The Great Vacation Rental Myth Returns


In June I wrote a post here about the vacation rental industry’s biggest myth, SNAD (see “PhoCusWright Debunks Major Vacation Rental Myth: SNAD”). It stands for “significantly not as described” and refers to a seemingly widely held perception that, all too often, travelers arrive at a home or condo they rented for their vacation to find it is, well, significantly not as it was advertised to them.

Just a few weeks later a piece appeared in The New York Times Home & Garden section entitled “Summer House Horrors : On a Private Lake in Maine, No One Can Hear You Scream,” which details a series of horrific vacation rental experiences. I wrote a letter to the Editor. The New York Times has not published the letter, so we have decided to reproduce it here.

Letter to the Editor: Summer House Horrors

To:  Editor, The New York Times
Re:  “Summer House Horrors: On a Private Lake in Maine, No One Can Hear You Scream,” by Joyce Wadler, Home & Garden, July 8, 2009:

This article artfully details a series of nightmarish experiences of vacation home rentals, where unsuspecting guests arrived to find their accommodations significantly not as advertised. It may be accurate in the reporting of the examples provided, but it does not in fact reflect overall guest satisfaction in the vacation rental industry. PhoCusWright’s Vacation Rental Marketplace: Poised for Change has found guest satisfaction to be very high. In a 2008 survey of more than 1000 U.S. adults who stayed in a vacation rental over the past two years, we found the following:

  • The mean level of satisfaction was 4.3 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being extremely satisfied, and 1 being extremely dissatisfied; 
  • 89% intend to rent again within three years;
  • 87% would recommend vacation rentals to family or friends;
  • Only 1% of respondents indicated they would not rent again because of a previous bad experience with a vacation rental.

Imagine what air travel would have to be like for airlines to achieve a comparable level of customer satisfaction!

This article perpetuates a perception of rampant fraud and homeowner misrepresentation in the vacation rental industry, a perception that our research clearly dispels as a myth (I call your attention also to “Practical Traveler – Skirting the Pitfalls of Private Rentals,” by Michelle Higgins, October 5, 2008). Such examples are statistical outliers and do not represent the experiences of the vast majority of vacation home renters. And yet very real indeed is the negative impact such media coverage can have on the thousands of professional property management companies and hundreds of thousands of vacation homeowners who serve millions of satisfied guests every year.


Douglas Quinby
Senior Director, Research
PhoCusWright Inc.

Posted in Blog, PhoCusWrightPosts
  • Julian Castelli

    Thanks for writing that letter Douglas – and for your industry advocacy. I think you are absolutely right to call them out as sensationalizing these horror stories to the detriment of an industry that your research shows has a terrific track record in customer satisfaction.

    The one thing I noticed was the source of these Vacation Rentals for these customers – Craigslist, a friend, a refrral from a dis-interested realtor. To me this confirms that there is a real need for more trusted, online marketplaces for finding the perfect vacation rental. That is exactly what we are trying to provide at .

  • betsylabarge

    I appreciate your letter, too. Unfortunately, it makes a “better” story to publish the sensational, very extraordinary and not so commom mishap. For Mt Hood Vacation Rentals, our guests rate our homes 4.55 out 5 and 94% say they will recommend us. Guests who just checked out a couple of days ago commented, “This was a beautiful home and very well maintained–even better than the photos tell. We'll be going back again.” Would this be SBAD, Significantly Better Than Described? This comment is posted in our online reviews for the Pine River Cabin.

    Professional property managers have an excellent track record; their vacation rental company is their livlihood and the livlihood of their employees. Their company's reputation reflects their personal reputation within their business community, too. They could not stay in business if they did not consistantly serve their customers well, always striving to improve. For a list of pros, go to

  • drbdisqus

    Travelers are often being lured in to VACATION RENTAL BY AMATEUR websites. VRBO and similar sites offer rentals by individuals that are often discarded by reputable management companies in the hospitality industry. These renegade homeowners are the same ones that won't return your deposit, won't clean their upholstery, won't be there to provide keys, all because they won't pay for professional management. We should be directing travelers to VRBA so they can share their horror stories of going it alone.

  • Joel Fellman

    Superb letter Douglas. Thank you! The New York Times article can be a rallying cry for our industry and the “thousands of professional property management companies and hundreds of thousands of vacation homeowners who serve millions of satisfied guests every year.”

    Every industry has issues and critics. And one bad apple… you know the rest.

    Yes! Working together we can present the vacation-rental success story to reinforce the overwhelming satisfaction consumers find with our products and services.

    Criticism should only make us stronger and more resolved. Criticism provides targets of opportunity. And the last five letters of opportunity are “unity” …so we must stand together now and always, acknowledge our critics, and consistently publicize “the facts” to counter the disinformation.

    Broadcast vacation-renter satisfaction! Circulate success stories! Publish positive experiences! Spread the approval ratings word! Individually and collectively.

    Together we are stronger. Unity in opportunity!

  • maureenregan

    The examples in this article reemphasize the need to use a professional vacation rental manager. I suggest VRMA, the Vacation Rental Manager's Association. Check out their website,, for a list of members across the US and Canada. As the owner of a vacation rental business in Maine, (Seaside Vacation Rentals), I am very distressed to hear what these people went through and even more so to see that the NY Times has used it to perpetuate the myths about vacation renting – and Maine! I grew up in the lakes area of Maine and have been swimming in probably 20 lakes all without leeches! Most professional agencies I know would refuse to handle a property like the one mentioned in this article.

  • Jan Leasure, Broker, MBPM

    Just after the original “Horrors” article was published, one of my vacation rental guests emailed me to say that she read it on the plane following her stay with Monterey Bay Property Management. She was amused by the article and commented that the “horrors” described in the article certainly were NOT what she experienced. She wanted us to know that she had had a great time and that she plans to return. In fact, over 75% of our vacation rental guests are repeat customers. Professional management by people whose livelihood is the vacation rental biz assures customers that their expectations will be met or exceeded.

  • Fifth Wheels

    you have a point there…

  • Fifth Wheels

    you have a point there…