Do Traveler Reviews Make It Easier to Screen Guests?

Astrid LindstromLeave a Comment

Owners have often told us that their biggest objection to online booking is that they fear they won’t be able to fully vet their guests. An automated system won’t be able to see the “red flags” that experienced owners and property managers know to look out for in a potential renter.

But you know who can? Other experienced owners and property managers.

VRBO and HomeAway recently announced they would introduce a new traveler review system, which owners can use to rate their guests. Owners familiar with Airbnb will know this system well already, but owners who have exclusively used VRBO and HomeAway in the past may not be acquainted with the virtues of traveler reviews – particularly when it comes to online booking.

Long story short: traveler reviews make it easy for owners to quickly vet travelers and accept online bookings without worrying about badly-behaving guests in their vacation rentals.

How? Read on to discover how the traveler review system works.

The History of Mutual Reviews

Airbnb has had a mutual traveler and owner review system in place from the very beginning, in no small part because the company was predicated on the idea of sharing one’s private home with a complete stranger.

Reviewing travelers made perfect sense: if you’re a single person living alone, you’d feel a lot more comfortable renting to someone who had behaved respectfully in several owners’ homes before you.

As Airbnb expanded to many other types of properties, the mutual review system helped ensure that travelers wouldn’t misbehave in ways that are more typical of vacation rental owners’ worst fears, such as causing damage to the property, bringing pets against house rules, or throwing loud, raucous parties.

There was just one problem: whoever reviewed first had the upper hand.

Airbnb’s early system allowed each party to see the other’s review as it was posted. If the owner posted a review first, the traveler would be able to read their review before posting their own, and vice versa.

This caused an odd stalemate: owners and travelers were often over-complimentary in their reviews about one another, in hopes that the second party to review would reciprocate.

Even if the traveler behaved horribly, any owner knows that favorable vacation rental reviews are essential to future bookings. Under this system, an owner who left an accurate review of a bad guest might see the guest leaving a “revenge” review even if that traveler had a good experience staying at the property.

In self-defense, owners tended to leave overly favorable reviews even for bad guests, which meant the traveler review system couldn’t necessarily help other owners weed out potentially damaging renters.

Travelers had a similar incentive to provide good reviews for owners. Travelers didn’t want negative reviews either, since owners can see their star rating and decide to decline the traveler based on poor owner reviews.

All in all, the old system generated a lot of favorable star ratings – but not necessarily an accurate depiction of either owners’ properties or travelers’ behavior.

The New System: The Simultaneous Reveal

In 2014, Airbnb rolled out a new system: owners and travelers wouldn’t be able to see the other party’s reviews until each had submitted their own review. If a traveler or owner failed to leave a review for the other party in a given time period, they forfeited their right to review the other party.

VRBO just announced a similar traveler review system with its new subscription model, which also features the simultaneous review to protect owners and travelers alike from dishonest counter-reviews. From the VRBO site:

After a guest checks out of your property, we’ll send an email to your guest requesting a review of your property. And if you have online booking enabled, we’ll also send you an email at the same time asking you to rate your experience with your guest. Guest and property reviews will be disclosed simultaneously, so you can feel confident that both parties gave honest opinions and weren’t influenced by seeing a review in advance.

The simultaneous review system means owners and travelers alike can be honest in their reviews, and the system is particularly helpful for owners on VRBO and HomeAway, who previously could only reply to unfavorable traveler reviews, not provide any reviews of their own.

How Traveler Reviews Help Owners Vet New Guests

Having traveler reviews allows owners to vet travelers quickly and efficiently when providing online booking. Many owners had previously felt that they didn’t have enough time to vet a traveler thoroughly before they had to decline or confirm a booking – but traveler reviews speed up the vetting process considerably.

Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO all offer a 24-hour review period in which owners can check out the traveler and decline the reservation request without penalty when the traveler books online.

But since many owners work full-time jobs in addition to managing their property, 24 hours wasn’t always enough time for some owners to feel they’d properly vetted a potential guest.

Traveler reviews effectively solves the time constraint problem. It only takes a few moments to check out the traveler’s profile and see their star rating, allowing owners to assess potential guests very quickly based on other experienced owners’ information.

If your potential guest has 5-star reviews across the board, you can feel good about accepting their reservation with very little time wasted in conducting a lengthy vetting process.

You can even see the reasons why other owners liked a traveler, and keep an eye out for any warning signs that you wouldn’t want yourself. For example, if you prefer to not rent to parties with small children, and you notice that a rave 5-star review mentions the travelers’ 2-year-old, it’s probably worth following up to be sure the traveler has checked your policies and the child will not be accompanying your guests on this particular trip.

In general, a traveler with a large number of high reviews is a very safe bet. For travelers with few reviews or low reviews, however, we’d recommend taking a closer look before declining the reservation.

Why Investigate?

You might wonder why we suggest investigating a little further when you see a traveler has negative reviews. Why wouldn’t you simply decline the booking on the strength of other owners’ ratings?

The answer is simple: as every owner knows, not everyone leaves reasonable reviews.

We’ve had travelers leave three-star reviews for owners even when they loved everything about the property. Some travelers think a three-star review is equivalent to “everything as expected” while a five-star review is reserved for properties that were above and beyond expectations.

We’ve also seen low star ratings for such terrible crimes as “It snowed while I was there,” and “The kitchen only provided a toaster, not a toaster oven.”

It’s not fair, but it does happen – and with the traveler review system, it can happen to your potential guests as well. Any owner whose first guest left an unwarranted three-star review knows how hard it can be to get your next booking (and five-star review) when that first review is so low.

That’s why we recommend looking into the reasons behind a low review for a guest before declining. You might be missing out on a nice guest who happened to get an unwarranted low review just as they were starting out.

Simple solution: read the review! If you think the reason given for the traveler’s low rating is pretty flimsy, such as “She didn’t write in my guest book, and that is unforgivably rude,” go ahead and give the traveler a chance. You’ll probably get a great – and grateful – guest.

That said, if a traveler has low reviews for reasons like “smoked in my non-smoking property” or “was rude and difficult every time I spoke to him,” then declining that reservation will likely save you a great deal of hassle.

What Do You Think?

We’re delighted to see the traveler review system on HomeAway and VRBO, as we’ve had an excellent experience using traveler reviews on Airbnb to uncover potential problems with a guest before confirming a booking for our owners.

Vacation rentals are very personal to many owners. It may be a business, but it’s also a property they chose deliberately and furnished with care, and they want to be sure it’s treated well by travelers.

With something so personal on the line, it makes perfect sense that the vacation rental industry should provide an easy way for owners to see what kind of person will be staying in their home. And we think the traveler review system is a great way to do that, particularly for new and inexperienced owners who haven’t yet learned what red flags to look out for.

What about you? Have you used the traveler review system on Airbnb to vet travelers? Are you interested in the possibilities for your business as VRBO and HomeAway roll out these changes? And do you think the traveler review system will save you from otherwise-unforeseeable bad experiences with travelers? We’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

Vetting travelers is only one of the time-consuming aspects of vacation rental ownership that Evolve can take off your busy schedule. Our team of full-time Travel Advisors answers questions, enthusiastically promotes your property to potential guests, and vets all inquiring parties to be sure your property is treated with respect. Click here to learn how Evolve can help you make more bookings with far less hassle