefer that listings accept both credit cards and offline payments, and we recommend doing both to maximize bookings.


What does online booking cost?

Online booking is a free feature of subscription listings. HomeAway does not and will not impose an incremental commission for online bookings on top of a subscription. Alternatively, for non-subscription listings using the Pay-per-booking option, the commission is 10%, and this includes online booking. Some have worried that we are moving toward a commission-only model, but that is not the case. We remain 100% committed to the commission-free subscription model. If you process payments via credit card, you do incur fees for that. But credit card acceptance will not be required for online booking, and any credit card fees will be determined by your payments provider (e.g., Yapstone).


Can I communicate with travelers before confirming online booking requests?

A final thing to keep in mind, if you’re still waiting to sign-up, is that you have up to 24 hours to accept or decline booking requests. This means you have 24 hours to communicate, vet travelers, and commit one way or the other. In order to ensure great traveler experience, we will begin tracking the percentage of requests that are accepted and rejected, and listings will lose the booking-request button if they don’t maintain a good track record of accepting requests for available dates. Know that we won’t penalize you for turning away travelers that are a bad match for your property.


Why are we placing so much emphasis on online booking?

It’s because traveler expectations have changed, and we need to change with them. Today’s web shopper expects to find the option to immediately buy or book on every site. Yet fewer than half of vacation rentals have online booking today. Listings that lack online booking burden travelers with an average of 7+ inquiries and 9+ days of exchanges per successful reservation. This results in two-thirds of travelers experiencing problems, including inaccurate calendars and rates, slow or no response from owners and managers, and ambiguity about the booking and payment process. When travelers experience these problems, they often abandon vacation rentals altogether. We need to change this.

When asked about seeing the option for online booking, 92% of vacation rental travelers say that they want it. Of this group, 29% of say they would seek to use the online booking option; 63% said they would inquire first, but only on listings that had it available. Over time, our sites and your listings could lose a meaningful share of 92% of internet vacation rental travelers, if we don’t together adapt to meet their needs.


Why adopt online booking now?

There are many advantages to adopting online booking sooner rather than later. The biggest is incremental bookings: listings with online booking today generate 100% more in bookings than listings without it, on average. Another is search position, because online booking is a significant component of your listing quality score. A third advantage is that travelers generally pay full price, without haggling, on online booking reservations. Finally, subscriptions with online booking will become eligible to opt-in to distribution on third-party sites like Expedia, when we make this functionality available.

Over the next two years, our policies and incentives will increasingly encourage adoption of online booking. Our request of you is simple: add the booking-request option to your listing, maintain an accurate calendar and rates, and accept a high percentage of booking requests when you receive them. This listing feature is FREE for subscribers. You can continue communicating with travelers as before, so long as any booking requests receive a response within 24 hours. And travelers will continue to be able to inquire first, just as they always have.


Please join us in making the vacation rental booking experience the best on the web. If we do, more travelers than ever will find the perfect vacation home on our sites, and together we’ll generate many more bookings in the years to come."

- Brian Sharples