Instant booking has always been the preferred option for hotel reservations and was introduced on booking platforms for short-stay and vacation rental accommodation five years ago.
In 2018 we wrote an article about the rise of instant bookings on the OTAS (Online Travel Agencies), posing the question: if there was a future for Request Bookings when a high percentage of hosts and managers were opting to add instant booking to their OTA listing.
Four years on and are Request Bookings dead?
Is Instant Booking a necessity now for all vacation rental hosts advertising on Airbnb, Booking, VRBO, and TripAdvisor?
Should you be switching on instant booking to increase your rental occupancy? TripAdvisor states; at least 40% of travellers EXPECT to book rentals instantly.
So, are you missing out on ‘at least’ 40% of your potential bookings?
Let’s take a look at what instant booking is and the Pros and Cons, so that you can make an informed decision on how to maximise your vacation rental bookings for the future.
What is Instant Booking?
Let’s start from the beginning.
Instant booking is an option given to guests to book immediately on an OTA booking platform, instead of having to request the booking from the owner and wait for the owner’s response and confirmation.
There is no additional fee but guests must first sign up and create an account to enjoy the instant booking feature.
How Does Instant Booking Work?
When travellers search for accommodation on a booking channel, they choose their destination, dates, and number of guests, as main criteria.
Search results are delivered and they can scroll through and read more about the accommodation that has caught their attention.
At the point of booking accommodation, if you have switched on Instant Booking, your soon-to-be guest will book a stay with you directly on the platform. The booking is immediately confirmed and they can then contact you directly to ask questions about their stay.
On Airbnb, Booking.com, VRBO and TripAdvisor, a traveller also has the option to choose to view only properties that offer instant booking.
If you have switched on Instant Booking, you will appear in the search results when the user switches this filter on.
When they book using Instant Booking they can choose to pay a deposit, or the total in advance.
The Pros and Cons of Instant Booking for Vacation Rental Hosts
It might be the go-to booking choice for travellers, but do the pros of instant booking outweigh the cons for hosts and property maangers? Let’s take a look.
The Pros of Instant Booking
Never lose out on a booking: When guests only have one click between them and a booking, it motivates them to make quicker decisions. Waiting for your response gives them time to shop around and book with someone who gets back to them immediately, or has instant booking switched on!
Last-minute bookings become a reality: Guests who are booking a last-minute escape are more likely to choose accommodation with the instant booking option.
Simple booking management. There is no need to respond to a myriad of requests before the booking is confirmed and paid for. So you don’t have time wasters asking questions, and then booking alternative accommodation.
Reach more guests: You will reach more guests who choose to use the instant booking feature for a simple, reliable and quicker booking.
More Reviews: And does more guests bring? More reviews!
The OTAs will love you: On Airbnb, VRBO and TripAdvisor you get priority placement in search results when you switch on the Instant Booking functionality.
The Cons of Instant Booking
You can’t vet your guests: If you care about who stays in your vacation rental, it’s harder to vet your guests with Instant Booking.
Calendar synced & up-to-date: You must ensure that your calendar is up-to-date always, as you could receive a booking at any moment, and the dates should be free for the booking.
Double-bookings: If you don’t do the above, you will be wholly responsible for any double bookings, which will reflect badly on you from both a guest and OTA perspective.
You will receive more cancellations: It’s all very well saying you will receive more bookings, but in some cases, guests use instant booking to save accommodation, whilst they see what else is out there. Be prepared and make your cancellation policy clearly visible to guests..
Switch off for longer stays: If you offer longer stays, it’s preferable not to offer instant booking, as you will probably want to find out more about your guests before they stay for more than a week or two in your home.
Lose of control: All of the above means you start to give more control to the OTA booking platform and have less control over the booking process.
How does each OTA booking platform manage instant bookings?
If you are considering adding instant booking to your OTA (Online Travel Agent) listings, let’s take a look at the features available for each of the main platforms.
What is Instant Book on Airbnb?
The instant book feature on Airbnb is found under More Filters. It’s not a primary filter and so won’t necessarily be selected by the user, but Airbnb state that guests love the convenience and hosts can enjoy up to double the reservations.
Let’s take a look at airbnb request to book vs instant book
On Airbnb you will get priority placement in search results when you switch the Instant Booking feature on and it can also help you achieve Superhost status, as one of the requisites is your speed of response in the booking process.
