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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

2

I’m very proud to share some news for those who list your properties on VacationRentals.com.  By early summer you will find many new and exciting features on your VacationRentals.com listing that have been developed as a result of your feedback on how we can bring more inquiries and bookings to your vacation rental. 

 

As a company, VacationRentals.com has a rich history of serving as an excellent source for beautiful vacation homes for families and groups around the globe.  Founded in 1997, VacationRentals.com has made its name as a premier site for our HomeAway family since 2007. 

 

The enhancements making their way on to the site will provide a new aesthetic for travelers browsing vacation rentals. The site upgrade will have a new owner dashboard and tools for you to update and manage your listings more efficiently. Also of note, we’re enabling more photos and property details and giving you the option to upgrade your subscription level and promote special offers to maximize your property’s exposure.

 

New Look and Feel

 

The enhancements will kick off with an all-new site design.  In addition to some aesthetic differences, a prominent change will include a brand new search method and filter options to help travelers quickly find the property that best suits their needs. Travelers will be able to search listings by location, price, availability, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms and more. They will also have the ability to create an account so they can save favorite properties and keep track of inquiries.

 

Make your Listing Stand Out

 

Starting on March 13, each listing will be able to upload 16 photos, free of charge, to catch the eyes of their prospective guests (once the site is upgraded early this summer, listings will receive 24 free photos). Survey research conducted on our travelers consistently shows photos as one of, if not the highest attractor of visitors to a listing.  Stunning, high-resolution photos can often be a make-or-break factor in whether or not your window shoppers will convert to bookings.

 

A new aesthetic feature that will be added to your listing is the ability to insert a video of your vacation home for the traveler to view—a compelling way to show off your home in addition to your photos. 

 

On a personal note, you will be able to add a profile about yourself and the vacation rental.  In addition, you will be able to add nearby points of interest to your listing which can act as a “local’s guidebook,” so to speak, for your vacation rental guests to check out your favorite restaurants, coffee shops, hiking trails or farmer’s market, etc. 

 

Exposure Options of your Vacation Rental

 

Completeness and quality is indeed a weighted factor in determining the position of your listing in search results and, in addition to the new travelers you’ll be able to attract thanks to your listing makeover, you will be able to attract even more by choosing between additional exposure options:

 

  • While the base subscription rate will remain at $199 per year, you can now choose between five subscription levels, placing your listing higher in search results for your vacation rental’s region.
  • Purchase a bundle to add your listing onto HomeAway.com and VRBO.com, and purchase a bundle to expose your property to travelers using our top 15 international vacation rental sites. The traffic to our network of sites average about 800 million people each year, something you may consider taking advantage of.
  • Run special offers on your vacation rental for offseason rates, last minute or special holiday rates, etc.
  • Purchase a featured listing to have your vacation rental highlighted within traveler searches to your region or on the VacationRentals.com home page.

 

Manage your Vacation Listings More Efficiently

 

And now on to the nuts-and-bolts portion of the enhancements:  you will continue to manage your VacationRentals.com listings within your new dashboard – but you will also have the opportunity to manage your HomeAway.com and VRBO.com bundled listings from the same location, streamlining any calendar, rates or property detail changes that need to be made.  Listing quality recommendations for how you can improve your listing are also sent through the dashboard, so while you’re logged in you can make note of any improvements to your listing that need to be made.

 

On the payments side, your VacationRentals.com listing will allow you to include quotable rates, accept online booking from travelers and receive and process payments online in a secure and easy-to-manage method.  As with HomeAway.com online booking, industry-low credit card processing fees and free eChecks will also be available through online booking with VacationRentals.com.

 

Access to your VacationRentals.com listings will also be accessible through HomeAway's mobile app, so that you can quickly respond to your future guests whether you are at work, walking your dog or perhaps enjoying a vacation rental yourself!

 

________________

 

 

For a detailed rundown of all changes being rolled out over the next few months, please visit our VacationRentals.com info page here: http://www.homeaway.com/info/homeaway/microsite/the-new-vacation-rentals-1.

