A collection of honest, candid & funny remarks about OTA’s (online travel agencies) by vacation rental owners & managers -You won’t want to miss this!

OTA = Online Travel Agency (Such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, Owners Direct, Booking.com etc).

A few months ago we released the results of our extremely popular OTA survey (Part One: What Owners & Managers Really Think About OTA’s).

We had well over 500 responses which pointed to a common discontent towards OTA’s. 90% of comments relate to:

  • The OTA’s greed: Increased commissions & guest service fees (up to 40% in some cases)
  • Increasing loss of business control
  • Reducing & blocking direct communication with guests
  • Overall lack of respect for the business at grass roots level

There were so many comments we decided to release them as the “second part” of this two-part series.

Please note: This makes up about 25% of the total comments! I’ve correct a few spelling mistakes & grammatical errors, so they read better. If you’d like to read the entire raw list, please email me for the .csv file (all participants will remain anonymous).

What Owners & Managers Really Think About Online Travel Agencies. What’s your favourite comment?


Blood-sucking vampires

They are like vampires trying to suck the life out of vacation rental owners.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

They rule the game, disrespecting inventory providers

Most dislike:

  • They rule the game, disrespecting inventory providers
  • Poor customer service
  • Misleading information (HomeAway)
  • Impeding direct contact
  • Taking higher commissions
  • Wanting to commoditize a business which relies on the uniqueness of the owner/pm by definition.

Most like: they are marketing channels

— Owner, Italy

Good exposure, huge commissions

Like – Great market exposure. Dislike – huge commissions

— Owner, 1 property

Commission rates will continue to rise

Greed. Don’t care about owners, managers and guests. Misleading across the board. Things will get worse for owners and managers. The rate has certainly not peaked.

— Owner, Denmark

They don’t care about the poor sod who owns the property

Almost entirely focussed on the end customer and almost not at all focussed on the poor sod who owns the property

— Owner, United Kingdom

No understanding of the guest-host relationship

  • The barriers they are putting between guest and host
  • The greed of their commission structure
  • Their lack of understanding of the relationship between guest and host
  • Their dismal customer service
  • Their total arrogance towards guests and hosts
  • The impossibility of having a proper discussion about their strategy

There is nothing to note in the positive column

— Spain, Owners with 2 – 10 properties

Guest service fees are too high

Charge too high a service fee to guests. Guarantee they offer is misleading to the guest especially if they are booking an agent managed property.

— Manager, United Kingdom (2 – 50 properties)

Our goal is to reduce OTA dependence

Our goal is to reduce our dependence on mass-market distributors in favour of private distribution channels.

— Manager, United States (251 – 500 properties)

Guests get irritated with service fees

They overcharge and guests get irritated. They don’t care about us as PMs.

— Manager, United States (51 – 250 properties)

No access to guest contact information

Great exposure to my properties. No access to guest’s contact information.

— Manager, Brazil

They create dependency

They create a dependency. The day it does not work anymore for me, I will have to find another channel and start over.

— Owner, France

I will not be using them next year

They charge owners and now charge the clients, basically taking nearly 10% from both sides, I will not be using them again next year.

— Owner with 2-50 properties, France

Great… for hotel rooms

Great for hotel rooms. I’d never use one for a vacation rental home. I want a more personal experience when booking a home vs. “just a room”.

— Owner, United States:

Appalling customer service (except booking.com)

Absolutely appalling customer service except booking.com

— Manager, United Kingdom: 2-50 properties

You feed the problem if you rely on them

If your marketing strategy relies on them, then you are only feeding the problem. We stopped using OTAs four years ago and have only seen our bookings grow.

— Manager, United Kingdom

They’re like a fireman starting a fire, putting it out & wanting applause

I think OTA’s are masquerading as giving the guest the best selection of rentals, and the agency/owner the biggest reach, but in reality, they are making changes to the model for the sole purpose of creating an income stream for themselves, by fragmenting the available revenue to suit them.

It’s like a fireman starting a fire and then putting it out and wanting everyone to thank them!!

