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vacation rental beach sandalsHow many of you rely on user-generated reviews to help pick a hotel or vacation rental? Virtual show of hands. That’s what we thought. And if a vacation rental owner’s property listing had bathroom pics showing only the porcelain spaces not dripping black mold, you might be inclined to tell the world, ex post tripso.

Not so fast.

According to a recent piece by veteran consumer travel writer Chris Elliott, “non-disparagement” clauses are seeping into vacation rental contracts as owners and management companies attempt to vigorously defend their reputations in a user-generated landscape. One scathing review, real or fake, can gut a small business, they say. Consumers aren’t the only ones who need protection.

Blow off the fine print and you could face a heavy fine, which a couple did recently for posting a negative review of an Arizona vacation rental on VRBO.com. Their rental contract said they needed consent from the owner or the owner’s rep, Progressive Management Concepts, to do so. Their credit card was hit with a punitive $500 fine. (The couple eventually agreed to take down the review and got their $500 back, plus $200 more.)

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TJ Mahony, CEO and co-founder of IndependentTraveler.com sister site FlipKey, a vacation rental site, told us he hadn’t heard of this practice yet — but said, “In principle, we would never encourage nor support this.

“The overwhelmingly majority of vacation rental experiences are positive. Moreover, FlipKey and TripAdvisor offer extensive reputation management tools to help homeowners effectively manage their online reputation and address unreasonable claims.”

Mahony said he would personally never sign a contract including such a clause.

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We agree. While there’s little doubt that fake, or at least disingenuous, reviews are a problem, forced confidentiality is not the solution. Online reviews are not some “vast buzzing, blooming confusion,” as travel icon Arthur Frommer recently told the Wall Street Journal. They’re one of many essential tools — which include, yes, guidebooks — used by the savvy traveler.

So, amid the fine print, there’s may be another question to ask when interviewing a vacation rental owner: Are you okay with consumer reviews?

– written by Dan Askin

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns FlipKey.

7 Responses to “Vacation Rentals: Don’t Review My Property … or Else”

  1. Debbie White says:

    I believe a person should be able to give an honest review. I often look to the reviews before I book a trip. Especially for home rentals. I learned from experience…the hard way. Had I known some “details” about the property I never would have rented it.

  2. Barb says:

    This idea of repressing reviews would make me a lot more suspicious of the property than one negative review would! I think those of us who are regular users of vacation rentals know how to take reviews with “a grain of salt” and are pretty good at being able to ignore the isolated rant. Certainly one bad review would not eliminate a property from consideration for me. But forbidding a review might!

  3. I would have this as a review. I would like to submit a negative review of this property but under the terms of the contract and threat of a $500 charge to my credit card I am not allowed to. I would be glad to answer any questions on my my hotmail account, however my comments cannot be published.

  4. ParisInsider says:

    That’s a tough call. I’ve seen many ignorant, negative reviews that only hurt the reputation of otherwise reputable vacation rentals. I suppose if I see many, many positive with a few negatives, balance them. But many people do not.

  5. I have to agree with what Barb said here. It’s good if you’re going to let those reviews through because those can be used as something that could improve your services. What you need to do is to address those who left the negative comments as soon as possible. It’s going to be even worse if you’re going to restrict the people from giving a review on what kind of service you give them.

    = Gerald Martin, Resell SEO =

  6. Randwick Real Estate says:

    Visitors looking for a vacation most likely read reviews on their prospective place to stay and you would hope they are real!

  7. Chris says:

    Will be asking owners and property managers if they have such clauses, will not rent from one who does. If a the property can’t stand behind what they are offering by blocking reviews, that’s reason enough not to go there. We pay for the service they are providing and get a say in how that goes. We help other travelers when we do that. Its not about getting back at the owner/management, its about helping others avoid loss of their hard earned money and time on a bad vacation experience. Applaud the couple cited in the original article for bringing the issue forward!

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