 

Thank you for your feedback which allowed us to make these enhancements to better your business and thank you for your support over these now 17 years of VacationRentals.com!

 

Brian Sharples

HomeAway Co-founder & CEO

20

[Editors Note: This blog post was updated on 1/27 to address the comments below the post. What follows is the original post, plus an annotation at the end which includes the feedback on individual comments. Thanks!]

 

History of Quotable Rates

 

“What are quotable rates?” On each listing, owners and managers set the rental price on their properties; and those rates are published onto the property’s listing.  The listing, along with its rates are presented in search results if a traveler requests an instant quote and enters travel dates when searching. 

 

Last year we rolled out the first version of quotable rates, enabling owners and managers using HomeAway websites (including VRBO) around the world to present a quote to travelers when they entered dates for a stay.

 

As of August, more than 50,000 listings have incorporated quotable rates.  However, the process didn’t work for everyone, so we allowed owners and managers to opt out. Since the initial launch, our team has held thousands of conversations with owners and managers about what they want from a quotable rates application and in response to those talks, we spent the first part of this year working on improvements to our rates application. In August of 2013, we started rolling out a new application, and as of today, more than 150,000 listings employ quotable rates. Our approach was measured: we monitored feedback from our owners and managers and tracked the inquiry performance of listings with quotable rates.

 

As we previously communicated to you, we've taken the final step in making quotable rates the default by removing the ability to switch back to older rates applications.

 

Therefore, I suggest you budget a couple of hours of time to make the transition to the new rates application, gauge how other properties in the area are priced and consider your competitive pricing strategy.

 

We have some great resources, including an FAQ, and suggestions on how to make the transition here: http://help.homeaway.com/articles/en_US/Article/Quotable-rates-FAQs?&. And our customer support teams are ready to help educate you on the core concepts of quotable rates.

 

Why Quotable Rates Are Important For You:

 

Listings that use the quotable rates application get more inquiries and bookings than listings that do not use quotable rates. Here’s why:

 

  • Adoption of the application improves sort position; a vital factor for how many times your property is viewed in search results.

 

  • Quotable rates enable our sites to display pricing in search results, enabling travelers to filter and sort by price to easily find properties in their desired price range.

 

  • Travelers can also enter dates into search and view prices, which is key because travelers who enter dates are up to four times as likely to inquire on your property than travelers who don’t enter dates.

 

  • The new rates application enables our systems to also display a price in the search results of our global network of sites (such as HomeAway.com). This means that travelers on other sites get the “best view” of your listing in our search results. Before, our sites couldn’t even quote VRBO listings with unstructured text-based rates (see the image below).

 

Sonoma_Vacation_Rentals__Houses_for_Rent_in_Sonoma_CA_on_HomeAway__Lodging_in_Sonoma.pngAs you consider setting your rates, keep in mind that the bulk of travelers are not familiar with vacation rentals. Our research shows travelers tend to find complex rate structures and discount plans overwhelming. They require fast and easy price comparisons and become frustrated when they feel price there are hidden fees and opaque policies.

 

Addressing Your Concerns:

 

Some of our customers have voiced concerns about quotable rates.  Let me attempt to address those concerns below:

 

“Quotable rates require online booking and I will not be able to control who books my property

Quotable rates does not require you to adopt “Book it Now.” You can be an owner or manager who works exclusively with inquiries and still use quotable rates. When owners first hear about "Book it Now," some believe that it means that they must accept bookings without ever talking to the traveler and without any control over who gets to stay.

 

As vacation rental owners ourselves, we realize that interaction between owner and traveler is an important part of the vacation rental experience. Every vacation rental is different, and managers and owners want control over who stays in their property. Plus the personal dimension of vacation rental travel is what sets our industry apart.

 

“Quotable rates means HomeAway is preparing to force me into a commission model.”

We recently introduced a commission model (AKA pay-per-booking) but it’s up to you to choose which model is best for you. HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples has been clear about the HomeAway strategy: subscriptions are core to HomeAway’s business model.

 

“Quotable rates means that HomeAway will be giving inaccurate price quotes.”