— Anon, United Kingdom

Can’t use our own booking policies

I do not like OTA’s that take payments on my behalf and charge more than we pay in credit card commission on top of the commission they charge to us already.

I find it difficult that not all of them allow us to use our own booking policy regarding cancellations.

— Manager, France with 51-250 properties

Stunned by how many people don’t look past them

Greedy but effective.

Stunned by how many people don’t look beyond them. Resigned to working with them, albeit reluctantly.

— Owner, Sri Lanka: 1 property

A law unto themselves: They don’t understand the individuality of rentals. We are NOT hotels

A law unto themselves, do NOT understand the individuality of vacation rentals, do NOT understand it not possible to do instant book with this product due to its individuality

…we are NOT hotel rooms with a building full of the same product.
— Owner, France

Owners are being railroaded & blackmailed into accepting changes

Dislike how owners have been railroaded in to accepting their changes, almost blackmailed in that if you don’t sign up to the new scheme, you won’t be featured or will be very low down in the listing

— Owner, France with 2-10 properties

I shudder to think…

VRBO held my money for over a month, on a last-minute booking. I shudder to think of the interest lost on an advance booking.

— Owner, France

Hidden fees & poor communication

Impersonal, hidden fees for both guest and owner, poor communication and no understanding of properties.

— Owner, United Kingdom

I love my home and I like to know about guests before they book

The whole booking system has become very impersonal, I love my holiday home and like to know a bit about guests before they book.

— Owner, Ireland: 1 property

OTA’s are the mafia

My OTA experience is that they are the mafia. They tell you how to run your business.

  • Send correspondence to guests without asking and create unnecessary work
  • If you don’t like the way they work they invite you to leave
  • They also penalise you for not answering emails fast enough

They do create interest and business which is the only reason I use them.

— Manager, United Kingdom (2-50 properties)

They steal communication but provide security

They take away my personal contact with guests.

Security is the only positive, as spammers have more difficulty in getting through to owners.

— Owner, France

Shady travelers

VRBO charges too much. AirBnB low fees but starting to get shady travelers.

— Owner, United States (2-10 properties)

It is MY property

Least like the absolute control they try to take over your property. It is MY property.

— Owner, France

We are cash cows

That we are just a cash cow for them to make money. They make it as difficult as possible for us to build a relationship with guests because they withhold guest contact details.

— Owner, Austria (2-10 properties)

It is a matter of time before owners will return back to agencies

OTA’s will loose ground because owners only get 30% maximum occupancy. It is a matter of time before owners will return back to agencies.

— Manager, Brazil (2-50 properties)

Take owners out of the equation & charge for the privilege

They are trying to take owners out of the equation and charge extra for the privilege.

I have successfully run my business for 10 years without their interference and do not need them constantly spamming my customers.

I do not need an OTA to handle my money and keep it for months until the guest arrives – I need a steady cash flow throughout the year, not a sudden burst in summer and then nothing for the rest of the year.

I do not need Owners Direct telling my potential guests that I am untrustworthy as do not accept online payments through their system.

The big OTAs are currently a necessary evil, but as soon as a new viable listing site comes out that keeps the control with the owners, then I will jump ship!

— Manager, France (2-50 properties)

They allow cancellations up until the last minute

I don’t like that they take bookings without screening guests. Plus they basically allow cancellations of bookings up until the last minute.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

Guests paid £200 more in fees than they would direct

The price they charge to the visitors is truly shocking. Our last guests paid £200 more in fees than they would have by booking direct.

— Owner, Trinidad & Tobago (2-10 properties)

Lacklustre customer service

I detest the fees they charge guests and their lacklustre customer service.

I like that they advertise and have their name out there. Also, I love OTA’s, like AirBnB that get involved and help VRs in local communities.

— Anon, United States

One model does NOT fit all

They try to fit a one model fits all that is often better suited to hotels than holiday lets.

— Owner, France (1 property)

VRBO have abused their monopolistic position

I HATE VRBO! They were a wonderful company and they have now abused their monopolistic position (at least in Europe for North American guests).

