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HomeAway Insights - News from the Birdhouse
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HomeAway is very excited to announce this morning that we have acquired mobile hospitality app developer Glad to Have You.  The core of their solution is a mobile app that helps vacation rental guests have a great stay by providing them access to useful information about the property they rented and the destination they are visiting. Check out this video for a quick overview. 

 

HomeAway and Glad to Have You have had a relationship on the property manager front for some time and many of you property managers reading this have likely used their GladProfessional Guest Management system before.  We’re going to continue to enhance and invest in this great product for property managers, and now help expand vacation rental owners’ use of the system.

 

In the last few months, Glad to Have You launched a new product: GladOwners, targeted at the owner who is managing their own property.  And we’re excited to announce that today; HomeAway customers who are vacation rental owners have access to the service free of charge.

 

GladOwners and GladProfessional both provide guests a mobile app to access information about their stay and the home they’ve rented.  Once an owner/manager books a guest to stay in a property, the guest can download the app to get:

 

  • Directions to the property
  • Check-in/check-out procedures
  • Door lock codes 
  • WiFi network information and passwords
  • Smoking/pet policies
  • Local restaurant recommendations, activities, points of interest
  • How-to guides for the home’s tech services (TV, computer, alarm system, etc.)
  • And much, much more

 

The Glad to Have You app also allow guests to send immediate service and maintenance requests to the owner or manager.  Post-stay, guests cab leave a review of the property as well as photos from their visit in the property’s Digital Guestbook.

 

The property manager-specific app, GladProfessional, enables property managers to deliver a complete mobile hospitality experience across hundreds of properties and thousands of bookings each year. GladProfessional also provides a version of the mobile app that can be branded with the managers’ company logo. Managers have access to a very detailed dashboard for all of their properties – including the guest contact information, check-in/out times and correspondence history.  The information is then stored within their system to make it easy to continue to reach out to guests both during and after their stay.

 

The enhanced features and the ability to provide unique service to guests on such a large scale makes GladProfessional very valuable to a manager who can reduce their costs of managing hundreds of bookings, and more than 350 managers are already seeing a great ROI on their investment which can start at only a few hundred dollars per month depending on how many listings managed in his/her inventory. 

 

HomeAway will continue the high standards of service that have made GladProfessional a hit, and we will be investing in the team and the product to make it even better.  Managers who are interested in learning more about GladProfessional can do so here or call 1-855-Ask-Glad.

 

If you are an existing customer, check out this FAQ: http://www.gladtohaveyou.com/homeaway-and-glad-to-have-you-acquisition-faq/

 

GladOwners is much simpler than GladProfessional and is really optimized for less than 10 properties. The app does not have the same level of custom branding or as extensive messaging and analytics capabilities, but is an excellent tool for the owner who is looking to deliver a really professional experience or just making their vacation rental experience stand out.

 

For owners listing on HomeAway.com and VRBO.com in the U.S., use of the app is completely free.  This is a great benefit for HomeAway customers, considering the price of GladOwners is $99.99/year (or $9.99/month).

 

HomeAway customers can visit http://www.gladtohaveyou.com/welcome-homeaway-owners/ to learn more about the full capabilities of Glad to Have You, receive a free demo and sign up!

 

I’ve been using Glad to Have You Owners at my vacation rental. My guests love it because it makes the experience of staying in my house easy and seamless. And I love it because it reduces the amount of work I have to do to deliver an awesome experience by automatically sending welcome, check-in and check-out communications and by being the first place my travelers turn to with a question:

 

”Where is the key to the pool cover?” or

“What is the best place for sushi nearby?”

 

While I have all this information in the “black binder” I keep in my home as an information resource, sometimes people don’t find it–and everyone always has their mobile phone with them all the time, no matter where they go.

 

There were three big surprises for me. The first surprise was that multiple guests download and interact with the app. In my property, which sleeps 8 guests, 4-5 of my guests for each stay downloaded and used it. The second big surprise was how often the guests were using the app. Each one said they checked it a few times a day. Granted, the door and WiFi codes were in the app, but this made me confident that the information was very useful. And when I spoke to my guests, they all loved the convenience of the app.  They loved the extra touches of hospitality that the app provided, like the excellent winery recommendations as well as my selections for the best nearby walks and kid friendly activities.

