By not making their newest tool optional, HomeAway’s release of the Hospitality app has been met with quite a bit of backlash from vacation rental owners.
I’ve read the comments of disgust from my fellow owners, including conspiracy theories about HomeAway taking over the world (okay, so not the entire world, but taking a bite of every piece of the proverbial pie).
Although an owner cannot opt out of the Hospitality app, there are a few hacks that owners can use to make this tool work for their property.
Note that no one is forcing you to fill in property information or to give explicit directions to your property through this app. And certainly no one is holding you down until you cry “uncle” and give in to using it.
However, as time passes, travelers will continue to become more tech savvy and begin to expect a custom app for nearly everything they interact with. Look at your own smartphone, and you might notice that there is an app for nearly everything around you:
- grocery store
- radio station
- movie theatre
- police department
- as well as many others, especially in the service industry.
As a vacation rental owner, you are in the service industry, whether you like it or not. So why shouldn’t you have your own custom app for your property, one that enhances your guests’ experiences?
Better Experience = Warm and Fuzzy Feelings = Happier Guest
Following are fifteen hacks to make the Hospitality app work for you:
1. If you want the app to disintegrate.
If you don’t want to utilize the app for your guests, then don’t.
There are two ways not to use the app:
First, if you don’t use Reservation Manager or input your guests’ emails into the calendar on HomeAway/VRBO, then your guests will never receive an invite to the Hospitality app.
Second, if you do use Reservation Manager, then simply let your guests know that you are not using the app for your property.
The original invite email that HomeAway sends out is not editable at this time. However, that doesn’t stop you from telling your guests that an automatic email will arrive shortly, and that they will be receiving your property’s sensitive information by another method.
Then, don’t forget to drop a quick note in each required info block instead of leaving it blank. A simple sentence will suffice: “Please refer to our welcome packet for this information.”
2. Change the font formatting outside the app editor.
You can create your text in a Word doc, changing the font and size to what you want, as well as the color of the font, and then copy and paste the text into the area you want it in the app.
3. Edit the Welcome message.
Use the Welcome message to remind your guests where they will find property information, whether you are using the app, you have already emailed the info to them, or the info is in a welcome book at the property.
4. Give the guest secure information when you decide, not when the app says so.
The Hospitality app will never reveal the top secret info more than 14 days from the arrival date, even if you unlocked it as soon as the balance was paid in full a month earlier.
If you are more comfortable granting access 3 days before arrival, then set a reminder on your calendar and click the red unlock icon on your scheduled day.
5. Deny access to the map and door code.
The app can still be used even without the door code and map unlocked. Fill in only the blocks you want your guests to have information about and relax.
6. Use the portions you want to use.
If you want to utilize some of the app, like recommending grocery stores or restaurants, but there is info that you don’t want to give in the app, then don’t give it.
A simple note stating where the guest will find the information is all that you need. Here is a sample one for the wi-fi:
“The wi-fi access information will be at the property. You will find it posted on the refrigerator as well as in the information book on the kitchen counter.
7. Build your guest email list.
Save the names and emails of additional guests that are invited to the app. Simply add them to your MailChimp list or other email list manager or place in a spreadsheet document for later use.
8. Directions when the guest gets lost.
Be hospitable and remind your guests that the app will work with their smartphone’s map app to give them directions to the property no matter where they currently are, even during their stay.
So if your guests get a little lost after dinner one evening, they can simply access the app, tap the map icon, click the “open in maps” button on the bottom, and let their device take over the navigation.
9. Use the Hospitality app offline.
Tell your guest to access the app while they have wi-fi access or cell phone service, and their phone will automatically download the information when they first open it, making most of the app accessible, even in remote areas.
The offline info does not include the map or any other portion that must access the internet, but your guest can still browse through the app for the door code, the heat and AC controls, the wi-fi code, the check out instructions, and more.
10. Save the map for use offline.
To save the map, tell the guest to grab a screenshot from their computer, tablet, or smartphone. Instructions on how to take a screenshot for different devices are here.
11. Top secret info for just one guest.
Add any sensitive guest-specific information under the “access my rental” area.
For example, if they paid an additional fee for use of the golf cart, note the access information in the notes section under the door code area. This information is shown only to the guests on the particular reservation.
12. Edit the Thank You message.
This email is usually sent 12:00 pm local time the day your guests depart. You can take advantage of this email to thank them for choosing your property, to ask them if there is anything that would have made their stay better, and to even request a review if you are comfortable doing so at this stage.
Note that the Hospitality app will soon send a push notification requesting the guest rate your property and leave a review. The notification will be unobtrusive and pop up the evening before the guest is scheduled to depart.
Owners that were in the first release of the Hospitality app should note that the app no longer sends a review request email with the owner’s name in the sender field.
13. Tweak the app.
If you think the app needs a tweak, or you want an information widget added (i.e. hot tub, zip lines, guided tours, farmer’s market, local shortcuts), simply tell HomeAway by using the feedback button on your Hospitality dashboard.
The app team reads every single email and notes each enhancement request. If enough owners request the same enhancement, the app team will eventually make it happen and then email the group that requested the tweak that it is available.
Keep in mind that the app team is unable to respond to every single email, but they do read all of them. I have been promised this.
14. Deny a guest access to the app.
Delete a reservation from your Hospitality dashboard if you no longer want a guest to have access to the app.
15. Use your email instead of a guest email.
I know owners who do this so they can filter the emails that the app sends before forwarding the emails to their guests.
Personally, I would not use this hack. My primary reason is that I really don’t want the extra work of forwarding emails to my guests.
I first started using the app (when it was Glad to Have You – read my original review of it here and then follow up review here) to speed up my workflow, to cut down on manually sending emails that could be automated, and to give my guests warm fuzzies.
But the primary reason for not using this hack is that if you do it, you will end up with an app that doesn’t work correctly. Then, you have the pleasure of spending time on the phone with HomeAway Customer Service, trying to figure out what went wrong.
The Hospitality app dashboard is a sleek machine that will deliver warm fuzzies to your guests daily, but you have to use it properly.
Your guests should receive only five emails from the Hospitality app:
– the Invite (a few hours after you accept the reservation or manually enter your guest’s information)
– the Reminder (6:00 pm local time, 2 days before arrival)
– the Welcome (4:00 pm local time on the day of arrival)
– the Check Out (4:00 pm local time the day before departure)
– the Thank You (12:00 pm local time the day of departure)
HomeAway knows that many owners have been using this hack to circumvent the few app emails being sent to guests. So I asked Ryan Turner, Senior Product Manager at HomeAway, if there are any consequences from owners tricking the system.
Ryan told me that using the same email address for every reservation will hinder an owner from using new features that the team plans to roll out soon.
So my advice? Don’t use the same email address for every single reservation.
Should you create a reservation with your own email address to test the app and see what a guest sees? Yes, absolutely!
Which, brings me to two little features you may not have noticed…the reinvite button and the preview button. You can easily send another invite to a guest in case they mistakenly deleted the original one.
And then you can click on the preview button to see exactly what your guest will see in the Hospitality app at different stages of their stay at your property.
Share these hacks with your vacation rental owner friends. I’ve got the handy shortcut widgets to your favorite social media sites on the left and below this post.
Do you have another hack that you like to use to make the Hospitality app work for you? Or maybe one of the above hacks made you feel as giddy as a schoolgirl.
Please tell me about it in the comments below.
#vacationrentalmarketing #marketingtips #hacks #creativesolutions #homeaway #hospitalityapp
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