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I have read that certain listing services have more success in certain geographic areas.
Which listing services are most successful for the San Francisco vacation rental market?
As a San Francisco Vacation Home owner or manager, what has been our personal experience? From which sites do you get most of your bookings?
Are there any offline newspapers etc that you would recommend for advertising?
What about putting out flyers in the neighborhood or posting business cards in laundry mats, etc. Has that worked for you?
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Here are the listings I currently have ....
So to summarize, right now SF Vacation Hut is advertising with:
Air B N B
Surf Break Rentals
FlipKey (Trip Advisor)
Also there's craigslist.
Does anyone want to share your experience with these companies?
Here's my experience.
VRBO. Last summer, we got all our inquiries through VRBO.
HomeAway. We started advertising with HomeAway in Fall 2010. Now 90% of our inquiries come
from HomeAway. Maybe the VRBO crowd is more for last-minute inquiries, whereas it seems that HomeAway attracts more of the international travelers ... generally, people who are planning further in advance. Since early February, we were booked the whole month of February, plus all of March and most of April. Meanwhile we have been getting additional inquiries about the summer months through HomeAway, but nothing from VRBO. That's how I got my theory that maybe VRBO attracts more of the last-minute customers.
Also, I really like the support services provided by VRBO / HomeAway. Like the "owner's community" where you can go to ask questions.
We have not gotten any serious inquiries from Inhabit Vacations, ForceGroup, or AirBnB.
Force Group Network. I have been really unhappy with Force Group. They are a vacation rental service specifically for members of the police force, fire fighters, etc. Someone called me and gave me a hard sell, telling me how much business I would get if I advertise with them. It's a members only network, and people who are members get points for booking through the Force Group Network, rather than through VRBO or HomeAway. I agreed to pay up front for the service. Alas, so far we have not gotten any bookings through them at all. Thank goodness, they have a policy where if you don't get enough bookings to pay for their fee, they will refund the money you paid. I hope I get a refund at the end of the year!
EDIT on FEB. 11, 2012: Force Group Network has allegedly fraudulent operations. They do not provide people with bookings, and they do not provide a refund at the end of the year. Luckily I found out about the allegations against Force Group Network, less than 90 days after my credit card had been charged for the $995 "lifetime" fee. Thank goodness, I was able to file a complaint with my credit card company, and the money was refunded to us.
Air B N B. Air BNB is free, until you get a booking. Air BNB handles all the money transactions, and they have a menu of cancellation policies that you can choose from. After the guest stays with you, Air BNB sends you the money, minus a 3% credit card service fee. Note that AirBnB charges the guest a service fee which is about 7% to 12% of the price of the booking, ON TOP of the money you have quoted to them. So the guest pays more if they book through AirBnB, compared to if they had booked with you directly. Air BNB does not allow you to share your web site or communicate with the guest outside of their internal messaging system, until *after* the booking is made. To get to know your guests ahead of time, you need to rely on social networking .... for example, recommendations that the guests' real-life friends and past hosts, which are available on the Air B N B web site. The potential guest does the same thing for you ... you are supposed to ask your friends to leave reviews for you, saying what a nice person you are, and how much fun you would be as a host.
As part of the Air B N B service, we have a Craigslist ad that gets reposted every week. (It's practically automatic ... all I have to do is click a series of "repost" screens in my e-mail.) As of now, I have received NO inquiries from that Craigslist ad. My idea was, it's nice that the posting is out there, in case anyone is searching craigslist. I do have one "teensy" problem, though ... I can never find my ad on craigslist when I search for it. I contacted Air B N B Customer Support about this. They said it must be a problem on Craigslist's end, so they couldn't help me. So .... if the craigslist ad never shows up in any search results, that might explain why we never get any inquiries from craigslist! Yeah! Oh well. I inquired at the Craigslist Help Desk forum, and after many messages, they said it was a problem with the way that AirBnB set up the ad. Am I going in circles here? Yes. Oh well. I don't really need the ad anyway ... but it would be nice.
Flip Key / Trip Advisor. We just started advertising with FlipKey / Trip Advisor in early April. Within 2 weeks, we already have 4 bookings from FlipKey, some of these were for bookings in October, when it was only early April. I have been VERY HAPPY with the response from Flip Key / Trip Advisor. They base your ranking on how many reviews you have. In our first 7 months of operation, we already had 21 reviews on VRBO. But unfortunately VRBO doesn't use reviews to determine your placement. Right now we only have 4 reviews on FlipKey and are getting this much response. I can't wait to see how things will be, once we get more reviews on FlipKey .. provided that our clients are kind enough to provide the reviews!
The other think I like about FlipKey is that they give you a 2-3 month trial period, where you pay nothing. If you find you aren't getting inquiries from them, you can cancel, and there's no money lost. Brilliant!
Surf Break Rentals. We recently started advertising with a new listing service for surfers called Surf Break Rentals. Another vacation home owner, Wayne in Cole Valley, told me about it:
I like this because it's targeted for a certain market .... people who want to be near the ocean. Also, they are offering a promotion for their first 1000 (or was it 100?) vacation home owners ... it is only $1.00 to sign up for the first year. I'm one of the "founding members" .... I'm number 13! I was very impressed with this web site, including how easy it is to upload photos and how easy it was to set up. Surf Break Rentals is not buggy and "weird" on the owners' end, like some other vacation rental web sites I've seen. (By the way, PerfectRentals.com is the WORST! Stay away from them!)
Another place we advertise is the Noe Valley Voice Class Ads.
I know that other neighborhoods such as Bernal Heights also have community newspapers. This is definitely an avenue to look into!
Anyone else want to share experiences?
