Jan. 24, 2020
Every year, millions of guests rely on online travel agencies (OTAs) for their vacation and travel needs. In fact, companies like Booking.com, Expedia and Vrbo have been establishing user trust since the mid-1990s. But despite the short-term rental industry's continued success, users raise concerns over OTA safety and security procedures. Recently, we’ve seen major gaps come to light with multiple shootings, international fraud schemes and data breaches.
While it’s easy to point fingers, the blame for these incidents doesn’t sit squarely on the shoulders of the OTAs. Property management companies (PMCs) also need to take a closer look at their own safety and security procedures.
How do OTA ID verification systems work?
For OTAs, reconciling the relationship between user growth and user safety can be difficult. If a company puts too many restrictions on its platform, it risks stunting growth. But if it doesn’t have a process to vet users, it will be vulnerable to fraud or troublesome guests.
Each OTA has its own version of verifying and protecting users. Vrbo asks guests to provide their first and last name, email address, mobile phone number, physical address and birth date to confirm their identity. Booking.com is rolling out a Guest Requirements feature that allows hosts to control who books their property by setting requirements, such as guests providing a verified phone number, address details and a record of past stays with Booking.com. Airbnb ID verification, which is a slightly more thorough system, requires users to either provide their legal name and address or a photo of a government-issued ID.
While these ID verification procedures are effective they’re not foolproof. Threats still slip through. PMCs need to educate themselves on OTA policies to see where they’re protected and how they’re exposed. One bad incident, whether it’s a result of identity fraud or credit card theft, can ruin a company’s reputation.
What’s missing in OTA ID verification systems?
Current OTA ID verification systems do little to deter cases of identity fraud, stolen credit cards or guests looking to throw a party. Even if the OTA confirms the guest’s identity, property managers receive little information beyond the guest’s name and email address. You have no idea who is staying in your property, not to mention where the guest is travelling from, why they’re travelling and who they’re travelling with. This leaves you completely vulnerable to ill-intentioned guests.
Rather than relying on the OTA’s ID verification system, you need to take steps to protect yourself. You should require all guests staying with you to provide government-issued IDs and an accompanying selfie (something Airbnb occasionally does) to ensure the ID actually belongs to the individual booking. The ID should then be compared to the user’s credit card. If the two don’t match, it’s possible the credit card is stolen.
It’s also your responsibility as the property manager to tell the guest about any house rules you may have, such as no pets or parties. Reach out to the guest to clarify your house rules and see if they have any questions. This will give you the opportunity to ask about their travel plans and any additional guests who may be travelling with them. As an added layer of protection, request a security deposit. This way, if there are damages, you’ll at least be covered.
What does this mean?
The hospitality industry sits on a precipice. With OTAs choosing to focus on user growth, PMCs need to up their safety and security procedures. If you continue to rely on OTA verification systems, then eventually—whether it’s parties, fraud or property damage—your company will take a hit, one it may not be able to recover from.
Screening Airbnb guests and running background checks can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. To reduce risk, put in the work ahead of time. If you want a streamlined solution, check out Autohost.