The rates you quote must be reflective of what you intend to charge. That’s why the rates application includes concepts like seasonal rates, event rates, damage deposits, taxes, fees and rate breaks. We include pricing per person and increased rates for weekend nights (and for however you define weekends).

 

However, in talking to our customers we learned we cannot solve for every case. It would make the rate application unusable and overly complex. So while we kept it simple and you can note special cases via the notes field – just as you always have on HomeAway sites. For example, if you have a higher security deposit for larger groups, or a rate break for stays of 11 days or more, or give an free day for stays of 6 nights, or charge a different rate for children than adults, put it in the notes. 

 

You can still talk to your customers before they book with you. You can find out if you need to discount to close the sale, or if you need to charge an extra fee because they are bringing a large dog. As in the past, you are in control.

 

“Quotable rates requires a lot of work to set up.”

Depending on the complexity of your rates and the seasonality of your market, setting rates can take some time. However, once you have set up your quotable rates, the quote tool in Reservation Manager can generate quotes for travelers and attach it to your inquiry response. You do not have to adopt payments or "Book it Now" to use the quote tool.

 

In closing:

It takes time and effort to adapt to new systems. But because the listings that have adopted rates have seen increases in inquiries and bookings, we believe it’s worth it to you. And our support team is standing by 24/7 to help you through the transition.

 

We know that bringing travelers to your vacation rental is the core value we deliver to you. But as the vacation rental industry grows and expands, we can’t stand still: we have to ensure our marketplace is the best to bring you those customers.

 

As always, your feedback, and comments are welcome.

 

Thank you,

Tom Hale

HomeAway Chief Product Officer

 

>>>>>> Updated content from 1/27/2014 to address feedback from comments below:

 

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to comment on this blog post

We appreciate all of the comments and feedback: there are many good suggestions and ideas here. I want to take a few moments to a) let you know what our next steps are with regards to the rate application; b) address some of the comments here; and c) request that you direct feature requests and comments to this thread.

 

We are definitely listening to you, and for those of you feeling frustration, we are working on your behalf to advance our rates application to better meet your needs. However, it’s important to note that there are many owners who have successfully adopted quotable rates.  As of today, we have over 230,000 listings with quotable rates across all HomeAway sites and we are adding several thousand each week. In January alone we’ve added another 34K listings to quotable rates. Source: HomeAway internal reports.

 

Special cases and exceptions

There are still owners who have special requirements. For those owners, we suggest you use the notes and description fields to communicate your discounts, rate breaks, or special offers that are not currently supported by quotable rates. While this workaround of placing a comment in your notes or listing description for special cases is imperfect, it does allow us to solve for a wide range of variability in pricing models, pricing strategies, and special cases. 

 

Pricing is important

We know that pricing your property is a critical factor in your vacation rental success and that there are as many approaches to using pricing to distinguish your property from your competition as there are owners.  While we believe we solved for the majority of approaches to pricing with seasonal and event rates, flexible weekend definition, per person pricing, weekend, weekly and monthly price breaks, customizable fees and discounts that can be marked taxable or non taxable, changeover days, payment terms, calculated taxes and other features, there are some owners who must use the notes field to explicate their pricing or promotional strategy.

 

You can see from this google query (site:vrbo.com "quotable rates" -inurl:help) some of the strategies users are employing to communicate pricing offers outside of quotable rates. As of 1/27, Google counts ~100 listings on VRBO which include the phrase “quotable rates” in their notes or description, and most of these listings are accommodating for some special edge case. However, with nearly 117,000 listings on VRBO with quotable rates today, this is less than .1% of owners.  While a significant majority of our customers are making quotable rates work for them without having to note exceptions, even this relatively small number is worthy of our attention and focus. This is not meant to be an exact count, but it does give you a sense of the number of owners who are using this workaround.

 

Test your rates, please!

As a side note, if you do move to quotable rates, we encourage you to take a very active role in determining if the rate quote engine is pricing your property the way you want.  Please take advantage of the “test rates” function so that you can see how the system is generating quotes for you. One of the reasons quotable rates triggers strong reactions from owners is because pricing is so important. So take the time to test your rates by entering dates and seeing what the system is quoting for you.

