We are in an age of instant gratification, where people want answers fast. Actually, faster than fast, they want them instantaneously with the click of a button (or tap of a touchscreen). Hence the success of the huge online travel agencies (or OTAs) like Booking(.com), AirBnB and Expedia, just to name a few. These OTAs are able to offer instant (or nearly so) booking confirmations without lag time.
But convenience has a cost. And that cost, cari amici, is ultimately passed on to you, the consumer. Did you know most of the OTAs charge hosts and hoteliers 15-18% commission? For hosts to achieve their target profit that means prices are being inflated to cover commission costs. Or, in the case of AirBnB, a lower commission (3-5%) is charged to the host but the guest is charged a rather hefty AirBnB service fee (the cost of the service fee is on a sliding scale based on multiple factors including length of stay, price of the accommodation and demand). And unlike accommodation hosts, AirBnB charges its “experience” hosts a whopping 20% commission!
So what do the savvy travelers do to save money on their accommodations or experiences? They book direct. Hosts can offer significant savings to those who contact them directly to reserve.*
You might be wondering, “But how in the heck am I supposed to contact these people or places directly?” Here’s how I approach booking accommodations and experiences, without the costly middlemen:
- First, research your accommodations online using the OTAs (as they are a great tool to discover rates, availability and reviews… all in one place).
- Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few different places that suit you and have good reviews (and make sure they have availability for your dates, of course), head on over to Google.
- The easiest contact details to track down are for hotels, B&Bs, or bonafide businesses where a Google search will usually bring up direct contact details. Just make sure you scroll down past all of the ads (that the big OTAs can afford to sponsor on Google) to find the real search results.
- Things get a bit tricky with AirBnB as oftentimes hosts aren’t in the professional sector so it’s harder to know what you should be googling (because “Apartment with beautiful views and central location” just isn’t going to cut it). Try clicking on the host’s profile to read their “about” section to see if you can get any clues as to how to contact them directly.
Tip: I only recommend trying to book directly with an AirBnB host if they have Superhost status or if they’ve got lots of great reviews. Not all AirBnB hosts are created equal and you’re placing a lot of faith in them by booking direct. Make sure you’re booking with a host with an excellent reputation.
That’s actually my profile page on AirBnB and obviously you can see both the name of my family’s vacation rental agency as well as the name of the blog. If that isn’t a lead, I don’t know what is… put on your sleuth hats and get googling!
Some words to the wise
- If you’re booking direct, there may be some different stipulations regarding the reservation. Make sure the cancellation policy, methods of payment accepted and other details are all very clear to you in advance.
- Ensure that you have contact details (including phone numbers) and an agreed upon meeting place and time.
- In the event that you find accommodations or an experience online by googling alone (rather than via an OTA) ask if they can share an AirBnB or other OTA link so you can check their reviews before booking. The nice thing about the OTAs, unlike TripAdvisor, is that they’ve incorporated reviews into the listings and those reviews can only be made by verified past guests.
*When booking direct, do your homework first. Know what rate the host is asking (and on what platform, so that will give you an idea as to what sort of commission they would have to pay if you were to book with the OTA). Ask for their best rate and be willing to pay cash to get it (all the villages have ATMs, just be sure to use the right ones). Keep in mind, AirBnB hosts probably won’t be able to offer much (if any) of a discount on their accommodations (as they are paying just 3-5% in commission) but you will be able to circumvent the AirBnB service fees.
Backstory: Once upon a time (actually, not so many years ago), hosts and hoteliers had to sign contracts when they partnered with OTAs promising that they would offer the same rates across the board (so offering better rates to those who booked directly was a big no-no) . This was called “parity rate” and hosts risked penalties, expulsion from the OTA sites, and even potential lawsuits if they didn’t comply. Luckily for hosts and guests alike, the Italian court deemed the parity rate clause in the contracts illegal (and so did courts in Germany, France and Austria).
If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking, “Sheesh! That’s a lot of work when I can book in less than a minute online.” Here’s where I’m going to give you a hand here in the Cinque Terre. If you email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and write DIRECT BOOKINGS in the subject line, I will reply with contact details for my preferred accommodations and experience providers in the Cinque Terre. These are trusted places where I’d send my family & friends, and I’m happy to send you, too.
Ciao for now,