 

And I am not alone in loving GladOwner: The property managers we’ve been talking to love the product. And if you are an owner, check out out what vacation rental owner and design professional Tyann Marcink said in her review of the app.  

 

We are very excited about Glad to Have You: we believe it is going to revolutionize the guest experience. But don’t take our word for it – check it out.

 

Warmest regards,

Tom Hale, HomeAway Chief Product Officer

4

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

2

Phighting Phishing

Posted by thale Apr 25, 2012

The phishing storm is brewing

 

The vacation rental industry gathered in Austin, Texas last weekend for the HomeAway Summit. Owners, Property Managers, HomeAway staff, and HomeAway partners discussed the state of the vacation rental industry, saw old friends and made new ones, and compared notes.

 

But this year, a new word entered the conversations in the halls, over drinks, and in the content of the Summit: phishing.  Phishing, loosely defined, is the attempt by criminals to steal your online identity, most frequently via accessing your email account. While our industry continues to thrive, the threat of hackers gaining access to owners’ or property managers’ email accounts continues. If we do not pull together to fight this threat, it will affect the way travelers feel about the vacation rental industry, and ultimately, about booking your property. A storm is brewing.

 

For some, the storm has already come – just ask anyone who has had their email password phished. Scammers have intercepted inquiries, and ruined vacations by stealing money from trusting vacation rental travelers.  Owners and property managers have had to scramble to re-secure their email accounts and protect their reputations. And the reputation of the vacation rental industry is in question.

 

For most, the HomeAway Summit marked the first time that they ever heard of phishing, but they understood how both owners and travelers are at risk because of our industry’s reliance on trusted communications via email. (If you are not familiar with phishing, click here for an overview of how it happens, or read Carl Shepherd’s post on phishing.

 

Today, losses due to phishing are small: in Q1 2012, phishing scams affected less than 0.1% of travelers who found a vacation rental via a HomeAway website. 

 

But even one ruined vacation or theft of an owner or property manager’s identity is totally unacceptable. Everyone in the vacation rental industry – from owners to property managers to HomeAway – has a role to play in stopping phishing scams.  While phishing may be a relatively small problem in absolute numbers, recent activity tells us that the phishers are getting smarter and more travelers, owners, and managers are being affected.  It is clear that scammers and criminals have figured out that the vacation rental industry is a great target.

 

Why? Because:

 

  • the standard practice in the vacation rental industry is for travelers to pay large amounts of money for vacation rentals, long before the stay and sight unseen;
  • not everyone understands or uses safe and secure payment methods;
  • many people conduct their business in email accounts from email providers that have been repeatedly compromised; and
  • cybercriminals are good at exploiting communities that rely on trust and a personal connection.

 

Phishing is not new; vacation rentals are not the first industry to be targeted by cybercriminals. Phishers have attacked many online industries ranging from online auctions, banking, social media, travel, e-commerce, even medical and government institutions, impacting major brands like eBay, PayPal, Barclays, Wells Fargo, Chase, and Bank of America.

 

Everyone of us in the vacation rental industry has a lot at stake, and we will all need to work together to stop phishers.  You can do your part by guarding your email password with the same care as you protect your social security number, your bank account, and your most valuable possessions.

 

Our vision on how to fight phishing

 

So what can HomeAway do to fight phishing?  To be clear, we’ve been fighting scammers ever since HomeAway was founded.  But as we look ahead, we have come to the conclusion that HomeAway needs to take a strong stance against phishing.

 

We believe that we can fight phishing by:

 

  • safeguarding the traveler’s money by providing safe payment methods protected by strong security, such as ReservationManager™;
  • protecting owner and traveler email addresses so that phishers cannot readily target those accounts;
  • continuing to provide secure authentication so that HomeAway can ensure that only legitimate owners, travelers, and managers can access information; and most critically
  • moving interactions between owners or managers and travelers into a secure environment where everyone can be confident they are talking to each other, not a crook.

