Resisting the “Book Now” Bait

      Once upon a time the World Wide Web appeared to be a great gift to the common citizen. In those early days, Google was still committing minimal corporate evil. A Google web search would return all relevant web addresses on one or two pages without undo influence from corporate advertisers, or from exploitation of the monopolistic positions that some corporations were seeking in their emerging markets. But today, well after Google itself began to “monetize,” and after Amazon and so many other web giants successfully monopolized, a web search serves the many financial elephants well before it serves any common citizen.

      This trend was just one of the factors that prompted me to send the following email to more than one hundred of the previous guests who stayed at our Gatehouse-on-the-Point vacation rental. Hopefully this letter speaks for itself. And in the future, hopefully, the reader will think twice before pressing any “Book Now” button on the web.

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To our many previous Gatehouse guests, this hello:

      This is to let you know that, regretfully, we will no longer be listing our Gatehouse rental on VRBO nor on any other subsidiary of Expedia. Our Gatehouse will still be available for rent, just as it has been for the past 20 years. But even if you search for “Kootenay Lake Cottage Rentals” or any similar search string, Expedia, with its many subsidiaries and copycats will generally prevent you from finding our personal “Gatehouse-on-the-Point” website somewhere among the first 40 listings you might see. Unless we stay listed with them.

      Why then don’t we just keep our listing on VRBO? VRBO started out as a well organized and user friendly website, connecting renters and owners of vacation homes and cottages. It did not charge renters any fees for use; it permitted owners and renters to communicate freely before renting; and its fees to owners were not unreasonable. Rent and reservation deposits were, at first, generally paid directly to owners, by credit card or a bank transfer or a personal cheque.

      But after VRBO was purchased by the booking giant Expedia, it became increasingly complex and difficult for renters and owners to communicate directly before reserving. A “service fee” to renters was introduced, raising the cost of rentals made through VRBO first by 5% and more recently by 12% over the cost for the same rental when booked directly on an owner’s website or over the phone. Payment of any rental or deposit made directly to the owner soon became heavily discouraged by new policies and by the new and inflexible software created for VRBO. To keep renters dealing only with VRBO, all links to the owner’s website have now been removed from each listing. And finally, VRBO will no longer allow owners to be paid directly by the renters. All payments must be made only to and through VRBO, with a credit card. Generally, owners might not receive any rental monies until the second day of the rental occupancy. Any arrangements for earlier payments will come with new fees to the owners and restrictive conditions.

      Expedia and its various subsidiaries and copycats now enjoy a near monopoly for providing web access to rentals. They are “monitizing” their near monopoly with enthusiasm. This saddens us, and we choose no longer to support such policies, and such unnecessary greed, and such excessive corporate control.

      As a renter, although it may no longer be obvious to you, you always have the choice of booking without using websites that charge you “service fees” for so doing. The so-called “services” that VRBO offers to renters are questionable at best, as currently you can discover at ConsumerAffairs.com or by a web search for “Complaints about VRBO.” If there is a rental that you do find interesting on any Expedia website, you can still use the name of the cottage, or the owner, or the location of the rental, to search the web for that same rental’s own dedicated website. Then you can contact the owner directly, should you still wish to do so.

      So before you press any of those “Book Now” buttons, give a thought to the unnecessary costs and corporate restraints that you are accepting by so doing. If you are concerned about the truth or accuracy of a given rental description, simply limit your secondary searches to rentals that have been in operation for multiple years, that have earned consistent good reviews, and that have owners who then answer your questions effectively. And if you can and will pass on these tips to your friends, they too might think twice before paying those unnecessary website “service” fees. We hope you will pass this advice on.

      But enough. Thank you for your previous stay(s) with us. Thank you for considering the above information. And know that we can still be found on the web at www.jbgilmore.ca/thegatehouse/ or by any web search for “Gatehouse-on-the-Point.”

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