 

We measure traveler behavior

It’s also very important to realize that we are looking at traveler behavior across millions of site visits and hundreds of thousands of listings, and as a matter of course, we A/B test our features to determine which implementation drives more inquiry and booking behavior. We are passionately committed to doing the absolute best job we can for you, and we use data to measure and optimize our sites to maximize your return. We are your partners, and we work very hard for you.

 

As we’ve studied quotable rates, we continue to see that properties with quotable rates are generating upwards of 20% more inquiries than those without because of a combination factors including sort order, listing quality, and high intent travelers sorting and filtering by price. Source: HomeAway internal reports, listings in the classic tier only on all HomeAway, inc sites.

 

Given that we implemented quotable rates primarily at the request of travelers who were frustrated by the difficulty of sorting and filtering by price, as well as the inefficiency and opacity of vacation rental pricing, we are encouraged by these results. But we also recognize that for those of you with particular rates concerns, learning that your competition is generating more inquiries because they have successfully adopted quotable rates may not be particularly welcome news.

 

But here’s a ray of light for you, as some new capabilities are already under development – and we’ve prioritized the ones we’ve heard about most frequently from our community.

 

Here’s the list of features currently under development for release in Q1:

 

  • Updating calculation for weekly and monthly rates
  • Reducing the steps to save a rate plan by removing the requirement to “test rates” before saving
  • Adding 60 and 90 nights as minimum stay options for longer term rentals
  • Adding children to count as part of per person rate plans (a common request on this thread)
  • Aligning the max guest count for per person rate plans with your maximum occupancy for your listing

 

As we look ahead, we’re also planning the following features, though these will likely take longer than Q1 to implement:

 

  • Additional tools to create price breaks based on length of stay
  • Additional fees that a traveler can opt into (such as pool heating fees, etc)
  • Fees based on length of stay (eg, a $5 per night fee for internet)

 

Specific feedback for commenters

With that, I’d like to move to some of the requests on this thread. If you have additional requests about rates, please add them on the main rates thread here.

 

@eastcoaster – I am glad that I was able to get your old rate cards to you so that you could quickly create your rates in our new quotable rates application. Congrats on getting your listings on Quotable Rates.

 

@bygeorge – please note that we allow up to 52 separate seasonal and up to 12 event rates. The average quotable rate card has 8 seasons or event rates, so your requirement for four seasons should be able to be met with quotable rates. You can have different rates, minimum stays, and per additional guest fees by season. That way, you can charge a different additional guest fee for high, shoulder, and low seasons. If you need help setting this up, private message me and I’ll get you in touch with someone to help you.

 

@echo and @mrmooper  clearwatercabin – thanks for the request to count children in calculation for per person fees. This feature is currently under development.

 

@ann12345  Every member of C-team owns and manages their own property, and a few of us manage multiple properties. It’s very clear to us that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to vacation rentals, so we do our best to accommodate the variety of property types, sizes, seasons, approaches to renting, and owners. It is important to realize that travelers do ask us for the ability to sort and filter listings by price. We do recognize that no two properties are the same, the cost of a vacation rental stay is a critical variable in making a decision on which property to stay in.

 

@marshall we send newsletters out to all owners, unless that owner has unsubscribed from our email communications. If you want to keep up-to-date on changes and developments in our product, I might suggest you visit the “product updates” group. From there you can subscribe to that group and get notified whenever anything is posted there OR you can direct your email client or RSS reader to get regular updates.

 

@judis  You wrote “You guys are trying to make this a 'cheap tickets' or hotels.com type site”. I am not sure exactly what you mean by this. However, we are responding to traveler desires to be able to efficiently and quickly find the right property for their trip, and a big part of that is knowing the cost of a stay.

 

@bwine You wrote “We should be able to opt out and respond with our own quotes”. There is nothing stopping you from responding with your own quotes. However, we are committed to the course of moving to quotable rates. You might address your concern that smaller parties do not know they can rent only a portion of your property by communicating this in the description or headline.

