We asked: HomeAway boosts fees for 2018—but what’s the cost?

If you’re at all tuned into news circling the vacation rental industry, it was hard to miss HomeAway’s announcement on new 2018 fees making waves last week. We first came across it in Amy Hinote’s latest piece on VRM Intel.

The tldr:

  • HomeAway will increase subscription fees 25% (from $399 to $499 per listing)
  • In addition to this increase, for direct bookings from guests who previously used HomeAway in their travel research, they’ll charge a 10% transactional fee

In other words, for direct bookings made where HomeAway can attribute similar searches on their websites, they stand to take a piece of the pie—what they’re calling performance credit for “off-platform” bookings. Amy sums the cost increase in a way that puts it in perspective: this adds up to over $700k from an average vacation rental management company managing 250 properties.

But in the long term, what’s this big news really mean for rental managers at large?

Now that the initial story has had a little time to settle, we asked around to some of our friends (and foremost authorities in the industry) to see their initial thoughts, and recommendations for a path forward.

Take a peek at their insights below:

Alex Husner, CMO, Condo-World Resort Properties

“While I understand the reasoning behind wanting to prevent leakage of bookings off HomeAway’s platform, the most recent announcement has the potential to be a paradigm shift for what is deemed acceptable in vacation rental/OTA partnerships. HomeAway is learning from Expedia’s early days and is working to apply this hindsight as quickly as possible. Had technology been as advanced years ago as it is now, Expedia would have asked to match back email addresses/dates and to be paid a commission for any bookings that originated from a search on their site. Could Expedia do that now with their hotel clients? Sure…but the hotel/OTA relationships are far too involved and strained at this point to attempt something like that. HomeAway is still at a relatively new stage in their relationships with VRMs, many of whom are highly vested in the company from both a software and advertising perspective and consider themselves at mercy to any changes the company wants to make.

Between the addition of the booking fee a couple years ago, to removing the ability for VRMs to communicate with guests during the booking process, and now implementing a match back process to automatically recoup any bookings made off platform — HomeAway is making it hard for both guests and VRMs to want to do business with them. With this newest announcement, VRMs could potentially pay double commission and LOSE money if a guest searches on HomeAway but then books on another OTA. (Example: 10% to HomeAway and 15% to Booking.com = 25%… which is well above the average commission fee for most PMs).

Removing the ability to communicate with guests has also been troublesome for us—if HomeAway were to truly facilitate the booking from start to finish, we would have no problem with not being able to communicate with the guest. But to provide a lead—and then restrict what information can be sent, and how it can be sent—creates a customer service and operational nightmare.

Total OTA revenue only makes up 3% of Condo-World’s annual sales— but there are many in our industry who rely specifically on HomeAway/VRBO for up to 70% of their sales. All of our listings are pay-per-booking, so we are going to continue on with 2018 as normal and then evaluate the true effect of these changes at the end of the year.”


Stuart Butler, COO, Fuel Travel

“This is a greedy move and one that could backfire. There’s no way I will recommend that my clients participate in this new model. The notion that HomeAway claims 10% commission for bookings where a consumer at some point made a search on HomeAway is nonsense. We know that consumers shop around and look at the same property on multiple sites. What if they all did the same thing? Imagine if a consumer finds your property on the local CVB site, then shops you on HomeAway, TripAdvisor, and another local portal, before finally booking on your own website. Are you to give 10% commission to all four of those touch points? What if they also saw a retargeting ad for your property and that vendor also took another 10%?

My advice for rental managers is to boycott HomeAway. Spend your time crafting an amazing book direct strategy by creating a frictionless, mobile-first booking experience, applying psychological sales tactics through the funnel, and providing unique value and incentives to guests who book direct.”


Matt Raab, Director of eCommerce, Sterling Resorts

“I believe the move is intended to drive PMs away from their subscription program and onto their pay per booking program. When Expedia took over it was expected that the way HomeAway collects revenue would eventually mirror Expedia. The transition started with the introduction of pay per booking, then elimination of subscription levels, and now the latest changes. Within a year or two subscriptions either will not be economical anymore in comparison with pay per booking or be outright eliminated as an option.

Diversify and develop brand loyalty. We will be staying on the same path we began down long ago—with integrated software and connections partners most third party websites are easy to add as distribution channels. We utilize as many that make sense to us in terms of cost and rental policy.

With the right technology partners, there is not a manpower burden, and it makes a significant impact on the percentage of revenue that originates from HomeAway. Once the guest is booked, however—from any channel—the goal is to collect data, impress the guest, and rebook direct. This sector is where the most exciting new technologies and services are being developed.”


