Are HomeAway and VRBO the same thing? How are each of those different from Airbnb? What are the biggest Airbnb competitors? How do other vacation rental listing sites, like FlipKey, TripAdvisor, and Tripping.com factor into all of this?
And, the most critical question of all: Which of these online travel agencies (OTAs) are the best for generating rental income from your vacation home?
But first, if you're a guest/traveler, we have a tip for you: Book directly with a property manager to save up to 15%. Sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway charge a guest fee between 6% and 20%, sometimes even more. When you book directly with a hospitality company like InvitedHome, you'll pay less.
In this post we’re going to take a deep dive into the marketing side of the vacation rental industry to help you uncover the best vacation rental listing sites for owners, depending on your revenue goals, the type of home you have, the location you’re in, and several more factors. If you haven’t yet read our post on how much vacation rentals can make, this may be a good place to start, so you understand the earning potential of your specific home. With this knowledge, it may be easier to understand the different listing sites and choose one that’s best for you.
If you’re a rent-by-owner (RBO), meaning you manage your vacation rental yourself, the simplest way to answer this question is what you may expect: Start with HomeAway and Airbnb. If you are the only one managing your listings, and only plan to list your home on one or two sites, start with these two. For a specific look at the difference between these dominant players, check out our post on VRBO vs. Airbnb here.
HomeAway is the parent company of a slew of companies all in the vacation rental space, including Vacationrentals.com, Homelidays, and the household name VRBO, the latter of which you may hear industry professionals refer to as Verbo (/ˈvərbō/). It’s the largest player in the industry, and as such, all the websites in the HomeAway family collectively reach tens of millions of travelers every month. For many, HomeAway is one of the best websites for vacation rentals by owner.
If you’re new to vacation rentals, HomeAway is a great place to start. If you’d like to list your site for free, rather than paying an annual subscription, you can instead choose a pay-per-booking fee of 5%, plus a credit card transaction fee of 3%. Alternatively, you can pay an annual fee of $499, and do away with the 5% pay-per-booking fee. However, you’ll still be responsible for the 3% credit card fee.
For many, the annual fee is the most cost-effective option if you think you’ll earn more than $6,000-$7,000 in a given year. The pay-per-booking option is less risky, but if your bookings take off, you’ll end up paying much more than the $499/year.
Airbnb is the fastest-growing listing site and reaches millions of travelers all over the world. There’s no annual subscription, but rather a simple 3% pay-per-booking fee. It’s perhaps the easiest point of entry into the industry, but does have its drawbacks, outlined a little lower.
As a general rule, if you’re listing your home in an urban destination, go with Airbnb, as leisure travelers who want to explore a city tend to book through this platform. The company is also making major inroads in capturing the business travel market, which could be a huge boon for you if you're in the right area. In 2015, only about 250 companies reported using Airbnb for business travel. By 2017, this number had ballooned to a staggering 250,000 companies. Perhaps this is due to the savings companies are seeing by using Airbnb for business travel. Statistics from Million Mile Secrets show companies pay nearly 50% less by booking large homes with multiple rooms, as opposed to individual rooms at a hotel. In this regard, urban locals have enormous rental potential, and Airbnb is the leader of the pack when it comes to recruiting those guests.
Moreover, as more companies begin experimenting once again with off-site meetings and corporate retreats, larger homes also have huge potential for attracting these types of guest on Airbnb.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t include additional channels if you live in an urban area. If you can handle managing various listings, you’ll increase your online presence listing on VRBO and HomeAway as well. Expedia’s purchase of HomeAway is also expected to help the site gain more traction in the urban/business travel market and better compete with Airbnb.
If your home is in a vacation destination, go with HomeAway/VRBO. These sites are hands down the best for attracting visitors looking for accommodation in vacation areas, whether they’re highly traveled or lesser known spots. We’ve found luxury travelers tend to favor HomeAway/VRBO over Airbnb, too. So this would be a consideration if your home is in a high-end destination, such as Aspen or Myrtle Beach.