 

@ susaninrehoboth You requested “space for notes under each section of quotable rates”. Is your request for more notes in the rates table or in the detailed quote itself? We did test longer text in the detailed quote (the “popup window which shows the line items for a quote”) and it reduced conversion. We believe this is because there is a limit to how much text travelers are willing to read. Private message me if you want to continue the conversation. 

 

@ margaret you wrote “at 30 days the rate quote is grossly inflated. I have been told this is the way it has been programed to calculate.” Long stay rates are tricky. The way that it works today is that if if you set a monthly rate (of say $6000) AND the traveler is requesting a stay of 30 days or more, the rates engine divides the monthly rate by 30 to create a nightly rate of $200, and then multiplies by the number of nights the traveler is requesting, so long as it is greater than or equal to 30 nights. This works well for 30 day months and 31 day months (January, March, May, July, August, October, and December) For the longer months, if you choose the nightly rate you want for a 30 day stay (say the $200 per night in the example of a monthly rate of $6000) the quotable rates engine will calculate the right price for a 31 day stay, that is 31 * $200, which is the correct price. However, this does not work for February. As a workaround, you might consider create a seasonal rate for January 31 – Feb 28, set a 28 day minimum stay (if you only want to rent months) and set the exact price you want for a 28 day stay.  

 

As a side note, the quotable rates engine calculate a stay that is longer than a week and shorter than a month by multiplying the number of nights * the average nightly rate for your week rate for that season. For example, if you enter a weekly rate of $1400/week, when someone asks for a 22 night stay, the rate engine will calculate as follows: the average nightly rate for a week is $1400 divided by 7 nights = $200 a night. For a 22 night stay, this would equal $200 * 22 = $4400. For the sake of history, Quotable Rates version 1 allowed per night pricing to be set with discounts for ANY length of stay. However, the vast majority of owners created rate breaks at 1 week and 30 days, so we adopted that in the name of simplicity.

 

@gdebba You mentioned that you have to have a weekly minimum (from an HOA?) but often rent nightly rentals. We have heard of other properties that have to advertise a weekly minimum but want to sell nightly. I might suggest you prominently feature a message (in your headline, description, and “more info” about rates) that travelers should contact you for shorter stays. 

 

Wrapping it all up, resources, and a webinar on rates

In conclusion, I want to thank everyone again for their comments and feedback. Pricing is critical to your success, and rates are just a mechanism to help you present your best price to a prospective traveler. We’re trying hard to strike a balance between giving you the flexibility you need, giving travelers what the efficiency of a price quote, and not making the rates application too complex for the vast majority of users. And we are committed to working hard for you to improve quotable rates.

 

In the meantime, we have some great resources that can explain the basics of quotable rates here. If there is specific information that isn't explained or you would like to know about, let us know.

We will be holding a webinar to go over that strategy and tactics of quotable rates on Friday 1/31.  If you want to join, the info is below:

Friday, January 31, 2014
3pm-4pm CST

You can sign up here:


 

As a final note, I’d like to direct everyone to this thread about “feature requests” here. That’s where you should direct your feature requests for quotable rates as we’re using that as a tracking thread. We will no longer be accepting comments on this thread.

6

You may start noticing some changes to the order in which listings are displayed in the sort and search results on HomeAway.com and VRBO.com.  As of today, we have made these changes to the way we display search results based on direct traveler feedback on what is most appealing to them when searching for a vacation rental.

 

Please watch a short video we have put together which highlights some of the specific feedback we received from travelers about listing quality, and why it is so important:

 

 

 

The placement of your listing in search results first depends on your subscription level.  Within each subscription level, listing quality is the most important factor that determines your search position within those results.  Based on feedback, we know the most important factors families and groups look for when renting a property include high quality photos, reviews from past guests, quotable rates, online booking capabilities, online payments acceptance, updated calendars, an accurate map pin placement and your listing’s tenure.