Even early on, the news is hard hitting. A vacation rental owner and manager in the Southeast went on to add this:

“Bold move for sure because they risk owners who will leave because of the increased pricing. Also, curious how they will access Vacation Rental Managers data to know who to “charge” other than Escapia and V12 users, as they can potentially access those databases because they are HomeAway PMS’s.

As a VR Manager, we are not, and will never be, in a position to pay websites which a guest visits prior to ultimately booking direct with us. That is ridiculous.

Our path forward will be to educate all homeowners as to why they should put their units with professionally managed companies who can help them better navigate the ever changing vacation rental market.”

We have a feeling this story is far from over. Got perspectives on this (or anything else bubbling up in the VR industry)? Join the conversation.

In the meantime, get the full scoop in the original VRM Intel article, and for more like this give Amy a follow here.


Marketing for vacation ownership: tips to step up your lead capture

Vacation ownership has evolved over time. It started with the idea of bringing your family to a resort and creating memories together year after year. Hospitality giants like Disney, Hilton, and Marriott took note and quickly helped grow the industry.

Today, the marketplace has an abundance of options, including Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO. The internet paved the way for change, and in just a few clicks, travelers have hundreds of choices available to them.

For vacation ownership marketers especially, the task of finding qualified leads and converting them into happy, long-term owners remains a demanding job—one that’s more of a necessity than ever.

Start by considering your advantages and identifying your unique challenges

Ownership can be a ticket to better vacationing and offers a unique experience over traditional resorts. It’s an investment that provides an advantage to families as resorts are often perfectly located and offer spacious, high-quality accommodations and an abundance of amenities.

But even more, ownership gives way to memorable moments that last a lifetime—those your owners and members will want to share with the ones they love. As marketers, you can tap into these special moments to introduce your hotel to more of the people you want to talk to.

But how do you do that? Below are some tips to consider when looking to put these insights into action, and supercharge your lead capture with qualified travelers.

1. Get hyper-targeted: reach & engage the right audience

Travelers are connected to a like-minded audience of friends and family who share the same taste in travel and purchasing habits. For the savvy vacation ownership marketer, it’s easy to see why the friends and family of your owners, members and even renters alike are the perfect demographic for your property.

Get introduced by converting your members and owners into advocates. Research from Nielsen shows people trust the recommendations they receive from friends and family more than any other, making this incredibly targeted reach even more valuable.

Plus, keep in mind that vacation ownership buyers often have a strong emotional attachment to the experience—these are moments with friends and family that they’re eager to share! Encourage introductions, build better relationships, and get rewarded.

2. Use the right calls-to-action

In order to step up lead capture, the right calls-to-action are critical. That’s because not everyone you encounter as a marketer is ready to buy.

This is especially true for high-value purchases where people weigh their options to ensure they’re making the right decision. If the only option is to ‘buy now,’ you’re constantly missing the opportunity to nurture that potential future owner because there is no relevant action for them to take or reason to get in touch.

Start by taking into consideration where a person is in their purchasing journey. Are they a first-time vacation rental visitor, or an old pro? According to ARDA, 42% of new owners first experienced vacation ownership clubs by renting before making a purchase.

With this in mind, it’s apparent as a marketer that the call-to-action for these different travelers also needs to be different.

For the first-timer, instead of offering up a discount, try rekindling their favorite moment after the stay. You’ll begin building a relationship on an emotional level, giving them a reason to return. For the old pro, they may be primed to open the conversation for the long-term purchase.

By delivering the right ask, you’ll not only capture more qualified leads, but you’ll better understand their intent to buy, and know when and how to communicate.

3. Nurture, don’t spam

Once you’ve captured your leads, treat them how you want your inbox treated—with relevant messages that have the right content and context.

Why is this so important? Every time you email someone with content they’re not interested in, you’re eroding your relationship. And these are hard-earned leads we’re talking about!

Sheila's story at Westgate

Instead, inspire them with relevant content.

One way to do this is with storytelling. Your owners and guests capture the widest range of experiences and provide the most candid insights into your property.

Blending these stories throughout your marketing and communications is a great way to replace spam content that is irrelevant to your audience. You’ll deliver high-value content that makes sense. In doing so, you’re more likely to get more shares and tours than simply spamming email campaigns to your database of leads. (Read more on canning spam.)

Once you’ve readied your relevant content, remember timing and context are important, too. Craft messages based on where they may be in the buying journey—especially as the path to purchase is not a single step, and for vacation ownership can be far more complex.

By following these tips, you’ll not only reach the best audience for your property, you’ll save time and be rewarded along the way.

Have tips on marketing for vacation ownership that you want to share? Get in touch! We’re always looking for new ideas in the travel space that help shape hospitality.