— Owner, Italy (2-10 properties)

They try and take too much control

They try to take too much CONTROL.

— Owner, Portugal (2-10 properties)

Can’t communicate with guests until after they book

Can’t communicate with guest until after they book

— Owner, United States (2-10 properties)

BS!!

Monopolies, charge too much, no customer and guest appreciation, just big business charging and taking too much with what was only supposed to be a marketing tool, now they want to take control of MY business. BS!!

— Manager, United States (2-50 properties)

They ‘own’ the customer

Like that they get me access to new markets.

Don’t like that they dominate google on my property name, that they ‘own’ the customer and are inflexible in how to interact with the customer which loses me business.

— Owner, France (2-10 properties)

Like management, hate outrageous fees & policy control

Like the ease of quoting, managing bookings & calendars etc.

Hate the outrageous fees and the way these sites are dictating what my booking policies should be and how I communicate with guests.

— Manager, United States (2-50 properties)

15% commish!

24 hour telephone help-line with helpful and pleasant staff.. 15% commission. too high.

— Owner, France (1 property)

Guest services fees are driving more direct business

I most like that they are now charging travellers fees which is making it easier to steer bookings to our personal site.

— Manager, United States (51-250 properties)

Restrict guest vetting

I like they give me bookings. Don’t like when they restrict my vetting of the guest.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

High marketing spend but rate manipulation

Good: The work hard and spend a lot of money promoting my property.

Bad: They manipulate rates and availability to make their rates appear lower than other OTA’s, and our direct rates, even thought they are actually the same or higher.

— Owner, Thailand (2-10 properties)

VRBO has killed my business

I was a big fan of VRBO and had good success with that program. Then they changed the way they do business by adding fees and changing how rentals appear online and my business has died.

I have had several renters ask to pay me directly to avoid the fee. I don’t blame them when it’s nearly $500 extra for a 4-week stay.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

Risk of a monopoly

The risk is that one OTA (let say Airbnb) becomes a dominant force of the market.

— Owner, Italy (2-10 properties)

Ugh

Ugh
— Manager, United States (51-250 properties)

Taking away our control

Taking away our control.

— Owner, France (2-10 properties)

Nothing good about OTA’s except last-minute bookings but they probably caused last-minute cancellations!

They have destroyed traditional, personal bookings, succeeded in making accommodation more expensive, and have monopolised the market, lowered standards in bookings and increased fraudulent bookings.

There is nothing good about OTAs other than, possibly, filling last minute availability. However, it is possible they caused the last minute cancellation!

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

Hotels are the new competition

Now we are directly competing with hotels on their sites, they don’t want us in the market.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

It’s a hostage situation

Too much power. Feel I am being help hostage at times.

— Anon, United States

Guests have so much choice, they book anything in exhaustion and are disapointed later

I HATE them with a VENGENCE – Why? because they prevent the small professional independent business from competing on an equal playing field. Whereas in the past, they were working for us, now we are pawns in their bit to dominate the market and we work for them – on their terms.

They have the cheek to give preference to those part-time owners who are trying to make a few bucks over those of us who are running a business – how? by mitigating AGAINST those of us who will NOT allow them to collect our money for us and make Millions by holding on to it for as long as possible – thereby screwing our cash-flow. They do this by ensuring that we don’t show up prominently in their search algorithms.

Our market in the UK is saturated with part-timers who have been lured into the business by Banks who were given permission for the first time to extend the Buy-to-Let mortgage from long term lets (to professional customers) to second home owners dressed in the guise of holiday cottage owners.

So whereas between 2009 and 2013, we were rated by TripAdvisor Travellers as having the Nº1 & Nº 2 holiday cottages in Wales (we still are) and as a result had a 74% fill rate – and there were 700 or so holiday cottages in Wales. In April 2015 there were 7,200.
Whereas Trip Advisor sent us 100s of enquiries in 2009 -2012, in the last 12 months they have sent us 26.