 

The Listing Quality Scorecard within your owner dashboard is a quick and easy tool that provides recommendations for how you can improve the quality of your listings and your position within search results.  For example, if you accept online payments and provide quotable rates, provide 24 photos, etc.  You can learn more about the Listing Quality Scorecard from this previous blog from our Product Marketing Team: http://community.homeaway.com/groups/product-updates/blog/2013/10/02/new-listing-scorecard--more-insight-to-improve-your-listing.

 

If you have noticed a change in your search position, we recommend you go to the Listing Quality Scorecard in your dashboard and follow the customized recommendations. Improving your listing quality scores can improve your search position.  You can also visit the Listing Quality portion of the HomeAway Owner Toolkit for a step-by-step instruction on how to improve your listing: http://www.homeaway.com/info/owner-toolkit/listing-quality.

 

Our goals align the desires of our travelers to ensure our sites have the highest quality listings possible—and bring as many travelers to your vacation rental as possible.  Now more than ever, your listing quality will have a significant impact on where your listing falls in the sort order.

 

We want to help you get the most out of the valuable time you commit to the marketing and management of your vacation rental.  It is with this in mind that we hope to continue to work with you closely to determine how best to keep your properties filled with guests!

 

Thank you,

 

Brian Sharples

Co-founder & CEO

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

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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. 

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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.

1

At the HomeAway Summit this past weekend, owners and managers gathered in Scottsdale Arizona to connect, learn, and share with each other and HomeAway employees. We'll be posting the presentations and a wrap up in the coming days.

 

Brian Sharples held forth on the evolution of the vacation rental industry, and Brent Bellm shared some awesome market research, while HomeAway employees and vacation rental experts shared best practices on topics ranging from social media marketing and online security to new HomeAway products. Everyone made new friends, toasted old ones, networked and kibitzed. There was even an impromptu “ideas” panel pulled together by spirited Summit attendees to generate ideas for enhancements and improvements to HomeAway’s service.

 

On Saturday, teams of HomeAway engineers and product managers showed off some “fresh from the lab” ideas for products in the Sneaks session. A hybrid of American Idol and a Hackathon, the Sneaks are always a popular session at the summit. The teams pitch their ideas, and the audience votes with their applause to select a winner. Some of these features are live right now so go ahead and give them a spin! (Insider Guides and the iOS Mobile App)

 

Sneaks are real time market feedback for HomeAway and a chance for owners and managers to influence our roadmap of coming releases.  After each demo, the Applause-o-meter was put up on the screen to measure how the audience felt about each team’s efforts. We pay close attention to which sneaks get the most applause - so the audience yelled, stomped their feet, and jumped up and down for their favorite features.

 

sneaks.pnglive demos.pngapplausometer.png

 

After the 2012 sneaks, four of nine sneaks were released as products – Automating reservations via online booking, Traveller screening via profilesfiltering and searching on VRBO, and the mobile owner app have all made their way out to owners and managers.  A fifth sneak, “fighting phishing” is nearing beta, while the others are still over the horizon. 

 

In 2013, two of the sneaks are available today for you to try out. See below if you want to get an Insider Guide on your listing or get our new iOS mobile app (it works for VRBO, HomeAway, and HomeAway UK) that enables you to manage you calendar, inquiries, reply with quotes, and send payment requests.

 

Here’s the list of 2013 sneaks and presenters:

 

  • The VRBO team (Melissa, Paul, and Kirk) showed how the VRBO traveler site optimizes the experience across iPads, Iphones, Android Phones, Android Tablets, and devices of every size and shape
  • Matt of the HomeAway Traveler team illustrated a way to view the properties that are the most popular with travelers, with HomeAway Leaderboard,
  • Kate showed how Panoramic 360 photographs (see an example here) enable owners to really show off their properties
  • Dustin, leader of the HomeAway Traveler Team, created an Insider Guide revealing a new way to market your properties and provide your guests with information for their stay (learn how you can add an Insider Guide here)
  • Dave from the mobile team showed how owners can manage their inquiries, calendars, and bookings from their iphone. Learn how to get the mobile app here.
  • Patrick, Tim, and Michael of the social team showed a way for potential guests to learn if they know anyone who has stayed at or reviewed your property, increasing trust for reviews
  • Jason and Patrick of Glad to Have You showed a vision for how mobile apps and home automation from BeHome247 can make for hassle-free stays and save money
  • Jacy, product manager for HomeAway owner tools, showed masked email addresses, unlimited templates, and attachments as part of a new Inbox could make your lives easier while helping secure the vacation rental marketplace.

