In today’s world of Social Media and everything being done digitally and online, I wonder how many people really understand how big companies such as Trip Advisor and Holiday Lettings (one in the same!) and Owners Direct and HomeAway (again, one in the same!) work. I find it more and more frustrating as a small holiday cottage booking agent, to compete with these big global companies but I think if people understood how they work, they may think twice about using them and instead, support the small, hardworking independent company.
For example, you may have left a review on Trip Advisor for a holiday cottage that you stayed in recently but did you know, that in order to receive reviews, a holiday cottage owner has to pay to have an entry on the Trip Advisor site? It costs £350+vat pa to have an entry but in spite of paying that amount, if you do not opt to let Trip Advisor take your bookings for you and pay them commission/booking fees, they push you down the search results.
So, as a potential guest, you may think you are seeing the best houses listed at the top of your search results but in fact, you could be missing some really great houses, just because Trip Advisor’s objective is profit, rather than giving you the best service and objective search results.
Owners Direct work in a similar way, charging owners in the region of £300 pa but still pushing a property down the search results if the owner has not opted to use their booking service. In addition, they charge the guest a service fee. I often get Reservation Requests from guests via Owners Direct and can see that the service charge is often in the region of £100 or more. If I do not accept the request, I often get an email from the guest asking if I will refund their money as this payment is charged via their credit card details at the time of placing the request. When I go back to them and explain that the charge is nothing to do with me and was taken by Owners Direct, they are usually very surprised to hear this as they had no idea how the system works. In addition to this, in relation to a reservation request, Owners Direct will not give me any of the guests details and if I reply to an email giving a link to my own website for booking or my contact details, Owners Direct delete it before the email reaches the guest. All correspondence has to be done through the Owners Direct mail system so they control the contact and ensure no direct contact between me and the guest until the booking is paid for and confirmed by Owners Direct. Whilst a guest can just send me a general enquiry, the same set up applies in that I cannot provide a link to my website in my reply email as the Owner’s Direct mail system will delete it.
Obviously, this is how big business works and that’s just the way of the world which is fine, but how many people actually understand this and would they still use these companies if they knew all the facts. We all understand that all companies, big and small are ultimately in business to make money and its up to each business to make itself stand out in order to attract customers. Clearly big global corporations like Trip Advisor have huge marketing machines and massive budgets to do this and they are incredibly successful.
However, from a guests point of view, what you want is value for money and the knowledge that you will receive good customer service and the property you book will at the very least, live up to your expectations. In my opinion, this is where small companies such as ourselves have the edge. If a guests calls us for a chat about the property they are thinking of booking, as often happens, they will find themselves speaking to myself, someone who has set up the majority of our houses and knows each one inside and out. I can probably even tell you how many teaspoons there are! Have you ever tried to call Trip Advisor for a chat like that??
Nowadays, everyone looks at reviews before they book anything. This is a great way to get objective feedback from previous guests about a property you are considering booking. Trip Advisor is of course the most commonly used platform for this but did you know that there are other companies who provide review services? Here at Highland Perthshire Holiday Homes, we have recently started using a company called UpFront Reviews. They are completely independent and at our request, they contact each of our guests after their departure and ask them to complete a very short scoring questionnaire and give any additional comments they wish to make. The results then automatically appear on our website and as well as giving a score for each individual property, it also provides an overall score for us as a company, something that Trip Advisor does not do as it does not connect each of our properties on their site, with us as a booking agent.
When I find myself chatting with friends or family about this subject, more often than not, they are very surprised and frankly a little shocked. Most have no idea about how much we have to pay to appear on Trip Advisor in order to receive reviews. Even friends who have booked with Owners Direct in the past had no idea that the Service Fee they paid went to Owners Direct and not the owner of the house they were booking. It is so easy to just listen to all the hype and go along with the crowd without ever questioning things isn’t it?
So, here is an idea! Next time you are browsing a website like Trip Advisor or Owners Direct, why not Google the name of the house you are considering and see if the owner has their own website or if they also appear on a site such as ours – a small locally based agent. If they do, why not book direct and get a more personal service from someone who cares about and supports local tourism and takes a pride in ensuring your holiday accommodation exceeds your expectations. You will probably save some money too!
I hope this gives you some food for thought and helps you make a more informed decision when deciding how to go about booking your next self-catering holiday!