We don’t know many, if any, people who thought 2016 was their best year ever. Virtually everyone we’ve spoken with has said the same thing: They can’t wait for 2016 to end so they can start the new year with a fresh start and renewed hope for better times ahead.
We feel the same, and look forward to the coming new year with tempered hope sprinkled with trepidation. We, too, have had our share of battles, disappointments and “out of the blue” life changes handed to us over the past 12 months. While many of these are personal, one change that affected us significantly in relation to our Duck Lake Vacation Rental property was the decision by HomeAway / VRBO, which we have advertised on since we decided to share it with others as a vacation rental in 2009, to change their business model and strategy. While that new strategy may work well with larger property management companies who are looking to maximize bookings of their extended inventory of properties, it does not work well for simple folks like us with a single second home that we want to share with others.
When we decided to turn our second home into a vacation rental in 2009, our goal wasn’t about maximizing profits, but to make good use of a fabulous home in a great location by offering those who choose to rent from us an exceptional vacation rental experience. We knew what we liked to see and experience whenever we rented any home, or even a hotel room, and we wanted to incorporate the best of those experiences into our rental strategy. Not many vacation rentals will block out a full 24 hours to allow for cleaning and to ensure everything is in full working order before the next guest arrives. When someone books a 3 night stay with us, it actually blocks 5 nights off of our calendar – the night prior to arrival, and the night following departure. We lose a lot of rental income doing this, but it’s not about the money – it’s about the guest experience.
We have also been able to hire people who truly care about making sure the home is in tip top shape for each and every guest. Because they are not rushed to turn it around in 4-5 hours between guests, they can attend to small details that make our guests say, “Wow!”, when they walk in the door for the first time.
We’ve also never seen a vacation rental property solicit feedback from guests like we do. We’ve stayed at vacation rentals where the owners or property managers didn’t seem to care about keeping everything (or anything!) in full working order, and some even punish their guests for reporting problems (that happen to us once, where we were blamed by the owners for causing the problems and malfunctions we discovered during our stay and had our damage deposit withheld!). We, on the other hand, actually encourage our guests to point out issues so we can get them fixed right away. Our property’s caretakers won’t always notice every problem, so we appreciate it when our guests tell us when something is not quite right so we can address it quickly.
Because we strive to stand out above the rest and offer a superior vacation rental experience, we don’t believe we can continue our relationship with HomeAway / VRBO any longer after our current advertising subscription with them expires in mid-2017. We are already seeing a significant drop in inquiries and bookings because we won’t subscribe to their “Book It Now” service, which immediately puts a hold for the amount of the reservation deposit on the traveler’s credit card while the property manager or owner reviews the request and determines if they want to accept or reject the booking. We are also very unhappy about the new Service Fee being charged to travelers who book through the HomeAway / VRBO family of websites. They say the Service Fee buys you a “book with confidence guarantee”, but do you really think HomeAway is going to get a problem like a sink unclogged or a broken icemaker repaired during your stay? No, it will be the property manager or owner. Calling HomeAway will likely just delay getting any issue resolved and make your vacation rental experience frustrating. The original concept of VRBO – Vacation Rental By Owner – is now gone and has been replaced with a non-personal hotel booking style experience that cost travelers more money with no real service in return.
It remains to be seen if our new endeavor to manage our own website and advertising through sources like Google, Bing and Facebook work or not. Maybe our unwillingness to be assimilated into this new way of renting vacation homes will prove to us that we are simply dinosaurs, and we will be forced out of the vacation rental business. However, we truly hope we can continue sharing our home with others looking for an amazing Glacier National Park vacation experience, and look forward to our new beginnings in 2017 as a truly independent vacation rental property.
Here’s to a fresh start for 2017. Happy New Year!