I was on a roll.  In the second half of 2018, my Sea Zen vacation rental calendars were blocked out months ahead , largely from repeat guests and direct bookings. This was in a tough environment where my competitors were running at around 25% occupancy.

I was succeeding in a tough environment – this  was the perfect scenario for a VR owner.

So with some nervous confidence, I switched off my Online Travel Agency listings to see if I could run my VR rental solely with my own bookings.  I reported in my weekly newsletter.

The hard results

After a few months, my direct bookings slowed and it was harder to fill the calendar. Bookings slowed further.   My occupancy dropped from 95% to around 60% in November.  Ooops!

It seems that I had been getting ‘leakage’ direct to my website from searchers who found my listing on Airbnb, etc and who then found my own website and booked direct with me there.  This leakage dried up when my listings were switched off.

Back to the OTAs

In mid December, with some humility, I switched my OTA listings back on.  Some OTA bookings and more leakage to my own direct bookings.  I was back in business.

Occupancy bounced back to 90% and stayed there.

I have some good plans for increasing direct bookings and later in 2019, I’ll try the experiment again.  Stay tuned.


In the meantime, I set out on a search to find the holy grail – an inexpensive channel manager to synchronise calendars while you sleep, and a cheap robust website builder. That search was a lot more successful.   More on that next time.


Are you leaving money on the table because the little things are wrong?

We have all seen one vacation rental property thriving while a similar property is struggling.

The coffee capsule story

This was highlighted to me this week when a cleaner told me that a property she cleaned never needed more coffee capsules for the coffee machine.   On checking closer, she found the owner had provided a reserve of capsules which were a different size than the machine itself.  For the last year, guests had been trying to make coffee and were unable to.  The owner had unknowingly been frustrating his guests.

What else had been going wrong at the property? Chances are, all sorts of little things.  Chances are there are lots of little niggles and the guests leave frustrated.  Chances are they won’t come back and they won’t recommend the house to their friends.

I asked if it was frequently booked and of course the answer was no.

I asked if the owner had a guest questionnaire and of course the answer was no.

This is a repeating pattern right across our industry.  The problems could have been solved with some simple feedback.  But it’s complicated.

The psychology of feedback

Most of us shy away from conflict.  When something goes wrong, it takes a certain amount of diplomacy to say there has been a problem in a way that is constructive.  If you are a guest on holiday in relax mode, the last thing you want is an argument.  You [click to continue…]


So your vacation rental listings are perfect, right?  But what if you are missing something?

It is amazing what a fresh set of eyes brings to an existing listing.  It pays to periodically check your listings, and the start of the year is a good time.  You can do it yourself, and you might get a colleague to do another pass for you.

I encourage all my readers to check out their own listings now.
You never know what you might find.  If you have a few critical omissions, you may be losing 10-20% from your bottom line.

This hit me vividly when I looked over a friend’s new Airbnb listing that was prepared for him by professionals.  There were a lot of little things that popped out as I looked it over.  I found 7 things that could be improved.

How alert are you to  improvements? The 5 minute check.
You might want to check out the same listing and see how alert you are to improvements. Without looking at my improvement list below, how many items can you find to improve?  It is a 2BR apartment in a great location in the heart of downtown Melbourne, freshly renovated and beautifully presented. The target market is out of town visitors looking to discover Melbourne.   The Airbnb site is shown HERE.

It should take you about 5 minutes max to do your own check of it.  Make your own list before peeking at my list.  Do it now if you can.  This is what the listing looks like. [click to continue…]


What will 2019 bring?  It’s time to take a deep breath and make some predictions.

1 Direct bookings will grow for smart VR owners, with better tools emerging.
2 Channel managers will take the stress out of instant booking
3 Booking.com will continue to grow
4 Regulators will target anti competitive practices.
5  Airbnb will stall but reinvent itself, and allied services will grow
6 The lesser OTAs will wane

1 Direct bookings will grow for smart VR owners, with better tools emerging.
In the same way that awareness of Airbnb grew from 15% to 80% over just two years, more and more insightful guests are becoming aware they can save around 10% by booking direct with the owners of their accommodation.
Smart owners realise this and are using better tools to make it easy to get direct bookings.  It will be easier to have your own website, with links to your own booking engine software so guests can easily book direct online.

