Your luxury holiday rental – do you book direct with the owner or use the likes of, Trip Advisor, airBnB etc?

What a headache booking a holiday villa, thousands of properties on multiple global websites all inviting you to click the button and ‘book now’ after just a couple of moments on the page?
Of course it’s big business for these Online Travel Agents (OTAs). By charging commission of booking fees to the travellers and a commission for bringing the booking to the owner, it’s not rare for 25% or more to go into their pockets. Before I go further let me declare I own and rent out holiday homes in southern Spain. All my bookings come to me directly and none through third party online travel agents like, airBnB, expedia, TripAdvisor etc etc.  Why do I shun them when they are such powerful popular platforms ?  Let’s look at the pluses and minuses of booking directly against using the big travel sites..

Booking directly with the owner

The advantages:
-You get an opportunity to speak directly, to ask specific questions and to discover the little things that usually an owner or dedicated managing agent can answer. Personally, when I am looking for somewhere to rent, I want to know how long the owner has had the property and how often they visit themselves.  I want to know how clean their property is and what the arrangements are for its maintenance
– You get a chance to see the owner’s website, this ought to offer you a wide array of information before you buy in. My wife wants to judge the standard of cleanliness in the kitchen and the bathrooms.
– Things are more personal. That’s important for many of us.
-You may need additional help from someone who knows the property thoroughly or you may be arriving late and want a meal prepared to greet you on your arrival.  There may be nuanced local customs or attitudes that you’d benefit from being aware of. Maybe you want the name of a local taxi driver to take you into town for a relaxed meal out.
-You will often be paying less than you might through the online travel agents (OTAs). They will typically take commission from the renter and from the owner.  This double dipping can leave them pocketing 25% or more.

The disadvantages of booking directly:
– You need to be confident that the owner is genuine and the property exists. How long have they owned it and let it out. Is it available on any third party websites, are their reviews and they look genuine.  Clearly a property that has been offered for say 10 years likely really does exist.
– If you’re faced with an ‘agent’ you need to be sure they have the authority to offer the property. Ask them for proof or copies of ownership documents. 
-The owner may not take credit cards so you could be at risk if you do not receive what you’ve paid for

Booking via an online travel agent (OTA)

The advantages
– Quick and easy via online booking and you can pay by credit card.
– You have someone other than the owner to complaint to if things go wrong

The disadvantages
– The booking transaction is impersonal, it’s possible you will not get full information on what you’re buying beforehand.
– Online Travel Agents want ‘volume’ of bookings and they tend not to know the finer details of the property they’re renting out as would the owner.
– You will likely pay more through an agent once commissions are added in.
– The best properties are likely not available through them,

Why we only take bookings directly
Our home in Spain is just that, we’re not there full time by any means and we want to find the renters who are going to appreciate the property as much as we do. We want to be open and available to anyone who has a genuine interest in staying, we don’t want to rent if we fear the potential renter has misunderstood or we sense they will not be happy in the property.  As an owner, I value the connection with guests, it provides an opportunity for to answer direct questions so guests can discover whether those needs can be met.  From time to time, we ourselves become renters in other self catering property when we travel.  When we do this, I’m struck by how much choice there is online and how quickly I can book. That’s the good bit but I’m equally demotivated by how difficult it can be getting the key information I need and how impossible it can be reaching owners when using the global Online Travel Agents.