 

Our vision is that we can create an environment where we can protect owners, property managers and travelers with something we are calling “HomeAway Secure Communication.”  This would be a new system, envisioned only in the last few months, and which is now in development. We plan to make it available starting in the second half of this year.

 

This proposed system is similar to sites you may use, like Facebook, LinkedIn and others, where authentication is required by both parties before they can connect. On these sites, once two parties have decided to “trust” each other, they can converse via email. But until trust is established, they CAN still communicate keeping key elements of their identity protected.

 

In our vision, owners and travelers would still receive notifications and messages from each other via email and text message, but they need to reply via a secure system that does not disclose their email address.  This way, HomeAway would be able to ensure the legitimacy of the owner or property manager and the traveler.

 

We’ve already started: we showed one early prototype of HomeAway Secure Communication at the Summit during the HomeAway Sneak Peeks session. We demonstrated how the system will enable owners and property managers to:

 

  • communicate safely with travelers and only reveal their email address when they choose to;
  • have a persistent record of the conversation, payments and other events that have occurred;
  • manage their conversations, bookings and payments via mobile app; and
  • reduce manual and repetitive work for responding to inquiries, sending information about properties and managing bookings and payment.

 

We recognize that many of our customers rely heavily on email to manage their interactions with travelers. We also know that a system like this will represent a significant change for many owners and managers.

 

But it is precisely because your email account is so critical to your business that it must be protected.

 

We are highly sensitive to the needs of our customers and are aware of the scope of change that this solution represents. We are also laser-focused on making this solution as convenient and beneficial as possible; but we are counting on you, our customers – property managers and owners – to help us design and implement a solution that improves the efficiency and effectiveness of responding to inquiries and managing communications with your customers – the travelers.

 

We’re doing something different than what we normally do. We are announcing our intentions and inviting our community and customers to participate in the process of creating a solution because we believe it is critical to your future success as an owner or property manager: if travelers don’t trust, they will not rent. 

 

And if you have ideas, you can give us your feedback directly by emailing us at secure-feedback@homeaway.com or via the feedback links on all of our sites. While we don’t respond to every email we get, we do READ every one. 

 

If you want to learn more about our vision for HomeAway Secure Communication, check our FAQ here.

 

And please sign up for the Secure Communication group on Community from HomeAway  to join the discussion – we’ll post updates there as we go forward.

 

What can I do now to fight phishing?

 

We all have to pull together to fight phishing. HomeAway has worked hard to educate the industry via emails, messages on our website, and via the Security Center. We continuously invest in technology to actively monitor fraud, to surface suspicious activity, and to harden our systems and protect our customers. More recently, we have introduced new products, such as ReservationManager and Traveler Profiles, and processes such as Phone Verification to support safety.

 

Here are a few steps you can take now to join in the fight:

 

  1. Educate yourself – visit our Security Center to learn about phishing
  2. Read our FAQ to learn how to spot fraudulent inquiries
  3. When you receive a suspicious inquiry or email, please let us know
  4. Accept safe payment methods like those offered through ReservationManager
  5. Include an up-to-date phone number on your listing. We recommend that travelers call the telephone number published on your property listing page to confirm their reservation and payment details
  6. Use two-factor authentication on your email accounts. See this article on how. http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/04/make-your-email-hacker-proof.html
  7. If you list on vrbo.com or homeaway.com - log into your dashboard to check your inquiries to make sure you (and not a phisher) are receiving your inquiries.
    Never enter your email password on any webpage via a link sent to you by email, or even if a login page that looks like your email provider’s website pops up unexpectedly.  Always go to the email provider’s website to log in
  8. And don’t ignore warning signs or red flags - if you have a bad feeling, it never hurts to double check

 

Together we can fight this threat to the vacation rental industry, and we’re counting on you, just like you count on us.

 

Sincerely,

Tom Hale

Chief Product Officer