2 Channel managers will take the stress out of instant booking
Three years ago only a handful of channel managers were connected to Airbnb, now all the OTAs make it easier for many channel managers to connect.  Soon there will be scores of channel managers available that can synchronise all owners’ calendars, and avoid the dreaded double booking.  Owners will be able to relax and adopt instant booking on Airbnb, Homeaway and Tripadvisor as well as the Bookingdotcom default. Instant booking means higher ranking and more bookings, so it will become the norm.
The extra competition between channel managers will drive prices down, becoming affordable even for single property operators. I missed that trend last year!

3 Booking.com will continue to grow
As more vacation rental owners find it easy to use Booking to travel themselves, they will see the potential to use it to bring more bookings to their own VR, and will sign up, increasing Booking supply.  The virtuous cycle of success will continue with more choice driving more bookings.  Already dominating Google ads spend with over $1 Billion per quarter, Booking and other OTAs will further seal their market dominance.

4 Regulators will target anti competitive practices.
Regulators, particularly in Europe will become sensitive to how OTAs have used their market strength to crush small operators by dominating Google ads, and in the case of Booking, by imposing price fixing through price parity clauses in agreements. The more active regulators will wind back price fixing practices.

5  Airbnb will stall but reinvent itself, and allied services will grow
As Airbnb soaks up available supply in the small property market, it’s growth will stall, exacerbated by regulation limiting activity in urban areas.  Using its strength of innovation, it will find ways to add small hotels to its inventory by making it easy for them to connect to the Airbnb ecosystem, and rewarding them for joining.  The distraction of growth may well delay the much awaited IPO another year.
The number of providers of allied Airbnb service providers will continue to grow to fill gaps needed by owners.  This will include key provision, meet and greet, cleaning and entire property management services.  Airbnb will continue to provide tools to make integration easy for service providers and owners.

6 The lesser OTAs will wane
The less competitive OTAs will stall as they deliver less bookings than their more successful counterparts.  Tripadvisor will have trouble surviving and will continue to shed value until its price declines enough for it to be purchased by one of the larger OTAs.  The Homeaway brand will continue to struggle.  The trends for OTAs were clear in my previous post here.

Let me know in the comments if you have any different predictions.



Where should you be putting your efforts into getting bookings for your vacation rental?

Wouldn’t it be nice to predict which online travel agencies (OTAs) are becoming more successful in your area, so you can concentrate on them?  Is Airbnb growing faster than Booking.com, or vice versa? Or is Tripadvisor emerging a winner? Where should you be putting your efforts to help your vacation rental succeed?

It is really hard to get reliable data that tells you how the online travel agencies are performing locally for your customers. The current trend is also hard to understand.

It is true to a large degree that you can predict the future by looking in the rear view mirror.  What has been the past trend? What will happen if it continues?

Fortunately Google gives you a way to get a good overall impression about the trend with OTAs in your country, to help you make better decisions for your vacation rental.

Google Trends reporting tool
Google Trends  (trends.google.com) gives you a good report on what people are searching Google for over time, and how different  searches compare with each other. You can see the results worldwide, by country and over time.

This article shows you what those trends are for the major OTAs.  You can see what is happening globally, in the USA, Australia and the UK.  You can also run your own report for any other country in a few seconds.

1 GLOBAL trends for the main OTAs
This graph below shows the relative volumes of searches worldwide, for Tripadvisor, Airbnb, Booking, Expedia and VRBO over the past 5 years.
It shows:

  • Tripadvisor (blue) gradually declining
  • Airbnb (red) rapidly growing from a small base to be a higher proportion than Tripadvisor or Expedia (green), and flattening off in the past year. The flattening off is consistent with observations reported by Skift
  • Booking (yellow, proxy for Booking.com) dominating globally and steadily increasing
  • Expedia is declining slightly over time, and VRBO (purple) is relatively small on the global stage.

Global 1500

[click to continue…]