We don’t want to alarm anyone but we’ve seen the future of the vacation rentals industry, and it’s Instant Booking only.
Let’s back up a bit. For a long time, the online vacation rental industry worked mainly on request bookings. Guests would enquire about a bunch of properties, hoping at least some were available. Some of the managers would reply and say that the property was already booked. Some wouldn’t reply at all. Some would reply and confirm the property was available, and then emails would be sent back and forth until an agreement was reached. A contract would be drawn up (often with a deposit wired to the manager’s bank account) and usually the guest would pay the rest in cash upon arrival. A small percentage of these bookings were scams and the guest lost their money. Many property managers wasted their time with guests who ended up booking one of the other properties they’d contacted. And the process as a whole was, to put it mildly, sloooooooow.
Then came Airbnb. Suddenly, request bookings could be made securely using online payment. There was still a lot of waiting around and the conversion rate was low, but it worked reasonably well. For a while.
Those days are long gone. More and more sales channels and online travel agents are moving away from request booking and towards an instant booking only model. But why? This article discusses the pros and cons of instant booking and request booking vacation rentals, and breaks down exactly why the winds of change are blowing firmly in the direction of instant booking.
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What’s the difference between instant booking and request booking vacation rentals?
Firstly, a quick refresh on the terms used for online holiday bookings. Request booking works as previously described – a guest submits a request either via email or through a form on a vacation rental website. The property manager receives this request and then has a limited period of time (usually around 24 hours) in which to accept or decline the request. If they accept, then the booking is confirmed and payments can be made. If they decline the request, the guest has to look elsewhere. Many websites would then block these dates in the property calendar, so that they could not be booked by someone else.
Instant booking on the other hand happens immediately. A guest sees a property they like, fills out the booking form and boom – holiday booked. As you can imagine, this is a lot more popular with guests.
Why do guests prefer instant booking?
It’s probably obvious why guests prefer instant booking but it’s worth discussing it anyway. Simply put, instant booking reduces a significant amount of the hassle of booking a vacation. Guests are often juggling flights and transportation at the same time as booking their accommodation, so it’s really important that they get an answer now. Plus, pretty much every consumer activity is automated nowadays, from purchasing a television to setting up a bank account – so why should booking a vacation be any different? Request bookings can be really inconvenient for the guest, who has dedicated some time to booking their holiday and doesn’t want to have to repeat the process the next day if that request gets rejected. If they’re torn between two properties, one with instant booking and one with request booking, why would they delay the process and risk missing out on both properties?
Is instant booking actually better for property managers?
In a word, yes. Your listing is not the only tab your potential guest has open on their computer or phone when they’re looking for properties, and as mentioned previously, guests will opt for an instant booking over a request booking every time. Many guests will also send 10 or more requests to different properties at once, hoping that at least one will get back to them.
That’s assuming they even see the request booking properties – sales channels are realising that request booking properties simply do not perform as well as instant booking, so they often appear lower down in search results, if they appear at all. A growing number of rentals websites are refusing to host request booking properties, and most already give guests the option of filtering these out so that they only see instant booking options.
We’ve got the data to back this up. Over the past 12 months, instant booking listings in Your.Rentals received 9.5 times more confirmed bookings than request booking listings. 63% of booking requests (prepaid by the guest!) over this period have been declined by the owner or property manager, creating a problem for thousands of guests and leaving Property Managers with money “left on the table”.
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Why don’t all property managers use instant booking?
We’re extolling the virtues of instant booking here, but of course not everybody is using it. Some property managers are perfectly happy with a request booking model, while others may be restricted by the terms of their rental contract. Whilst the industry is shifting ever more to an instant-only model, there are still valid reasons why one may choose to stick to request booking. For example, you may be managing a property but need permission from the owner to book dates. Fewer and fewer property managers are agreeing to these terms nowadays since it creates all sorts of unnecessary headaches, but they do still exist.
Or you might be concerned about cancellation fees, so prefer to be able to approve all bookings so that you feel confident that your property is actually available. This is especially true of newbie property managers who haven’t got routines in place yet for keeping their calendar up to date or ensuring seasonal rates are set correctly.
How can property managers switch to instant booking?
Whilst concerns over potential conflict between property managers and owners are valid, there are ways to ensure that both parties can work effectively together on an instant booking model. For example, Your.Rentals offers a Collaborator feature, which allows property managers to share their vacation rental calendar with the owner, who can then add bookings and block dates so that they can take joint responsibility for ensuring everything is up to date and accurate. Your.Rentals also has multiple ways for keeping your calendar and seasonal rates in good shape, including a Calendar Sync tool that synchronises your calendar with external sites, so that you don’t need to worry about checking your listing every time a booking comes in. If your calendar is regularly updated and your listing information (including price) is accurate, you should have no trouble using instant booking and boosting your booking potential.
Instant booking isn’t for everyone. But as more and more property managers are discovering, in an increasingly crowded marketplace it’s vital to make the guest booking experience as easy as possible or risk losing them to competitors. By using instant booking, you greatly increase both the exposure of your listing and the likelihood of it receiving a booking – by almost 10 times. Not only that, but a frictionless booking process means that your guests will start with a great first impression of you and your property – a key part of any successful trip!
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