Vrbo, which recently began removing property management company names from listings, says the move is a short-term test intended to “improve the shopping experience for travelers and to optimize conversion in order to provide as many bookings as possible for Vrbo partners.”
But property managers tell PhocusWire they are not happy with the change.
“Imagine going to Expedia and having them list 100 hotels in Manhattan but not telling you who they were and just saying ‘hotel room,’” says John Banczak, CEO of TurnKey Vacation Rentals and who previously worked at HomeAway.
“Consumers want to know who they are booking with. They want to have a feeling of trust and security, so I think it’s just a bad experience overall. The reason they are doing is clearly they don’t want folks to leave the platform and book on other sites. That’s not a good reason to create a bad consumer experience in my opinion.”
Banczak says he learned of the test last Thursday from industry colleagues that saw TurnKey’s branding removed from listings.
“We have heard a lot from the property management industry and people are extremely concerned about this test,” he says. Properties that are part of the test show the words “Property Manger” in place of the company name.
Brian Egan, co-founder and CEO of Evolve Vacation Rental, says that while testing is a good thing, “in this case we think the hypothesis underlying the test is flawed. We should all be aligned in wanting what's best for the consumer, and it's clear to us that obfuscating brands at the top of the funnel will only lead to confusion and erode trust.
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“Whether the consumer prefers to book with a branded supplier or not, the best way to offer them what they want is to make the distinction crystal clear, starting on the listing page.”
Vrbo - the name Expedia Group has given to its combined alternative accommodations unit of both Vrbo and HomeAway - has struggled financially recently. In Expedia Group’s results for the second quarter of 2019, Vrbo gross bookings increased just 2% in the quarter.
In a conference call with analysts to discuss the results, CEO Mark Okerstrom said: “...although, gross bookings growth remained modest, we saw growth trends improve throughout the quarter. While we still have a lot of work to do, we continue to see an attractive long-term growth opportunity, both at Vrbo and across Expedia Group in the alternative accommodation space.”
Banczak says he thinks the test will end, and, due to both industry feedback and lower production, brands will be back on listings soon.
“The last thing [Vrbo] needs to be doing is getting the industry upset with them, particularly when folks like Airbnb are on the rise and doing everything they can to get the industry happy with them. ... And obviously with Google coming out, there’s an even more interesting channel because it’s direct to your own website,” he says.
But even if the test ends, he says this type of strategy leaves a lasting impression on suppliers.
“That said, I think the property management industry takes notice of things like this, and any time there’s a chance to diversify your business with folks like Google or Booking.com, so on, you want to take it,” he says.
Expedia Group’s rental brands are no stranger to conflict, with HomeAway facing a backlash from its owner and property manager base back in early 2017 over the removal of independent guest-owner interaction.
The move indicated HomeAway was trying to keep the booking and interaction between guest and owner within the platform, essentially ensuring that people do not make a booking directly with the property owner.
Says Egan, “Ultimately, we're confident that the marketplaces that are transparent with consumers about who they are booking with will be the winners over time."
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