 

It was too close to call a single winner, so the judges awarded a three-way tie to Panoramas, Home Automation, and the Inbox. It was a great session, and thank you to everyone who participated for all of their hard work, creative ideas, and energetic pitches.

 

Most of the sneaks were future concepts, fresh from the lab. But two of the products that were sneaks are live today!

 

If you want to create an Insider Guide like these (standalone guides here: vrbo.com and homeaway.com; and how they appear on listings on vrbo.com and homeaway) simply follow the instructions here for HomeAway owners or these ones for vrbo owners. Or just check out some of the awesome guides below:

 

 

Guide to Honokeana Cove in West Maui

Guide to to San Francisco and East Bay

Guide to Ilmington and the surrounding area

Guide to Greater San Diego


And if you want to start managing your VRBO, HomeAway, or HomeAway UK listing from your iPhone, open up itunes, and search on "homeaway vacation rentals" or learn how to get it here. Or if you are reading this on a mobile device, go here.

 

We hope to see you next year at the summit!

 

 

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Introducing Insider Guides

Posted by thale Apr 25, 2013

Today, we’re very happy to announce the immediate availability of Insider Guides. Launched in partnership with Gogobot, this new, free product enables vacation rental owners and managers to create custom online guides that enable authentic, local experiences for travelers.

 

Most of us are familiar with the binder of “things to do, nearby restaurants, and helpful information” found in almost every vacation rental in the world.  Because owners and managers are familiar with the property and the area, they can save travelers time, point them at the best restaurants, and highlight hard to find “off-the-beaten-path” experiences that really make a vacation rental stay special.

 

However, the binder approach does have a few drawbacks. They take a lot of work to assemble, usually involving printouts, or menus, or handwritten notes and maps. They are hard to keep up-to-date as new restaurants and attractions open (or close).  Your guests can’t see it before they arrive or access it on a smartphone because the guides are not online.

 

Insider Guides make it easy to build a visually compelling, online guide that is rich with information (like addresses and locations) and enhanced with reviews submitted by one of the most passionate travel communities on the planet:  the 2.5 million-strong Gogobot community.

 

What is an Insider Guide? 

There are two key elements to an Insider Guide: The first is a list of points of interest (POI) on your VRBO.com or HomeAway.com listing. These POIs have thumbnail photos, distance to your property, and your star ratings and reviews. All POIs are displayed on your map creating a quick and easy way for you to market your property and the activities, attractions, and restaurants around it. This is designed to entice travelers with exciting and fun attractions and search engines with SEO-friendly reviews. See the screenshot below to see how POIs appear on your listing or visit a listing on VRBO.com or HomeAway.com.

 

The second is the Insider Guide itself. On this page, there is more information about each place (the address, for example), larger photos, and more interactive and social features. This guide is designed for the traveler to use when planning their stay or while they are on vacation.

 

Travelers can view the Insider Guide on a mobile device, tablet or PC, or download it into the Gogobot iOSor Androidsmartphone app. There are map views, a print view (very handy for your binder!), and options for travelers to create their own trip plan or share it with friends or fellow travelers.


The screenshots below show the various views of the Insider Guide or see an example of one here <link>

 

List View:

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Map View:

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Mobile Version:

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Creating a Guide

Creating a guide is simple. As an owner or a manager, you simply head to the listing editor in your dashboard to get started.

 

Dashboard View:

 

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Once you’ve named your guide and uploaded a photo, you can quickly add places from Gogobot’s extensive database, write your own review, provide your own ratings, or upload photos.  Only your ratings and reviews will show up on your listing - so make sure you take the time to add your personal and local knowledge. Gogobot built this part of the product, and it’s really slick because they provide you with suggestions that can really get your creative juices going.

