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HomeAway Insights - News from the Birdhouse
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I’ve blogged previously about the rise of phishing in the vacation rental industry (What is Phishing? And Why It's Important to You...).  The situation hasn’t gotten better: bad guys continue to target our customers and too often successfully access our owner’s personal email accounts and use them to steal from your guests.  Phishing remains a serious problem on the internet in general and is a particular threat to vacation rental owners who do not educate themselves on how to securely protect their email accounts.

 

We at HomeAway work hard to create a secure marketplace for the vacation rental business we participate in and love.  After listening to much feedback on the subject from you, our customers, HomeAway is proud to introduce a more secure way for you to communicate with travelers who inquire on HomeAway.com and VRBO.com about your vacation rental properties. 

 

HomeAway has developed an email exchange process that displays an anonymous view of your email address to the traveler and the inquiring traveler’s email address to you.  The message is privatized and will be addressed from an email alias ending in “@messages.HomeAway.com.” You can continue to reply to inquiries through your email account, or if you wish, you can reply through the owner dashboard, where you can always view the entire conversation history for each guest.  Once in the owner dashboard, you can view the traveler’s email address. 

 

All inquiries will be sent through HomeAway’s system to help protect your email account from identity theft (phishing) and to keep someone who has successfully phished your email account from seeing the traveler’s email address and trying to communicate with them as you.  After talking with many owners, we believe this will have a minimal impact on the way you conduct business as it is also a practice you are likely familiar with through other websites such as LinkedIn or Etsy.  Remember, at any time, you can access the traveler’s email address within your dashboard.  You also can choose to conduct the conversation within your personal email inbox once you receive the inquiry through your dashboard. But keep in mind, if you copy and paste the email address into a new email using your email provider, any bad guy who has phished your account can see it, too. 

 

Please note that we do not recommend giving travelers your email address, as the conversation will no longer be protected.

 

In addition to providing an extra level of security to your traveler interactions, this new feature enables you to keep your traveler communications in the same location as your reservation tools, calendar, rates, quotes and payment requests.  And, all of your correspondence is also stored within your dashboard for convenient access to your conversations with travelers.

 

We understand that the new process may take a period of adjustment before we are all used to it. However, security is paramount in this business and the protection of potential travelers and the education of our owners as to how bad people can hurt good people like you is an extremely high priority for HomeAway.  Thank you to all of our customers who provided us with the input to develop the service that we hope will help you and HomeAway provide the best and most professional experience in the industry to travelers.  

 

If you have additional questions on this new feature and would like to familiarize yourself on communication best practices, please visit the HomeAway Security Center: http://www.homeaway.com/info/security?Owners/Owner-Best-Practices.

 

Best,

Carl Shepherd

Co-founder and Chief Strategy and Development Officer

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Yesterday, we announced an agreement for HomeAway’s 19th acquisition, proudly welcoming travelmob™, a new company serving Asian travelers and property owners/managers, to our company.  (I know what you’re thinking; the “t” is intentionally lower case, and not the result of a typo.) Founded by Turochas (“T”) Fuad and Prashant Kirtane (“PK”) in 2011, travelmob has grown to over 14,000 listings and supports transactions in 13 currencies.  And it is published in 8 languages:  Bahasa, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Thai, Vietnamese and English. All that in just a little over a year--and they’re just getting started. 

blog-announcement-3[5].png

Like so many entrepreneurs before them—like Hunter Melville and Dave Bollinger at CyberRentals, or Dave and Lynn Clouse at VRBO—T and PK decided to start a company focused on making it easier for travelers, to find, book, and enjoy unique lodging alternatives to hotels because they personally love traveling this way.  They wanted to bring this industry to Asia, where they live and have families.  It’s this passion for the region, the industry and their technology and business acumen that attracted HomeAway to travelmob. 

travelmob is focused on Asia, a region of the world where opportunity is often characterized as limitless, but where in fact accommodations and lodging options like “traditional” vacation rentals—i.e., dedicated second homes offered by their owners through either property managers or directly by owner—are one of the newer accommodation options sought after and available to Asian travelers. 

