Guest and property managementNews

Vrbo raises guest protection and bolsters premier host reputations

US: Expedia Group vacation rental brand Vrbo has announced a series of new policies and program changes to enhance guest protection and bolster the reputations of its “premier” hosts.

The platform, which only lists private vacation rentals, said that it was instituting financial penalties for hosts who cancel reservations and raising Premier Host eligibility standards, making the status more exclusive while sending a clear and compelling signal to travellers about where to find the best experiences.  

From October, Vrbo hosts in the United Stats who cancel bookings will incur a fee based on the total cost of the booking and when the cancellation was made. Higher fees are levied when hosts cancel within 30 days of the traveller’s stay, and the highest fees will be charged for cancellations made less than a week from the stay.  

The new financial penalties will be added on top of measures that Vrbo already enacts to discourage host cancellations, including limiting search visibility on the app and website, and revoking Premier Host status for repeat offenders. Vrbo also safeguards travellers against last-minute cancellations with its Book with Confidence guarantee, which rebooks guests if a host cancels within 30 days of the stay. 

Although host-initiated cancellations on Vrbo are infrequent and hosts are expected to honour their bookings, certain cancellations are inevitable due to reasons outside of hosts’ control. This includes unforeseen property damage or natural disasters that prevent guests from being able to stay. These types of cancellations are not penalised, and hosts can request a cancellation waiver through Vrbo’s 24/7 customer support team. 

Beginning on 1 January 2024, Vrbo will update its eligibility requirements for hosts to be a part of its Premier Host program. The new qualifications make the program more exclusive, and Premier Hosts must achieve and maintain the following criteria:  

  • Average overall rating of 4.4+  
  • Host-initiated cancellation rate of one per cent or less 
  • Booking acceptance rate of 95 per cent or higher 

To acknowledge hosts with a “proven track record of delivering exceptional traveller experiences”, these “Premier” hosts are identified through a badge within the Vrbo search experience and on listing pages, and travellers can filter search results to exclusively view Premier Host properties. According to Vrbo, Premier Host accounts are reviewed quarterly to ensure their continued commitment to providing the best guest experiences. 

Tim Rosolio, vice president of partner success, vacation rentals, at Vrbo, said: “Vrbo is dedicated to maintaining a trustworthy marketplace for friends and families to find private vacation rentals hosted by exceptional partners. Our hosts set the standard for professionalism; however, we know it’s important to also safeguard travellers from those few who don’t live up to our standards.

“Avoidable host cancellations impact everyone’s reputation. That’s why our new policy prioritises traveller confidence by imposing penalties on hosts that fall short of our requirements, and rewards exceptional hosts through our Premier Host program. It’s all part of our commitment to creating a seamless, trustworthy experience for everyone,” he added.

In addition to the new policy and program change, Vrbo is implementing the following additional measures to enhance stays via its platform: 

  • Removing hosts who do not meet marketplace standards. Vrbo said that it had recently identified and communicated with a “small percentage” of hosts who do not meet marketplace standards for honouring and accepting bookings. The identified hosts who continue to fall below marketplace standards will then be removed from the Vrbo platform on 17 September if they do not take the recommended actions to improve the key metrics.  
  • Protecting guests with the Book with Confidence Guarantee. For nearly a decade, Vrbo has been protecting travellers with the Book with Confidence Guarantee. The guarantee automatically covers all travellers that book and pay through the Vrbo app or site and provides protections, including rebooking assistance if the host cancels at the last minute, lodging assistance if travellers are denied check in, and payment protection against fraudulent listings. 

Both Vrbo and Airbnb came under fire early on in the Covid-19 pandemic for their refund policies. While Vrbo encouraged hosts to issue full or partial refunds, guest refunds were largely dependent on the cancellation policies of individual hosts, whereas Airbnb faced a initial backlash from hosts when it pushed through guest refunds, leaving hosts struggling to secure revenue.

According to the two platforms’ long-standing cancellation policies, a guest should be entitled to a refund or credit if the host cancels first. However, the situation became more complicated if the host were not to cancel first, and what would happen if “events beyond one’s control”, whether it be extreme weather events, natural disasters or pandemics, were to fall outside of their respective cancellation and extenuating circumstances policies.

After Airbnb said that it no longer saw Covid-19 as an “unforeseen event” at the start of 2021, the platform launched its ‘Aircover’ product a year later to offer free protection across three separate cases – a booking guarantee, check-in guarantee, and a get-what-you-book guarantee.

Meanwhile, Vrbo made a temporary u-turn on its traditional guest refund policy last month in the case of the deadly wildfires on the island of Maui, when it ordered hosts to refund guests who had booked stays that had to be cancelled.  At the time, an Expedia Group spokesperson said that “if a traveller had to cancel their trip due to damage to the property or local government guidance advising against travel to the region, we expect that the host will provide full reimbursement or an alternative resolution for the stay they were unable to complete”.

The policy and program announcements follow on from the passing of newly-enforced, strict legislation in New York City – a measure known as Local Law 18 that requires short-term rental hosts on platforms such as Vrbo, Airbnb and to register with the city government – on 5 September. As a result, short-term rental inventory in New York City is declining significantly, as the city promises to “end the proliferation of illegal short-term rentals”.

As per Vrbo’s website, hosts who reach Premier Host status must achieve the following:

  • An average review rating of 4.3 stars or higher
  • A booking acceptance rate of 90 per cent or higher
  • An owner-initiated cancellation rate of five per cent or lower