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.
The world of spontaneous travel can be beneficial for your business if you want to enable instant booking for your vacation rental. However, if you’ve decided to turn off instant booking, we’ve got you covered there too. Scroll to the bottom to see how to turn off instant booking for all the major OTAs.
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.
The pros and cons of using instant booking for vacation rentals
If you’re still trying to weigh out your options for instant booking then this list is for you. Instant booking can be a great benefit to your business, but only if you’ve fully understood the risks and drawbacks. By reading up on the advantages and disadvantages of accepting instant bookings, you’ll be able to adjust your booking preferences accordingly.
Pro: 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 that 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.”
Con: 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 stay requirements. For a little more built-in security, you can always send your house rules separately to ensure that they fully understand the terms they agreed to regardless of how fast they made the booking.
This can still reduce a host’s 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 deems eligible for instant booking, or restrict this setting to only include guests who have received positive reviews or been recommended by other hosts.
Pro: 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.”
Con: 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 of 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.
Pro: Less bureaucracy
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.
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.
Pro: More direct bookings
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!
Pro: 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.
Pro: 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.
Not only can this preference be reflected in search results, whereby instantly bookable properties tend to show up first, but also in press releases and updates from the OTAs themselves.
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!
Pro: 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.
Pro: 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.
Disabling instant booking on listing sites
If instant booking doesn’t sound like your thing, it’s not a problem. There are many hosts that still feel that they want to hand-select their guests to guarantee the best experience. The tricky part is navigating how to turn that feature off. If you’ve already activated instant booking or it’s the default setting for one of the sites you list on, it’s important that you turn this off to prevent future instant bookings.
How to turn off instant booking on Airbnb
Airbnb can attract a number of travelers, from millennials to workcationers, which is a great benefit, but might not necessarily be your target market. So, if you’d like to turn off this feature on Airbnb, you’ll need to follow a couple of steps. First, head to your listings and select the property you want to modify. Once you’re inside the property’s page, click the “Policies and rules” tab. From there, you’ll clearly see the “Instant Book” feature where you’ll want to click “edit.” You can choose to either turn it on and select your guest requirements or simply turn it off and save your preferences.
Remember that there are added benefits to having instant booking on Airbnb, such as an additional boost to obtaining Superhost status and positive search placement, so you might want to think twice before turning off the instant booking feature on Airbnb.
How to turn off instant booking on Vrbo
Much like Airbnb, there are benefits to having instant booking on Vrbo. With Vrbo’s instant booking feature, you can attract more travelers by showing up on the search feature “immediate bookings only” and drastically increase your listing’s exposure, as Vrbo properties with instant booking are featured on other Expedia Group sites.
Still, if you’ve decided this isn’t the feature for you, feel free to turn it off in your settings. You’ll need to log into your account and click the appropriate listing. In the navigation menu, you’ll click “Property” then “Rules and policies.” From there, select the Booking type, then you can choose either “Instant Booking” or “24-hour review” depending on your preference. Just press save and that’s it!
How to turn instant book off on Trip Advisor
Tripadvisor also offers an instant booking feature with similar benefits as Airbnb and Vrbo. As of right now, Tripadvisor has disabled its instant book feature. Once it does become reactivated, you’ll be able to edit this in your account settings. You’ll click “Online booking settings” and switch the Instant book feature off or on then press save. When the toggle is green, the feature is on. When it’s grey, instant booking will be turned off.
Keep in mind that not all properties are eligible for instant booking, so you might not have this feature activated in the first place. Only properties that meet these requirements are eligible for instant booking:
Currently, hold an acceptance rate of 75% or higher
Have maintained at least three bookings in the last two years
A 20% cancellation rate at most
On the free-to-list plan
How to turn off instant booking on Booking.com
The instant booking feature on Booking.com is a touch more complicated. When you first list your property on Booking.com, there is a tutorial that walks you through your calendar setup. If you opted into instant booking in that phase then it turned on from that moment forward. There’s currently no way to turn this feature off from your account settings, so you’ll have to contact the Booking.com help desk.
As you can see from the list above, there are far more pros than cons when it comes to enabling instant bookings. If you’ve been clear about your house rules, implement a rental agreement for guests to sign before check-in, and have the flexibility to take on these kinds of reservations then this might be the right approach for you. Instant booking can positively impact your occupancy rate and take the hassle out of accepting reservations.
If you’re ready to try something new with your booking preferences, why not give instant booking a go? If you ultimately decide to turn it off, your website and OTAs give you the option to enable or disable the feature with ease.
Instant bookings are going to have reservations rolling in in no time! Make sure you’re prepared by using a channel manager and reservation calendar with speedy synchronization times. Instant bookings run a higher risk of double bookings, so get one step ahead of the issue by implementing vacation rental software that’s up for the task.
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