Airbnb vs. VRBO for my short-term rental(s)

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The Ultimate Match-up between the two biggest short term rental services. Which generates the best revenue in Chicago? Is it worth using both for your Airbnb in Chicago? 

Host & Guest Fees

Here is the skinny: Airbnb and VRBO are free to use and do not require an annual subscription. Airbnb's host fee is 3%. VRBO's is 6-8%. Their guest fee range. Airbnb has a slightly higher traveler service fee than VRBO.  

Insurance, Claims

VRBO offers a third party insurance package for guests to purchase. Homeowners can require guests purchase this insurance package, ranging from $59-$99 a booking. When factoring in this insurance package, VRBO fees are likely to be higher than Airbnb. We highly recommend insurance instead of deposits (see below). 

Airbnb offers a $1M liability insurance policy for each booking, most applicable for bodily injury during a guest's stay. In addition to this, Airbnb offers a robust Resolution & Claims center for both hosts and guests to make claims after a booking for damages, extra services performed, when amenities are promised but not delivered, etc. These claims are initiated directly and subsequently Airbnb offers up third party mediation for outstanding resolutions.

We have a 100% success rates on all claims made on Airbnb, ranging from smoking penalties, pet penalties, and general damages. 

Never rely on insurance, as in most other times in your life, insurance claims can be extremely painful, cumbersome, and unsuccessful. Airbnb's Resolution Center is an easier and quicker way to work through booking issues. 

Insurance vs. Deposits

Security deposits can be arbitrary and homeowners can lose money by not inputting a high enough security deposit. Alternatively, homeowners may deter bookings when a security deposit is priced too high.

Payouts

The one exclusive benefit to using VRBO is payouts occur when a guest pays instead of when a guest stays. This means you can take a Holiday booking in July and receive the funds significantly in advance. VRBO also allows homeowners to adjust the number of payments a guest makes, making it easier to secure a booking.  

Airbnb does not allow a single host to adjust these payout preferences. In other words, payouts typically happen 2-4 days after a guest checks in. Airbnb has made exceptions for Airbnb property managers (i.e. HelpHost) to adjust payout preferences to be paid 30 - 60 days in advance of a booking. If cash advances are important for our homeowners, we are able to turn this feature on for a small increase in the service fee. 

The one disadvantage to this is the risk of cancellations. If a guests cancels before their no cancellation window, a homeowner does have to return the funds and this can make for a cash flow problem.

Tax Collection

VRBO does allow you to charge additional for sales tax. They do not, however, remit this tax on your behalf. Instead they just make it easier to understand how much tax you owe on each booking. 

Airbnb recently launched a sales tax feature. This means each guest pays applicable state sales tax and Airbnb remits this tax on your behalf. This means you will only need to remit tax to your local authorities when applicable. 

Overall, we see Airbnb's approach much better for homeowners because it eliminates the need to pay two authorities. We do price on Airbnb with sales tax considerations, break down sales tax on our owners statements, and generally are able to receive higher rental amounts on Airbnb in lieu of this. 

Ratings and Listing SEO

Airbnb offers a more robust system for ratings than VRBO. Airbnb listings tend to receive more ratings than VRBO. This factors into the search, and results in more transparency than VRBO. The goal is to optimize each listing such that it appears more frequently in search results.

VRBO's old pricing model used to depend solely on how much a homeowner has paid to appear in search results. With the recent switch, as far as we can tell, VRBO has not spent a lot of time and effort into the variables that go into search results - i.e. ratings, photos, response rates, etc. 

Airbnb, however, offers a lot of opportunity to boost your listing search results. In short: Response rates, reviews, occupancy, SuperHost status, frequent updates, and utilizing newly release features all help to improve your listing visibility. 

Ease of Use for Hosts and Guests

Rental Pricing: Airbnb allows you to uniquely price each day. VRBO requires block pricing such that your 'Winter Season' rates are different than your 'Summer Rates'. This can make it easier to set & forget pricing, but can be very difficult to be granular with specific weekend pricing. Airbnb offers Smart Pricing and Price Tips based on their own pricing algorithms. These are great to refer to when trying to predict volume.

Communication (web, mobile): Airbnb allows for easier communication for both hosts and guests. VRBO's mobile app for travelers is subpar, making it very difficult for travelers to access the 'Hospitality' center with critical information unless they have the app downloaded. It is cumbersome for hosts to complete the information in each Hospitality Manager section. 

Co-Hosting: It is difficult to share login credentials or co-host on VRBO.

Airbnb's co-hosting feature allows you to add your significant other, your cleaning team, your property manager, etc. to assist with monitoring messages, viewing the rental calendar, and receiving payouts. 

Customer Service: Both Airbnb and VRBO do a great job with resolving problems. VRBO outsources payment processing to Vacation Rent Payments so often you have to talk to both companies to resolve an issue related to payments. 

Size of Airbnb and VRBO Community

It's possible to find the number of travelers on each platform, but it's difficult to know the 1) the number of travelers on each platform searching for rentals, and 2) the number of those searching travelers that book a rental in . Both Airbnb and VRBO rank #1 and #2 organically when you search 'Short Term Rental' and 'Vacation Rental', and I imagine they are constantly battling for the #1 spot. Both platforms are significantly larger in search volume than using a traditional property management website. 

To Conclude...

The goal is to increase both occupancy and net income for investors/homeowners for more profits. Each client's situation is unique. When optimal occupancy cannot be had exclusively on Airbnb, we consider a VRBO listing. Generally speaking, we are able to achieve all of our homeowners goals exclusively on Airbnb.

The market for Airbnb in Chicago has more than doubled each year since 2011. 500,000 travelers used Airbnb in Chicago in 2017! The supply of travelers on Airbnb has exceeded VRBO. A combination of ease of use, features resulting in higher occupancy, and similar fee structures Airbnb wins #1 in a head to head matchup.  

Mashable came out with an article early in 2018 to share more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/16/airbnb-vs-vrbo-trip-booking/#w5ha2pNSjPqO