 

Since there is no one who knows your property quite as well as you do - each guide is as unique and special as you make it. Some owners and managers will curate a list of popular attractions, while others will add “off the beaten path” attractions like the blueberry patch, flea market, coffee shop, or hike. These unique and special attractions are what unlock the deep local knowledge that will make for truly delightful and relevant experiences - which in turn will result in great reviews, happy travelers, and more bookings.

 

How can you take advantage of an Insider Guide?

Once you’ve created your guide, it’s up to you to determine when to share it with your guests.  Some of you will include it in all of your communications from your first inquiry response onward. Others will want to provide the link to travelers only after booking. We’ve provided a helpful “shortcut link” to make it easy to embed the link into your inquiry or ReservationManagerresponse templates or any email you send to your guests.

 

Not only does an Insider Guide allow you to market your property, but it also reduces the time you have to spend answering those frequent questions guests always ask: where is the nearest grocery store? What activities do you recommend? What are the best restaurants? With an Insider Guide, the answer is simple: check the link!

 

How do I get started?

You can get started building your guide right now. Many owners and managers have already started (see below for some examples) so don’t delay.  Here are a few tips: Make sure you add reviews and ratings! Use the photos that Gogobot provides, or add your own for that personal touch. Send it to your friends who live in the area to get them to comment. And best of all, since you have a VRBO.com or HomeAway.com listing, Insider Guides are included free of charge.  

 

Here are some resources to help you create a great Insider Guide:

 

http://help.homeaway.com/articles/en_US/Solution/Insiders-Guide-FAQs?knowledgeHome

 

And here are some examples to inspire you:

 

 

Enjoy creating your Insider Guide, and make sure you send us your thoughts and feedback!

 
Tom Hale

Chief Product Officer

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I know my blog posts generally begin with me saying how excited I am to announce our latest news, but this time, I’m not sure if excited truly captures my emotions. 

 

At the end of the day, the word that best describes how I feel is proud.  Proud to tell you all that after years of operating HomeAway.com and VRBO as two separate sites, our team has made it possible for the sites to join forces – giving travelers more choice when they want to find a vacation rental and you all the opportunity to have an even more efficient way to manage your vacation rental businesses.  The changes won’t go into effect for another month or so, but we couldn’t wait to tell you all about it!

 

What does this mean for you?

 

While the sites will continue to operate as independent brands, the changes will make it possible for you all to update your HomeAway.com and VRBO listings simultaneously, using one interface.  For you HomeAway old-timers, the idea is similar to the calendar function we introduced with HomeAway Connect, a few years ago, but now your listing will be identical on both sites making it easier and faster to update photos, rates, etc.

 

Also, by popular demand, we’re introducing a new “bundled” pricing structure so you can have listings on both HomeAway.com and VRBO.com for $80-$750 less per year than before.  We are even offering a global bundle so you can have a listing on 15 additional international sites.  The goal was to give you more flexibility and choice with your marketing needs.

 

We’ve created a microsite dedicated to explaining this change in further detail and how it affects each of you. You can check it out here: http://network.homeaway.com  

 

Finally, as we’ve said before, we value customer feedback and speak with hundreds of customers about our plans prior to releasing a new product or service. I’d like to share with you the feedback we received from THE pioneer of the vacation rental industry and original for-rent-by-owner customer, VRBO.com founder, Dave Clouse:

 

“This will be a huge time saver for both owners and property managers and will increase the accuracy of listings. Renters can now have more confidence that listings on all sites have the most current information and photos.  It's a win-win situation for everyone, and makes both VRBO.com and HomeAway.com even better!”

 

We hope you’re just as pleased with the news. 

 

Look out for an email announcing the launch of these changes and the opportunity for you to take advantage of them. Also, if you have any questions feel free to contact our customer support team here.

 

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

 

Sincerely,

Brian

 

*Dave and Lynn Clouse founded Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO.com) in 1995.

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