Instant book = Instant Response = Fast track to Superhost status
As a host, you do get some control over booking communication and can custom the booking confirmation with questions:
- Who else will be staying with you?
- What’s the purpose of your trip?
- Any other details you would like to share about your trip?
And Airbnb allows you to choose your criteria. For example, you can choose to only offer Instant Booking to guests who have positive reviews.
How do I enable Instant Book or turn it off on Airbnb?
It’s simple to switch the Airbnb instant book functionality on:
- Log in to your account
- Go to your listing(s) and click on the listing you want to change
- Click ‘Policies & Rules’
- Click ‘Instant book’ and Edit’
- Select Instant Book on or Off as you prefer
- If you choose Instant Book choose your guest requirements
- Press Save
What is Instant Booking on VRBO?
Let’s take a look at VRBO request-to-book vs instant booking.
Similarly to Airbnb, when you switch on the Instant Booking feature for your VRBO listing your ranking in search results automatically improves, giving you more visibility. This is due to the fact that a high acceptance rate is one of the performance factors that improve the quality of your listing.
When you switch on VRBO Instant Booking, they also give you more exposure by appearing across all Expedia sites at no extra cost.
Your VRBO booking button changes when the accommodation offers an instant booking option.
If one of your concerns with Instant Booking is not being able to vet your guests before they book, VRBO has this covered to an extent, as guests who wish to use the VRBO instant booking option must first agree to your house rules, owner cancellation policy, damage policy and rental agreement before they book.
The VRBO alternative to instant booking is the 24-hour review. This gives you 24 hours to review the booking, ask questions and approve or decline it. It means that your response and acceptance rate is still higher than average, but you also have the right to refuse.
How do I enable instant booking on VRBO?
It’s simple to switch the VRBO instant booking functionality on.
- Log in to your account
- Click the property icon in the left-hand navigation of your dashboard
- Click ‘Rules & Policies’
- Click ‘Online Booking’
- Choose Instant Booking as your booking method
- Press Save
How to turn off instant booking on VRBO?
If at any point you want to turn off instant booking for your VRBO listing, it’s as easy as switching it on.
Follow the instructions above and choose 24-hour review and save.
What is TripAdvisor Instant Booking?
TripAdvisor shares the same benefits as Airbnb and VRBO. When you switch on Instant Book your acceptance rate improves and you appear higher in searches.
You can switch Instant Book on or off, which is great if you want to be more responsive and have less admin during the peak season but want to take back more control during the low season when you have more time to manage bookings.
The TripAdvisor Instant Book feature has some additional options which allow you to manage your instant bookings to a degree:
- Guests must sign up to your House Rules before booking
- You can select how much notice you need to get your rental ready before guest arrivals
- You can select how far in advance you accept bookings
- You can select how much time you need between bookings (at the time of writing this article this was a coming soon feature
TripAdvisor states at least 40% of travellers EXPECT to book rentals instantly.
How do I enable Instant Book on TripAdvisor?
- Instant Book by TripAdvisor is available to hosts who meet the following criteria:
- Acceptance rate of 70% or higher
- Cancellation rate of 20% or lower
- At least two bookings in the last two years (rolling)
- Currently listed on the free-to-list plan
You will know if you are eligible to use the TripAdvisor Instant Book feature as you’ll see a toggle switch on your dashboard to set it up.
Simply select ‘Online Booking Settings’ and switch on Instant Book.
What is Instant Booking on Booking.com?
Instant Booking on Booking.com isn’t an additional feature, it’s standard.
All bookings are instantly confirmed, you don’t have a choice.
If you are worried about the guest cancellation aspect of signing up to Instant Booking, you should not opt to include a Free Cancellation Policy on Booking.com as doing so will mean the guest can cancel with no obligation.
Don’t add the Free Cancellation Policy and guest cancellations will incur a fee, which you will have to pay a commission on to Booking.com
So, there you have it. Everything you need to know about instant booking for your vacation rental and more.
There are many benefits to choosing the instant book option. If you opt to use the feature, make sure you clearly state your house rules, cancellation policy and booking terms before you switch it on.
Let us know how Instant Booking has worked for your vacation rental. Has it increased reservations, simplified your management process, or has it not been all it’s cracked up to be?