Those that took out their mortgages for second homes, did so on the basis of having a 50% fill rate as holiday cottages – and given that the mortgages were written for two/three years, by September 2015, the number of Trip Advisor holiday cottages in Wales went from 7,200 to 4,800. So Trip Advisor lost 30% of its business in a matter of 5 months.

All I want is traffic to my site – when people find us they book. But so many people now spend hours looking for a decent place to stay on these OTAs, and eventually just book anything – having reached exhaustion….. and of course they are then disappointed.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

’nuff said

They are, expensive, invasive and intrusive. I won’t be using any of them.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Gouging, greedy parasites

  • Commissions
  • Controlling communication
  • Holding our money
  • Online booking
  • Punishing low conversions
  • Contempt for owners

Gouging, greedy parasites

— Owner, Australia (2-10 properties)

Financial arm is useless

Least – high charges and that Yapstone (finance arm) are useless.

Don’t really like anything – necessary evil and they command the highest places on search engines.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

Impersonal and subjective

They are impersonal and subjective in their matching process. They make booking and payment easy.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

Granted, it’s easy for guests but…

Easy to use for guests.

Hard sales techniques that may result in guests getting poor value for money and deceived into booking a property without doing enough research.

— Manager, United Kingdom (2-50 properties)

Their search volume is for hotels & it’s useless

We dislike that they do not understand our business. Their search volume is useless as most have been designed for hotels (with multiple rooms) and not holiday rentals.
— Manager, Australia (2-50 properties)

All about price, when holiday rentals should be sold on experience

Their service is based on price and a holiday rental should be sold on experience. They offer poor guest service as they try and make it hard for you to communicate directly with the guest.

They hold onto your money for too long. Our holiday rentals book out in advance, which means we do not see any money for sometimes up to 8 months. We would like that money sitting in our offset account not the OTA’s.

— Manager, Australia (2-50 properties)

Good brand & reach, bad owner-guest communication

I like their reach and brand recognition. I dislike the restrictions on owner-guest communication, the high commissions they charge, and their control over the owner’s listing.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

Blanket & dictatorship approach

Hate with a passion the blanket approach that they will dictate & impose terms with their dominance. We’re actively looking for just advertising space. We can easily fill 30 weeks a year without paying any commission so why would we want to?

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Depersonalisation for guest stays

They are taking away the personal interaction between us and our guests – not a good thing. We can’t tailor as much to our guests anymore.

— Owner, United States (1 property)

I see them as parasites

Too dominant, too expensive, basically I see them as parasites. I use them because they drive bookings obviously…

but would drop them in a snap given an alternative.

— Owner, Austria (2-10 properties)

17% more expensive for guests!

Recent guests paid £231 or 17% more for their booking through these sites.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Necessary evil until direct bookings become the norm

Necessary evil until direct bookings become the norm. Lack of consideration to owners and guests. You must do it our way or die

— Owner, Italy (2-10 properties)

OTA’s should adopt an industry standard API

They should all adopt an industry standard API so that multiple properties can be easily loaded.

— Manager, United States (251-500 properties)

OTA’s have become draconian…

Basically, OTAs (especially VRBO) have become draconian in their attempt to take control of the listed properties without any regard for the owners, and the importance of personal communication with guests.

When VRBO started charging a hefty traveler fee in January, I added a note to my listing indicating that the fee could be avoided if the reservation was made directly with me rather than by using the Book Now feature. Well, I received a nasty email informing that my listing was deactivated since my statement violated VRBO policy. Of course, we know that they don’t have human beings reviewing each listing so they must have developed a computer algorithm to locate ‘offensive’ language… and I know that I am not the only one.

I deleted the reference to VRBO fees and the listing was re-activated. I then changed it to something less obvious to avoid detection and so far so good. Very, very few of my reservations are made through VRBO or Flipkey but directly with me after the initial inquiry, (and my many repeat guests contact me directly) so no booking fees. Also, VRBO sends automated emails to guests (before arrival) who have reservations even if they did not inquire through VRBO. (I enter reservations on the calendar manually.) They are repetitive and annoying. I communicate directly with my guests and don’t need or want VRBO to send them generic emails.

Guests also receive annoying VRBO marketing emails after their stay. How do I circumvent this? I enter a phoney guest email address. In addition to being intrusive, The VRBO email system has bugs in it with inappropriate messages (i.e., emails sent to guests with the wrong dates).

Coincidentally I received this note just the other day from a guest who had inquired through VRBO but reserved directly with me. She stayed at the end of June but the emails keep coming into August. (Her email address must still be in their system from her initial inquiry.)

‘One question, do you know why we keep getting a notice from VRBO about our trip ? Every week we get a “check out” email from them saying “We hope you enjoyed your stay!” I thought they would eventually stop but they keep coming. I used the “check-out” function but that didn’t help either. Any ideas?”

In summary, I just want a simple listing service (like it used to be) that allows travelers to see what’s available and contact the owner directly without 3rd party interference, but those days are ending. Or at least make it easier to do that instead of putting up barriers. My very successful vacation rental is based on developing direct relationships with guests from the initial inquiry, something hard to do with instant online booking and taking on a hefty service fee.

— Owner, United States

Double charges & Airbnb’s hard for owners to use

Least Like: VBRO double charges by applying a ‘service fee’ and an annual subscription.

AIRBNB site is hard to use for the owner (ie: cannot get guest’s email, phone, send attachments)

MOST LIKE: Online presence.

— Owner, United States (2-10 properties)

Blood-sucking parasites

The OTAs are blood sucking parasites who are trying to control the VHR market.

— Owner, Costa Rica (2-10 properties)

Do you know how monopolies work?

They are all trying to achieve global market dominance: if one does, fees will rocket.

That is how monopolies work.

— Owner, United Kingdom

OTA’s are bullies

I advertise on Owners Direct but I don’t like the way I am being ‘bullied’ into using their booking system.

I prefer to communicate with my prospective guests by email and not give commission to the OTAs.

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

Incompatible with booking systems + arrogant & aggressive

Do not fit in with my booking system, charge too much and are arrogant and aggresive.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Reviews by an opinionated ignoramus carries the same weight as that of a skilled and insightful reviewer

A review written by an opinionated ignoramus carries the same weight as that of a skilled and insightful reviewer.

I don’t think Airbnb can be trusted because there seems to be no way to know exactly what the advertiser is offering. E.g is it the whole flat or does the owner sleep in a bed in the hall while allowing guests ‘the whole’?

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Website offer more information than OTA’s ever could

I really value direct bookings. There is no confusion as to what’s on offer, cancellation terms, etc.

Our website offers so much more information about our accommodation and the area, which could not be replicated with the limited info offered by an OTA.

I also value the higher rental paid with direct bookings and the instant deposit.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Annoying corporate behemoths

Annoying corporate behemoths that don’t work for me as a single holiday home owner who builds great relationships with my guests as part of the holiday experience.

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

Brainless robot

Too automated – no-one to talk to, only a brainless robot

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

OTA’s accept no responsibility

Do not like being paid after the client stays. OTA’s accept no responsibility if anything is wrong with booking. Do not want to know if client causes damage, theft etc.

— Manager, United Kingdom (51-250 properties)

Taking away the joy of running your own business

Feel like you don’t get the rapport with guests anymore. High commission for both guests and owners (especially HomeAway and their subsidiaries).

Taking away the joy of running your own business!

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Continuous failed credit card issues

While we like the bookings, the commission is too high, the interface is very difficult to work with especially with the continuous failed credit card issues.

— Manager, United States (51-250 properties)

Simple

Necessary evil; favor ones with lowest commissions.

— Manager, France (51-250 properties)

Necessary to get started

Necessary to get business started

— Owner, United States (1 property)

I resent being told how to run my business

I resent being told how to run my business by huge multi-national businesses who want the best terms for guests, i.e the best headline rates, the greatest flexibility and to intervene in the running of our businesses.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Scared of telling guests about their own commission?

Some are not prepared to state commission rate on the application form.

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

Trashing brands selling their granny for a buck

Trashing brands selling their granny for a buck

— Owner, Italy (2-10 properties)

Greedy bastards

Greedy bastards

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

‘Where do you want to go?’ what sort of question is that…..?

All dislikes which can be summed up with: Unfair dominance.

  • Taking commission at both ends of the transaction.
  • Taking no responsibility for the actual quality of the accommodation.
  • Driving traffic to certain destinations by having very poor search systems

I mean ‘Where do you want to go?’ what sort of question is that…..? Great if you have a place in Paris, not great if your in the back of beyond….

Basically, this has become a great cash generative business with zero responsibility for the actual holiday experience provided.

— Owner, France (2-10 properties)

Use to fill in weeks our brand does not

Use them simply as network revenue to fill in weeks that our brand does not fill.

— Manager, United States (2-50 properties)

The masked email address

I hate that they mask guest emails.

— Manager, United Kingdom (51-250 properties)

We owe it to our guests & our owners

Ours is a PERSONAL business, we owe it to our customers to make sure they get the best possible option for their needs AND we owe it to our homeowners to KNOW, the best we can, WHO we are renting to.

You cannot do that through an electronic “Book IT” program….never going to happen.

— Manager, United States (2-50 properties)

They want to build a brand on our backs

They want to build a brand on our backs. That shared no lead info and direct guest elswe here away from our product-area.

— Manager, United States (51-250 properties)

The new algorithms on Homeaway/VRBO control you

The new algorithms on Homeaway/VRBO dictate that you have to book through them to maintain good rankings on their sites, but it diminishes, if not destroys, the personal contact between the villa owner (for 30 years) and the villa renter.

— Owner, Mexico (2-10 properties)

I’m going to cancel my subscription with them

They charge too much, but, due to takeovers they have a virtual monopoly. Ownersdirect and HomeAway have just slapped another 7% on their charges.

I’m going to cancel my subscription with them.

— Owner, France (1 property)

Whose customers are they really?

They are coming between us and OUR customers !!

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

10% feels like robbery

They provide us with the exposure and customer trust we can’t match.

Anything more than 10% feels like robbery. Full integration with our systems is a massive plus. In the long run, we hope to change the balance to increased direct bookings.

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Inadequate vetting of renters

Inadequate vetting of renters

— Owner, United Kingdom (2-10 properties)

Too big for their boots!

They are getting too big for their boots!

— Owner, Spain (2-10 properties)

OTA’s pose as booking agencies, but they’re not…

  1. Not able to interact with potential guests before they place a booking
  2. Not getting payment into my account before they arrive for the holiday
  3. OTA’s pose as booking agencies, unlike agencies:
    1. Properties are never seen/vetted by the OTA;
    2. Neither the guest or owner has any redress in the case of a problem with an OTA
  4. Total loss of control of MY business

— Owner, United Kingdom (1 property)

Loathe reviews, “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours..” gives rise to nasty vindictive behaviour

I don’t like the growing tendency that obliges homeowners to respond only through the OTAs’ system (this tends to occur with the commission-based OTAs to a greater extent).

I loathe the evaluation system – it is biased (you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours type-style), can give rise to some nasty vindictive behaviour and generally bypasses the traditional system used by tour operators and holiday home owners.

— Owner, France (1 property)

As time moves on, we want more organic reservations and to use OTA’s less

OTA’s are a “necessary evil”, as we use them to gain brand recognition and build up a strong guest list.

As time moves on, we hope to bring in more organic reservations and use less OTA’s.

— Manager, United States (251-500 properties)

£125,000, to £26,000 because of “best match” algorithm

They have affected me so badly. I have gone from a turnover of £125,000, to £26,000 in just one year.

It is best match and the entirely inflexible rules, which are hard to deal with.

— France, Owner (1 property)

And to finish with a single word… greed

Bullying small businesses. Creating distrust for personal gain. Greed.

— Anon, Greece

What are your favourite comments….?