The concept of vacation rentals as those of us in the US and Europe think of them—dedicated second homes, owned by families for their personal use as well as rental to others—is relatively new in Asia.  Unlike the US and EU, where the industry is, approximately 60 to 100-years-old, the industry in Asia is being formed and developed in the 21st century as more than 100 million Asians enter the middle class each year.  Travel and second home ownership are only two of the things these newly minted consumers will want to experience, and economists believe there is growing demand for both.  While in the past Europeans and Australians have shown significant interest for second homes in Southeast Asia, we are now increasingly seeing the purchasers of villas, condos and resort properties are from Asia.

Travel  is growing fast—and travelmob’s goal is to find and offer to travelers the inventory Asian’s want. Unlike the other HomeAway websites you’re familiar with, travelmob’s listings fall across a wider spectrum— ranging from luxury villas, urban apartments, houseboats to private rooms in guest houses, and even including shared spaces in primary homes.  This strategy works well in Asia, but that does not mean you should expect to see shared spaces and individual private rooms on your favorite HomeAway website although we already offer, through a pre-existing partnership with travelmob, a growing number of traditional vacation homes—about 3,000 today—that they share with us.    

So if you’re traveling to Asia, we hope you and your friends and family can discover the vast beauty of the Asia Pacific region, where you can stay in a guest house in India, a Ryokan in Japan, or even a downtown apartment in Jakarta, and fully embrace the local experience that’s found with HomeAway.

34

Dear VRBO Customers,

 

As any longtime vacation rental owner knows, VRBO.com pioneered leveled pricing.  On VRBO.com, the combination of the purchase of additional photographs—up to 16—and your number of years as an advertiser, determined the sort order. Each level was based upon the number of photographs, and gave our members more control over the listing order.

 

However, in study after study of travelers, it became clear that photographs were critical to people seeking that perfect vacation experience.  By charging for photographs, we inadvertently short-changed travelers on what they wanted most.  Photos (and the more the better) enable your guests to better envision the house and imagine themselves on the deck, in the beautiful kitchen, or watching an amazing sunset. More photos help travelers choose one property over another and you better showcase your property.

 

So we decided to make a change.  Starting on Thursday (January 5) search ranking on VRBO.com is no longer based upon the number of photographs you buy.  All listings will include:

 

  • 16 photos, including a thumbnail
  • a Google Map within your listing showcasing the location of your property and proximity to local attractions
  • the option for a video tour providing your potential guests with the best possible understanding of the property

 

Instead of photos, search ranking is now influenced by the subscription level you choose along with the length of time you have been a VRBO.com customer. You don’t have to do anything to take advantage of subscription levels immediately, because your listing is automatically matched to the level of the ranking you had under the previous system.  For example, if you previously purchased the 16 photo-subscription you are now in the top level, just as before. Also like before, within each subscription level, the length of time you’ve listed on VRBO.com impacts your search ranking.

 

Sixteen photos are included in each subscription, but we are slightly changing the base pricing:  the VRBO Classic subscription rises from $299 to $349. Each additional level costs $29.99, which is from the same as 2011 prices for additional photographs. You are now able to choose the VRBO.com subscription level that best meets your unique requirements to deliver the number of inquiries and bookings you need. You shouldn’t have to think twice about which pictures you put on your listing.  Subscription levels allow you to post them all, making the listing better and providing potential guests the best info to make a decision. We believe this change from photos to subscription levels will make VRBO.com an even better site for travelers and for you. 

 

Since the changes don’t go into effect until January 5, you will need to wait until 8:00 AM on that day to upload your additional photos and take advantage of these included features. If you upload photos before then , you will be charged for them and automatically upgraded into the corresponding subscription level on the 5th.

 

Thank you for your business and your continued support of VRBO.com and HomeAway. 

