This survey is a snapshot taken in late March, at the peak of the havoc created by the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis. Vacation rental property managers and owners were overwhelmed with cancellations and refunds, online travel agencies (OTAs) were busy steamrolling over existing cancellation policies to apply force majeure / extenuating circumstances clauses.
In partnership with BookingSync, Rental Scale-Up gathered the opinions of 57 property managers and owners, from March 25 to April 5. It was right at the moment when Airbnb was launching its $270M plan to supports its hosts and way before both Expedia and Booking had detailed their programs.
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We asked them the following questions, for Airbnb, Booking, Expedia, and Vrbo:
- How would you rate the response of this OTA to the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How trustful were you of this OTA before the crisis?
- How trustful are you of this OTA now?
Bear in mind that this a small sample size. Also, a majority of respondents do not use Expedia. Given the results shown below, it is essential to see that most of the respondents are Airbnb hosts, as well as Vrbo / HomeAway and Booking partners.
- List on Airbnb: 96%
- List on Booking: 68%
- List on Expedia: 25%
- List on Vrbo: 73%
Massive drop in trust in Airbnb
The most significant drop in Trust was for Airbnb (-42%), while the Trust in the other OTAs decreased a bit. Before the crisis, both Airbnb and Vrbo were inspiring the most Trust to short-term rental operators, with scores 20% higher than Booking and Expedia. After the crisis, Airbnb dramatically fell to the bottom of the list.
- Airbnb: From 6.4 to 3.8 => -42%
- Booking: From 5.3 to 5.0 => -5%
- Expedia: From 4.9 to 4.7=> -4%
- Vrbo: From 6.2 to 6.0 => -3%
This how the respondents ranked the OTAS on trust, before the crisis:
This how the respondents ranked the OTAS on trust, after the crisis:
What happened? Airbnb’s response judged the worst of all
Survey respondents were asked to rate from 0 to 10 (with 10 being the best score possible) the response to the crisis given by the OTAs, as of late March 2020. The best response was from Vrbo, with a score of 5.9 out of 10. It was a score that was 40% better than that of Airbnb (at 3.6).
What could have happened? In early to mid-March 2020, Airbnb allowed travelers to easily and massively cancel reservations on its platforms. Suddenly, extenuating circumstances overruled existing policies, even in areas of the world where COVID-19 was not reportedly active (in big chunks of the US, for instance). A lot of Airbnb hosts were caught off guard, especially the ones who had been listing on Airbnb only and had never been through force majeure before.
Meanwhile, Vrbo had stood by its partners’ existing cancellation policies. Unlike Airbnb and Booking.com, Vrbo chose to balance the needs of both sides of its marketplace. It meant that some travelers were disappointed not to be getting 100% refunds, as they could from Airbnb and Booking. Yet, the communication from Vrbo was clear and steady: The policies of the property managers and owners will be respected, even if the company was asking for more flexibility and comprehension when it came to guest refunds.
Here’s how Sébastien Grosjean, founder and CEO of BookingSync, analyzes these results:
Such a crisis brings us nice clarity over the priorities of our partners, as they can’t focus on everything under such pressure, they need to prioritize which doesn’t always match your business needs and interest.
As we’ve seen over the past decades, our industry already faced such wake-up calls multiple times: relying solely on a few OTAs can be very risky for property owners and managers.
As business owners, it’s a great time to reflect on important questions like:
– Who really owns my business assets, such as my customers’ database?
– Which lessons did I learn after COVID-19?
– Have I taken actions to better mitigate the risks over my business?”
Quotes from property managers and owners share common griefs about OTAs, and especially Airbnb
Here are a few quotes from the respondents of our survey.
What is so evident through this crisis is the profit motivations of the OTAs took precedence over all. Communication was piss poor. This should be a chance for these companies to regroup and reprioritize.
Being a property manager us a tuff job! But I love it!
Airbnb handled the situation poorly. Simply communicating with the hosts before rolling out an unpopular policy would have lessened the anger. They continued, and still continue, to adopt changes without communicating the changes to the hosts before implementing them or asking for any input. Moving forward, I am less confident that they will protect the hosts. This could have been a learning opportunity to partner with a travel insurance company like other booking sites do. Instead, they will prioritize hosts who use a more flexible policy. Additionally, many guests may have been covered for travel insurance through the credit card that they used to book. Airbnb made no attempt to share the burden.
Prevent Airbnb from making unilateral decisions that affect their business core; HOSTS. Airbnb should have done a 50/50 split like VRBO/HomeAway. Their actions could ruin families over their own greed of protecting only Guests.
I have a story about a hard-working Airbnb case manager I wish to relay. She has really been a hero.
Conclusion: Trust in Vrbo high, while Airbnb needed to work hard on reconnecting with hosts
This informal snapshot can give you an idea of what was happening in the heads of vacation rental managers and owners in late March and early April. A data-savvy company like Airbnb must have had the same kind of surveys. From there, they knew that they had to re-engage loudly with hosts and do more with their coronavirus response.
Now that bookings have come back in traditional vacation rental areas in Europe and the US, it means that Vrbo is also probably delivering quite a few reservations to its partners. Thus, with a high trust score and an ability to deliver bookings, Vrbo is well-positioned in the heart and the wallet of some actors.
In urban areas, where demand is still weak and where Airbnb is traditionally strong, it may not be the same story. This is also why Airbnb has been promoting rural getaways and peaceful destinations with its Go Near campaign.
BookingSync is a French startup and a cloud-based vacation rental management platform. Their goal is to make the lives of vacation rental owners, managers, and agencies easier. Whether it’s managing your booking, generating an invoice, accepting payment, or issuing a contract, BookingSync can handle it. Centered around simplicity and ease of use, they’ve developed an intuitive software that is a friend to owners and managers during each step of the vacation rental management process.
The company offers two products: