Completely Lost! Why searching for VR’s by location often doesn’t work
One of our biggest challenges in launching UnitedVacation.Rentals was figuring out how to handle a really difficult problem. The problem is easy to understand but complicated to define.
In order to provide a modern property mapping system based on Google maps (the defacto online standard) property listings on the site have to be entered and listed exactly where they are, but the terms that define where a property is located are often different from the property’s mailing address, and more importantly; NOT the standard familiar terms a guest is most likely to use in a search.
If a guest is looking for a property in an area, but is not familiar with any of the local place names, and (chooses to not use the map but instead) enters what they are familiar with in the search box, the site could very easily come back with zero results! That is not good for guests, and of course, certainly not good for owners! A similar, connected issue is that a property may be in a nearby area to where a guests searches, and be acceptable to the guest location-wise, but it won’t show up in a search if the guest uses a different place name.
These issues have been of concern to a number of our owners and we understand why. Well, we have listened carefully and are very pleased to announce that we have come up with a solution for this issue! It is already now live on the site!
In order to explain what we have done, and why it helps solve this problem, let’s examine a real-life example:
There’s a lot to cover here, so please bear with us! 🙂
Perhaps the easiest example to use is the Orlando, Florida area, as it has the greatest concentration of vacation rentals anywhere in the world, and not coincidentally, the greatest number of properties on this site. The area receives over 50 Million (!) visitors per year, due to the presence of Walt Disney World and many other world class attractions. Practically everyone has heard of Orlando, but in fact, most travelers to the area don’t actually want to visit there!
The Orlando area, including Disney World and the surrounding communities is quite large, and there are many areas that are known locally by their proper place names, such as Four Corners (an area where many vacation rentals are located), but are not well known outside of the area. A guest interested in going to Disney World is going to likely only be aware of Orlando, or Disney World, or Florida as their desired location and that is about it. Even Kissimmee (a small city just south of Orlando which has grown as a Disney related tourist area) is not well known to outsiders unless they have been to the area previously or read about it somewhere.
This very large area has been quite developed over the years due to the proximity of Disney World, and many subdivisions and developments have been built in unincorporated areas of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Polk counties. Essentially, many of these subdivisions which host many vacation rentals are out in the country, but have been built so close together that they practically constitute their own city! The areas have never been incorporated as such. These individual developments each have a name, but they are often not part of a larger area that has a well-known name! They’re just close to this, or in the area of that.
Complicating things even more, is the tendency of the US post office to take any address in an unincorporated area, and put it under the name of the largest incorporated town or city nearby. This has resulted in properties in the Disney area, for example, as having a mailing address of Davenport, even though they are 10 miles away from the actual City of Davenport. Having a mailing address of Davenport puts an owner at a disadvantage if a guest unfamiliar with the area, seeing the name Davenport goes to look up where and what it is. With apologies to the City of Davenport, we have been told that Davenport itself is a place that no one would ever want to visit. It is also located quite far away from where most guests traveling to the area would want to be.
For the owner, this presents a huge problem because their mailing address is Davenport, but they aren’t IN Davenport, and from a marketing point of view, they likely don’t want to give prospective guests the impression that their property is located far away from where it is, and in an undesirable location as well!
A similar problem has developed with properties just a few hundred yards away (!) from some of those with a Davenport address. They were given an address of a different city ten miles in the opposite direction!
Areas in Four Corners were given a mailing address of Kissimmee a long time ago, even though they are at least six or seven miles from the boundary of Kissimmee, on the other side of Disney World! (For those unfamiliar with the area, Disney World is huge! The property covers 40 square miles, about the size of Manhattan Island in New York.) In fact, in the interim, the town of Celebration was built by Disney on part of the Disney property, and it has its own post office and properties there are referred to as being in Celebration. Four Corners properties are closer to Celebration than they are to Kissimmee, but the post office hasn’t changed any of those addresses even though it makes little sense to identify them with a post office farther away than the one in Celebration. But the US Post Office is a huge old institution and acts as one.
Many owners of vacation rentals in Four Corners have used a Kissimmee address for many years, and have never known that their homes aren’t actually located in Kissimmee! (The boundaries of Kissimmee can be seen on any map of the area.) All of this confusion has resulted in a big mess for both owners and guests in understanding where properties are located.
- How can guests search for properties by location if they don’t know the actual local area names to search with?
- How can guests know where they will be staying if the addresses of the properties don’t reflect their physical location?
These challenges are made even more difficult by the high degree of competition amongst vacation rentals in the area. (This is a very negative issue, and we hate to bring it up here, but it certainly contributes to the challenges at hand and the decisions that we have to make.) Some property owners (None on this site!) simply lie about where their properties are located in an attempt to fool or at least trick travelers until they are committed to a booking. The intent of owners in this regard may not necessarily be nefarious. As we have already explained, the actual addresses of many vacation rentals in this area don’t reflect their true location, so some owner may want to tell guests their property is somewhere it is not, in an honest attempt to help the guest understand where it actually is!
(Do you have a headache yet? Try coming up with a workable solution to this issue for a listing site, that is fair to everyone and provides guests what they need!)
As a result of all of this, on one of the major listing sites roughly one-third of all of the properties in the Orlando area are listed incorrectly! For all their rhetoric of providing a great guest experience, that can not happen when a site does not police its listings and require all of them to each be listed where they actually are located. In fact, there are a number of listings on these sites which are multiple copies for the same property! One property we are aware of can be found located in Kissimmee, but also in Celebration, and in Four Corners and Clermont, and in yet another listing which has the audacity to be located right on Disney property near the theme parks where NO vacation rentals can possibly even be! Why is this done? Looking at it favorably, to ensure that the property can be found no matter how the guest searches for it. Looking at it negatively, it is a blatant attempt to fool or trick unsuspecting guests into booking a property far closer to the attractions than it really is.
If you are an owner competing with a property employing such tactics, how does it make you feel? More importantly, what do you do in response?
We have always been aware of these issues, and don’t accept the free-for-all anything-goes approach which practically encourages owners to lie about their location because “everyone else is, and how is the owner supposed to compete against that?” What should an owner do when their mailing address places their property miles away from where it actually is, especially if that location is not as desirable as where they actually are located? What a huge mess!
- What kind of a guest experience does this provide?
- How much confidence does it create in the site when owners are allowed to just list their properties anywhere?
- And how fair is it to all owners if other owners are allowed to list their properties in a different location than it is, just because it may be better known or more desirable?
And how can a vacation rental listing site create a system that helps a guest to have a good and accurate search experience on the site, if accurate location data doesn’t help them find where they want to be?
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