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Community VS Privacy – The Great Debate

Is there a divide growing between two sides of the rental industry?

Some vacation rental companies and portals have been very vocal about wanting to form a community between guests and owners. They want to develop an industry where human connections form the basis of the experience. Uncontrived touches and additions from the people that operate and use the business are what make them special and unique. Having a connection between people reduces the corporate dynamic of business and consumer; predator and prey. It is a rebellion against the uniformity of big brands.


Others want to make the process more streamlined, more efficient. To take away any un-required steps in the system. This isn’t about reinforcing that corporate dynamic but letting people have full control over their social interactions. Some people have reacted to the idea of building a community from the business as seeming forced and largely unwanted. Connections and interactions should be organic and natural and they consider that renting a vacation property is not enough to build this on.

Airbnb tells us ‘We all know that getting in isn't a transaction. It’s a connection that can last a lifetime’.

Is this an overly romantic notion that hides the grisly business underbelly from the public? Is this just marketing to make the company seem human and approachable and do we really believe that this overshadows their bottom line? Consumers are becoming increasingly cynical to marketing campaigns that try to disguise the avarice of the company. Relentless advertising has lowered our collective acceptance of concealed agendas. If you genuinely want to try to create a community stemming from your business, you should. But if you try this just because it seems to be a prevailing trend with the largest portals and businesses and an interesting marketing angle, then it may not be as effective. Customers have an instinctive ability to differentiate between genuine passion and cynical marketing.

Are we deluding ourselves with false bonhomie, does either party actually gain from this connection? Some guests will use this relationship to provide them with an individual and more local experience. Visitors get a condensed and concentrated experience. Less time cutting through the fatty, outer layer of tourist spots and more time in the ‘heart’ of an area. They can use the knowledge and experience of their hosts to have a trip that they would otherwise be unable to enjoy.

This, in turn can lead to better reviews and recommendations. If your guests have met you, they will be able to approach you with questions and any potential problems. They may feel more at home and more ready leave better reviews and recommend your properties to others.

But despite their company rhetoric, Airbnb has been providing more options for people to book instantly and skip the process of creating a ‘connection’. HomeAway have stated that they aim all of their properties to have a 'Book Now' function within the next 24 months.

For some guests and hosts alike, the emphasis on demanding human interaction as part of the process is an unnecessary headache. There is a side of the industry that considers booking a holiday or a business trip to still be just a business transaction. Much like hiring a solicitor or buying a wheel of parmesan. We don’t strive for this type of community  or connection with other purchases, what is it about vacation rentals that makes them separate? Are we deluding ourselves with false bonhomie, does either party actually gain from this community?

However, you will never know if your guests prefer to have the simplest possible transactions and don’t want to try and forge this connection. Having a reservation system in place that allows for instant booking is likely to become standard. Some will prefer the ease and anonymity of a basic booking and payment process but others will want to know your story. Does being to book immediately damage the connection between host and guest or is it the natural way forward?

Where do you stand on this debate? Do you think there is a middle ground to be found between community and privacy?

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