What is going on with Craigslist is "Ghosting." They do it for ads that don't follow their no html and other rules. There are people that sit at home and flag ads all day long when they don't follow these rules. The airbnb ads are acctually against the Terms and Conditions of CL.
I have had issues with ghosting as well and recommend following all the CL rules and then you don't have to worry about it.
Seattle Oasis Vacation Rentals
Thank you SO much for this information. It's been a year now since you posted your results. Have things changed in this last year? How did the corporate group listing go? I had been very surprised at the lack of Airbnb bookings, particularly in your (mine too) area of the City. Has that changed? Update appreciated.
Yes, we also advertise with business cards.
We get the larger, "chunky" style from zazzle.com.
We have gone out in the neighborhood and distributed hundreds of these business cards, on the doorsteps of our neighbors.
We have gotten a few phone calls in response to the business cards. However, they were always from people asking for dates that were already booked. And then we don't hear from the people, ever again. So far we have not gotten even one booking from all our work of distributing these business cards in the neighborhood.
Still, they are beautiful cards. We usually include one with the note card when we mail the deposit check back. We also include one with the "welcome package" that the guests receive when they arrive. Also, some of our guests have asked for cards to take home with them, so they can recommend us easily to friends and family back home.
Business cards are certainly nice things to have on hand. But ... so far we have yet to see even one business card translate into a new booking.
Does anyone else have any feedback or ideas about vacation rental advertising that works well in San Francisco?
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I am still waiting to hear back regarding other people's experience with which listing sites are more effective for San Francisco listings?
I noticed that I am getting a lot more attention from my FlipKey ad (which is almost brand new) and my HomeAway ad. I get relatively few inquiries from VRBO, and almost ZERO inquiries from AirBnB.
I recently did some research and came up with a theory ... maybe the reason I get more inquiries on FlipKey and HomeAway, is that I simply have less competition on those web sites.
Check this out ...
As of June 6, 2011 (see attached), there were 76 listings at for the Noe Valley neighborhood. I tried counting them today, and I believe I counted 77.
As of June 6, 2011, there were 611 listings on VRBO for vacation rentals in San Francisco.
comes up with 58 results when you ask for the "Noe Valley" neighborhood.
AirBnB has about 950 listings in the City of San Francisco.
Flipkey / TripAdvisor
FlipKey has 188 San Francisco vacation rentals listed, and they are not grouped by neighborhood.
HomeAway has 278 San Francisco vacation rentals listed, and they are not grouped by neighborhood.
Maybe I'm getting more response from FlipKey and HomeAway because people are dedicated to those brands, and when people go there, my apartment is one out of 200 or 300, instead of 1 out of 600 or 900. That could definitely make a difference!
(Of course, I realize ... by telling you guys about this, you could all potentially run out and put ads on FlipKey and HomeAway, and then each of those sites will have tons of listings, and I'll lose my advantage again. Oh well. I don't care. I am all about sharing information for the common good!)
Hi - Lara from Noe Place Like Home here. Thanks to those who set up this group and have kicked off conversations!
We've been doing this since ~2006, and over the years have used VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey, AirBnB, and our local paper (Noe Valley Voice). We also have a website and list it on Google Places.
Currently, HomeAway is strong for us, though it has varied over the years. Flipkey is also doing well enough to make it worth renewing. AirBnB has never generated a real booking for us, which is too bad because I do like the concept. VRBO used to be strong, but has faded. The Noe Valley Voice was never particularly strong, and listing ads there is a hassle because you can't do it online (at least, not last I looked), so we don't currently advertise there.
Hope that's helpful!
Lara, this is great input!
Welcome to the SF discussion forum.
Good to see you here.
Also ... about the hassle of paying for an ad in the Noe Valley Voice. I hear ya on that! I kept stressing to make that monthly deadline to get my ad in there, and sometimes I missed it. Finally we bought a one-year class ad subscription to the Noe Valley Voice. You buy 10 months worth of ads (a full year), and you get 10% off the total cost. This way, all you have to do is send in one check, once per year, with the ad that you want. By the way, it has to be the same ad published in all of the next 10 upcoming issues; you can't change it from month to month.
Hope that helps ....
There is a new web site that I am thinking of joining.
It is called Corporate Housing by Owner (CHBO).
It's primarily for properties focused on people staying one month or more.
It's $279 per year, or $249 with a discount that you can get if you talk to them. They said that if I don't get a booking during the first 30 days, they will give six extra months for free, so it will effectively be $249 for an 18-month subscription. That wouldn't be too bad. However, I haven't heard of the site before so I'm not sure right now it's worth the money or not.
I am hoping it is not another scam like the "Force Group Network."
Does anyone out there have experience with CHBO?
It looks promising because right now they only have about 90 listings within a 10-mile radius of San Francisco, so .... if we advertise on there, we will not have as much competition, as we have on other sites. Note my post from June 2011 when I mentioned that we were:
One out of 611, 950, 188, and 278 listings in San Francisco, at VRBO, AirBnB, FlipKey, and HomeAWay, respectively.
If it's a site that people actually USE ... I have found that having fewer properties to compete with, naturally helps your property to stand out. On sites such as VRBO, where there are 611+ properties to choose from, just in San Francisco ... sometimes I wonder how anyone finds us at all. But luckily they do find us, somehow!
Do any of our S.F. owners have experience with vacationrentals.com?
Like VRBO, vacationrentals.com is owned by HomeAway.
For folks advertising San Francisco properties with vacationrentals.com, are you getting a lot of inquiries?
Also, if any of the S.F. owners / managers want to share experience with Corporate Housing By Owner, would love to hear about it.
I used vacationrentals from Nov. 2008 to Nov. 2010. In that time I got a total of 3 bookings for my trouble from 104 inquiries which made VR a waste of money (and time) IMO. As I remember most inquiries from VR we for days that were not available - maddening.