 

Sincerely,

Carl Shepherd

Co-founder and Chief Strategy and Development Officer

0

Phishing is a way criminals attempt to acquire your personal information such as usernames, passwords, bank accounts and credit card details. phishing.jpgCriminals do this by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication to which you respond. The simplest form of this is when the crook creates an email that has the exact look of an email from a company you trust, but, when you click on it, you go to a website that is not hosted by the company, but instead, is a phony website designed to get you to sign in using your username and password from the trusted site. HomeAway members make an attractive target for “phishers” because the average transaction value for a stay at a vacation rental is significant. A crook with access to a HomeAway member’s email account username and password is a recipe for disaster.

 

HomeAway has invested in trust & security technology, people and processes to help protect consumers against criminal activity on our sites. We cannot disclose the details but we are very successful in identifying fraudulent listings; in Q1 2011, less than 0.01% of our worldwide listings were both fake and cost a traveler any losses. It is our responsibility to keep fictitious listings off our site so we offer both the free basic rental guarantee and the purchasable Carefree Rental Guarantee to protect travelers from outright Internet fraud we could have prevented.

 

But HomeAway cannot prevent criminals from phishing your personal email account because it doesn’t occur on our site. Therefore, the traveler loss that arises from an owner giving his email password to a criminal is the owner’s responsibility. Your house is real and you are in the business of renting it. When the criminal uses technology to step between you and your customer, they are effectively standing at your virtual cash register while you are out of the store.

 

HomeAway has made it difficult to phish our accounts, but crooks are clever, which is why we continually improve our own security processes. But there is no technology available to us that will keep you from giving a phisher the username and password to your personal or business email account.

 

Like all Internet companies, HomeAway needs you, the advertisers, to do your part to make our websites and this industry safer for all travelers, who are your potential guests.

 

If a phisher can get your username and password for the email account you use to communicate with travelers, they can use this information to steal from travelers.

 

Two Victims

 

Phishing results in two victims. The traveler loses money and often their vacation as well. At the same time, the owner/advertiser has had his online identity stolen, and that thief has not only access to his customers, but to all the information he keeps in his email account.

 

Because the owner is a victim, too, it’s perhaps understandable that some owners do not believe they bear responsibility when their email account has been used to steal from a traveler.

 

In our view, it is the owner’s responsibility to provide restitution when his email password has been phished. After all, the email account was used to steal from a traveler who responded to an email from your email account and but for the criminal getting access to your email account the traveler would not have experienced any loss.

 

HomeAway’s guarantees do not apply to traveler losses due to the theft of your identity via phishing. We have no way to stop your email account from being phished. Only you can do that.

 

Protect Yourself from Phishing:

 

  1. Never share your email account password to anyone.
  2. Only enter your email username and password after verifying that you are on the website of your email provider. Check the URL. If you want to respond to a request that came via email, open a new browser window and go to your email provider’s website to sign in. 
  3. Only change email information after initiating a session with your email provider. 

    

Help Protect Travelers:

 

  1. Do not ask a traveler to wire money via Western Union or another third-party service.
  2. Sign up for a merchant account and accept credit cards. HomeAway offers one through Reservation Manager, but if doesn’t meet your needs; use one of your choice.
  3. Respond to telephone calls promptly. Travelers often want to speak to you before they pay; the call could be your first notification that you’ve been phished, and crooks have better odds when they can get to the traveler first.

    

HomeAway’s Policy Regarding Phishing

 

While HomeAway cannot prevent a phisher from tricking you into giving up your username and password to your personal email or HomeAway account, we will continue to do all we can to insure a fair and trusted marketplace.  It may sound harsh, but listings from owners who ignore their role in maintaining a marketplace that is safe for travelers are not welcome on our websites.