Flipkey/TripAdvisor: These two come in a pair just like HomeAway and VRBO, and are a great option if you’re looking to list your home across multiple OTAs. Both of these thrive in traditional vacation destinations, and perhaps the biggest perk of using FlipKey is the potential for cross-selling guests who are researching a destination on TripAdvisor. The fee structure is nearly identical to Airbnb, at a rate of 3% per booking rather than an annual subscription.
onefinestay: For high-end homes in an urban location, it’s worth checking out onefinestay. Fees are substantially higher, however with that cost comes extraordinary service and offerings.They only operate in a handful of destinations at this point though, so you’ll have to see if it’s an available option for you.
Now that you know a little bit more about each of the OTAs, you'll need to ask yourself a few questions:
Craigslist. While Craigslist still has a solid hold in the long-term rental space, it’s never really caught on for short-term rentals. The time it takes to list and monitor activity will almost surely be in vain, as the short-term guests just aren’t searching there. That, and there is still very little control for fraud. It’s best to steer clear completely.
Small vacation rental sites you’ve never heard of. As a rent-by-owner, one of your primary goals is to keep things simple, and list your home on sites that will produce results. Quality absolutely trumps quantity in this space. Imagine it: Every time your home books, you’ll need to update your calendar on every site on which your home is listed, or risk a double booking and in some cases, a drop in rankings or other forms of penalization. Trying to stay on top of more than two or three listing sites means more headaches, and much more of your life spent trying to stay organized.
If you’re already using a vacation rental manager to list your home, it may be worth checking in with them to determine if they’re advertising your home on all the best rental listing sites, and in all the right ways. This also applies if you're currently in the process of looking for or switching vacation rental managers. (If this is you, make sure to read through our post on the 10 questions you should ask before choosing a vacation rental manager.) We've categorized property managers into these simple tiers:
Bad. Your property manager is only listing your home on one of the above-mentioned sites, and you’re missing out on substantially higher bookings. This is a clear sign it’s time to switch property managers.
Mediocre. Your property manager is doing exactly what you could be doing as a rent-by-owner (outlined above), but at least saving you the time and energy.
Good: Your property manager lists your home on all the sites listed above and more, and also features your home on their own website. These property managers are typically smaller, and will build their search pages with a proprietary management software that streamlines the entire process. However, if the company is too small, the aesthetic and user experience of the website could be lacking. This can be off-putting for guests, especially those looking for luxury accommodation.
If you’re curious where your current property manager stands, try asking them a simple question:
"Can you tell me where your bookings come from?"
At InvitedHome, we've traditionally seen more than 50% of our bookings come in directly through our own website, and the other 50% come in through all of those listed above - and as many as 20 others. This balance, however, is tipping closer to 60% booking through the InvitedHome website, as luxury travelers find they consistently have the same high-end experience every time they book through us, eliminating the uncertainty that sometimes accompanies vacation rentals. In some cases, guests have told us they’ll only vacation to a destination in which we operate.
Your property manager may be doing all the right things, but if they’re not building brand loyalty, there’s still more they could be doing.
You’ve probably seen ads on TV and online for Tripping and HomeToGo. These are simply known as aggregator sites, rather than property management companies or even vacation rental networks. They work by pulling in their inventory from sites like Airbnb and HomeAway via an application programming interface (API), advertising your home, then redirecting the booking back to the source site.
Most likely, your listing on Airbnb or HomeAway will automagically appear on these aggregator sites through their respective affiliate programs. In return, HomeAway or Airbnb will then pay a commission if a guest books a home via the aggregator site. The communication between the sites is all tracked through URLs and cookies.
For all intents and purposes, you won’t need to worry about what’s happening on aggregator sites, as it’s mostly beyond your control.
At InvitedHome, we provide unrivaled care for your luxury vacation home while increasing bookings and revenue. We accomplish this by leveraging our international audience, proprietary technology, and years of hospitality experience, giving guests fine hotel excellence in the privacy of their own vacation rental. Get in touch today to learn more.