It’s one of the hottest topics in the vacation rental industry right now, and it’s constantly up for debate: should I be accepting instant bookings? Am I missing out if I don’t?
While there are many arguments for and against both sides of the coin, lots of owners feel lost and confused, not knowing whether they’re doing the right thing.
In part one of our two-part series, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of instant booking. After all, only you can make the decision that suits your vacation rental.
What is instant booking?
Instantly bookable vacation rentals are those which don’t require any kind of approval from the host prior to booking. Guests simply choose their travel dates, agree to house rules and press the booking button for their payment to go through – just as they would with a hotel. It’s become an increasingly popular choice for owners and guests to choose instant booking. Above all, instant booking is more common with hosts on listing sites like Airbnb, Booking.com, FlipKey and so on.
So, what are the pros to using instant booking?
Increased conversion rates
Modern-day travelers are accustomed to everything being instantaneous. Think about it, they book their flights with the click of a button, they check-in their luggage with another. Booking accommodation isn’t any different, and it’s what a lot of travelers look for.
That’s why instant booking functions can play a big role in increasing booking conversion. With instant booking, owners are able to compete with hotels who have been using it for years, and guests will find the process just as easy and simple as booking a hotel room online.
Matthew Gurley from MyBookingPal shares his wisdom on instant booking conversion:
“Property managers who convert to instant book see an influx in bookings, and generally have a lower cost of sale when it comes to acquiring a booking. You pay a staff member to answer dozens of inquiries hoping a portion of them convert, or pay a staff member to only spend time on customers that have already handed you a credit card to charge the deposit through an instant book. Choice is yours, but the second saves your time, and increases your revenue.”
Guests can’t get enough
No matter what the travel purpose, guests love the instant book feature. In booking your property, it is assumed that guests will have read and agreed to your property’s house rules.
Instant booking is convenient for them because there’s no waiting around for you to accept. That means they can go ahead and make the rest of their travel plans, knowing full well that accommodation is sorted. They can even filter results on sites like Airbnb to only show vacation rentals that allow instant booking!
Matthew Gurley adds:
“There is a huge importance of house rules or fine print for book-it-now websites. As long as you are not violating any local discrimination laws, line out your guest screening process in house rules or fine print. Let the guest book instantly. If they are breaking a single line item, just cancel with a refund. They’re breaking your rules, so there aren’t negative repercussions for cancellations in this case.”
Hosts and guests alike can all take advantage of instant booking and its ability to cut hours and hours of admin time. With instant booking, the guest makes their reservation, then the only thing both hosts and guests need to worry about next is check-in.
Allowing instant bookings on your own vacation rental website helps you reach your end goal: more direct bookings. As a result, this will help build up your guest email database and you’ll be able to nurture past guests into return bookings. That’s because you’re not sending them anywhere else to book, or even giving them a reason to look elsewhere because you already have what they’re looking for!
Improved website credibility
Accepting online instant bookings and credit card payments gives your vacation rental website the edge over many of your competitors who don’t offer these services. The very nature of accepting online payments makes your site more professional, not to mention more reliable! Adding a security seal like VeriSign serves as social proof to your potential bookers, they’ll be assured that their sensitive data is safe with your website.
Listing sites prefer it
Many of the big listing sites like Airbnb and HomeAway openly admit their algorithms favor hosts with instant booking functionality, as they believe it’s a huge benefit for their users.
If you’re worried about attracting the wrong type of guests, however, do as PartySquasher recommends and ensure your listings require a verified ID, or even customize your requirements to include guests who have previously ranked 4-star and above in their reviews!
Never miss a booking
Allowing guests to book instantly is good news for both of you: they’ll get to book their dream vacation rental, and you’ll never miss out on bookings by responding too late! As long as you have instant booking activated, guests will be able to select your property for the dates they need and reserve immediately without waiting for your reply or confirmation.
Accept more last-minute bookings
If your property accepts instant bookings, you’ll open up a whole lot more options regarding the type of guests you attract. In particular, we’re talking about last-minute bookings. Whether that’s spontaneous out-of-season weekend trippers or someone who’s decided to stay longer in a city, your home could be the one they choose depending on this factor.
But what about the cons of instant booking?
Decisions are out of your hands
One downside of accepting instant bookings is that there’s very little “screening” process in place to make sure guests are a good fit for your home. In fact, they are the ones that decide they’re suitable, as pressing instant book is, in itself, an acceptance of your house rules.
This can, however, reduce hosts own sense of security or peace of mind. Given that instant bookings are automatically accepted, can hosts really be certain the person coming to stay at their rental is really who they say they are?
On listing sites like Airbnb, however, you can usually set restrictions according to your preferences for instant booking candidates. For example, choose whether you’d like to host guests who Airbnb deem eligible for instant booking, or restrict this setting to only include guests who have received positive reviews or been recommended by other hosts.
Increase in cancellations
For some guests, instant booking is an easy way to bide their time (and not miss out on a room or place for certain dates) while making their decision, especially if the host has a flexible cancellation policy.
Whether your rules are flexible or super-strict, avoid receiving last-minute cancellations by clearly stating your cancellation and refund policy on your website or your listings so any potential bookers are aware what rules apply.
At the same time, a shift towards the promotion of instant bookings on listing sites may possibly lead to more cancellations from the host side, which could have a negative effect on listings.
Hosts that use instant booking can be left in a tricky situation if they list on more than one platform, as any mistakes like double bookings are going to fall on your shoulders.
When you accept instant bookings on various portals, your different calendars require constant updating to block out those booked periods, which can easily become quite a handful and unfortunately, mistakes can be made.
Having an up-to-date calendar across all your channels is essential for hosts to get the most bookings and least errors or cancellations. This can, however, easily be solved by using a channel manager which automatically updates all your reservations and calendar availability from one centralized place.
Difficult for beginners
For new hosts with little guest experience, instant booking can limit your opportunities for learning about guest expectations and as a result, lead you to receive more negative reviews. Knowing how to handle guests properly and professionally is key to building a good host profile, but accepting all guests with little changeover or management time can lead to big issues when it comes to their reviews of you. As it can take a while to get used to being on top of your calendars and processes, instant booking isn’t recommended for new hosts because having to cancel reservations is a big no-no for first-timers.