Late last week, vacation rental managers began reporting that their company logos had disappeared from Vrbo’s listing pages.
Previously, Vrbo displayed company logos on listing pages which held enormous value for property managers in building brand awareness. Now, the property photo is being displayed where the logo once was, and the phrase “Property Manager” has replaced the company name. In researching Vrbo.com over the weekend, the change affected all PM listings across the platform for the searches our team conducted.
According to John Banczak, TurnKey Vacation Rentals cofounder and chairman, “If this is a permanent change, this will be the nail in the coffin of Vrbo’s relationships with property managers. The Book Direct movement was already well under way, Airbnb continues to gain share, and Google’s product is coming to market. Take away the already limited branding and there would be every reason now to look for alternative distribution channels.”
We reached out to Vrbo for comment and received the following official response from the company’s leadership team:
“We’re continually running tests to understand how different elements of the shopping experience impact conversion in order to provide as many bookings as possible. Currently, we’re running a test with only part of Vrbo traffic on what contact information is displayed, when and where. As with all of our tests, this will run for a few weeks and we’ll share learnings and gather feedback from property managers if the results indicate any changes should be considered.
“To reiterate what we shared at Rezfest, we are committed to supporting the brands that property managers have worked hard to build. For example, the new property carousel makes it easy for travelers to find additional listings from the same property manager, establishing them as the go-to local expert with incredible places to stay. We’ll continue to gather managers’ feedback and explore additional ways to help them get more bookings.”
But not everyone is feeling optimistic about Vrbo’s commitment “to supporting the brands that property managers have worked hard to build.”
“At the recent VRMA International Conference, the HomeAway team spoke at a general session about their commitment to their ‘partners’ (VR managers).”said Jodi Refosco, owner of Taylor-Made Deep Creek Vacations. “To find that they are now ‘testing’ removing our branding from property listings undermines those words and is extremely concerning to say the least.”
Until now, property managers had an additional value in using Vrbo, commonly know among hoteliers as the billboard effect, which refers to the phenomena where a potential guest sees a hotel on an OTA, but then decides to visit—and ultimately book through—the hotel’s website directly. The billboard effect only works when the guest knows the name of the hotelier, or in this case the property manager. If this latest change at Vrbo holds, PMs will lose this benefit of using Vrbo as a marketing channel.
Since Expedia purchased Vrbo, the company has been open about its intent to eliminate “leakage” on the vacation rental site. In February 2108, CEO Mark Okerstrom discussed the company’s thoughts around leakage, saying the Vrbo (then HomeAway) team is “always trying to find ways to incent the right behaviors or correct problems that are resulting in leakage or poor behaviors.”
The Vrbo statement states that it will be gathering feedback. Property managers who are concerned about the change are advised to reach out to its leadership team.
Thankfully Booking.com realized the brands behind the booked accommodations are important and offer a great option to highlight the PM/Host. Its clean and offers enough to tell the consumer who they are working with. @Lexicon we are working to ensure that all of our partners take advantage of this additional free marketing tool. Add that to the guest messaging and the opportunity to get the guest to #Bookdirect the second time is in your hands.
Not a coincidence that this happened shortly before they had their earnings report. They’re trying to prevent their leaks, but consumers are now becoming wise to it.
This is what happens when the vast majority of PMs are displaying higher pricing on third party channels than they do on their direct sites – the third parties either de-list them or make it difficult to find their direct channels. The billboard effect is an excellent tool for the book direct movement. A PM has access to millions more shoppers by being on the mega sites and as such, not only get more bookings overall, but get a significant spike in direct site traffic. A PM undercutting a third party’s rates on their own channel is a classic example of biting the hand that feeds them. The “book direct” movement is noble, and all should try to to get as many bookings as possible to their own site (assuming the money they have to spend to get the traffic is less than commissions paid to third parties, which isn’t always the case), but the PMs who will win are the ones who learn to work WITH the OTAs; not against them as so many “industry experts” suggest. PMs would do well to learn distribution lessons from hotel chains. Marriott, Hilton, etc all try to drive business direct. But…they’re all on the OTAs because they realize the necessity of being there and the VALUE they get from it, even at the high margins. And they realize that in order to get access to that massive audience, they need to offer competitive pricing, which is why in most cases the hotel direct rates are the same as their rates on third parties. It should be understandable to all who want third party distribution that those sites will make it hard for customers to find your brand/site directly if you’re just going to undercut them. They’re not in the business to provide free marketing.
Anticipating this, we started building BookDirect.ly where guests enter a Vrbo/Airbnb unit link and we return the PM’s link to BookDirect. We have most vacation rental managers in the U.S. in our database already, but if you want to check that your properties are in there before Vrbo rolls this out, give it a try at BookDirect.ly
Oh, and Mr. Okerstrom, sorry about the “leakage”