 

When we have reason to be concerned your email account may have been phished, we try to move quickly to limit the possibility that travelers are harmed; we need for you to move quickly, as well. This is how the process works:

 

  1. When we receive information indicating either your HomeAway or personal email account has been compromised, all of your listings will be suspended. This is to keep unsuspecting new travelers from falling victim to the thief.
  2. We will work with you to verify which of your accounts has been compromised. Sometimes the information we have received from a traveler is wrong; in that case, the listings will be reinstated as quickly as possible.
  3. Once we’ve verified your email address has been phished, we will notify every traveler who has inquired on your property so they can avoid sending money to the thief.
  4. If a traveler has paid a thief using the email address you placed on file with HomeAway before receiving a warning notification from HomeAway, it will be your responsibility to either reimburse that traveler for verified losses, or to provide some sort of in-kind value (a free stay at another time, for example) to the traveler.
  5. If you choose not to work with or provide restitution to the traveler, then your listings are at risk of being removed from or not reinstated on HomeAway websites.  This is a determination we make in our sole discretion on a case-by-case basis in order to make our websites and this industry safer for all travelers.

 

Warm Regards,

 

Carl Shepherd

Co-Founder and Chief Strategy and Development Officer

 

** UPDATE **

 

The TODAY show   recently highlighted a case in which  some travelers experienced fraud in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.  Luckily their story had a happy ending, but we wanted to share it with you as a reminder to always protect yourself online.  When booking a vacation rental, always remember do the following:

  • Pay with ReservationManager from HomeAway, whenever possible
  • Pay by credit card, check or bank transfer, and never by cash or wire transfer
  • Call before you pay - After you send an inquiry, call the homeowner or property manager via the phone number on the listing to confirm they've received your reservation request

Also, we wanted to update you that as of now, the HomeAway Carefree Rental Guarantee now covers phishing incidents.  For more information, visit http://guarantee.homeaway.com

 

 

0

Recently, we’ve seen several threads on Community in which members have expressed their dismay over the fact that HomeAway permits property managers to advertise on VRBO.com.

 

I’m Carl Shepherd, the co-founder of HomeAway.  Since the day HomeAway was founded in February 2005, our team has been focused on making owners of vacation rental properties more successful.  Some of our owners want to rent only a few weeks per year while others keep their properties available full time.  Some want to rent only for seven day periods; others rent by the night.  Each has their own definition of success.

 

But one thing is consistent: every vacation rental has an owner and ultimately, we are in the business of serving owners. 

 

Many of our owners choose to turn all or some of the management duties over to a professional manager.  To us it is only logical:  if an owner has chosen a professional manager, we need to be committed to doing what we can to make the professional property manager more successful, too.

 

From our early days we have heard some owners say they view professional managers as competition, and we’ve heard professional managers say they feel the same way.  While there is some truth to that (after all, all owners are seeking to have their property booked sufficiently to meet their personal goals), we believe that our industry is made up of professionals and owner managed properties, and the best way to serve the industry is for HomeAway to help grow the number of vacationers who choose to stay in a vacation rental over a hotel.

 

We’ve done a tremendous amount of research on travelers. The number one thing travelers indicate they want is selection.  They want a website that provides a deep and broad array of vacation rental listing options, and when they know they have enough selection to make an informed choice, they inquire.  And they book.

 

Selection: that is what a combination of owner and property management listings on VRBO.com provides.  An owner may manage the home himself, or she may choose a manager to do it for her.  But in the end, every home on VRBO.com has an owner. 

 

We hear many of you suggesting that on the site we provide travelers with the ability to easily distinguish between (or search by) properties managed by owner, versus properties managed by property manager.  Current research tells us that travelers are focused on finding the home that meets their needs, and rarely express a preference for whether the home is owner or professionally managed when they start looking for that perfect vacation home. For those of you who have made that suggestion, I want you to know we’re listening, and always focused on site enhancements that help travelers find what they want.

 

Thank you to everyone who has expressed a point of view on this subject. Your feedback is invaluable to us, and we always appreciate hearing from you.

 

Warm Regards,

 

Carl Shepherd

Co-Founder and Chief Strategy and Development Officer

 

 

To continue the discussion, start a conversation here, or visit one of these threads:

 

- Realtors and Management Groups Can't Compete with Owners

- Fight Back! Competing with Realtors on HomeAway and VRBO

- Really Upset about Rental Agencies on VRBO