PR Failure #29: Vrbo Reputation Questioned after a Delayed Response to Cancelling D.C. Stays



PR Failure #29: Vrbo Reputation Questioned after a Delayed Response to Cancelling D.C. Stays

Competitor of Airbnb, Vrbo, found itself in a public relations crisis the weeks leading up to Inauguration Day after a delayed, or simply missed, PR handling.

Vrbo, a vacation rental platform overseen by Seattle-based Expedia Group, has experienced significant backlash for not blocking or canceling reservations in the Washington D.C. area and other U.S. capitols during inauguration week like its industry competitor, Airbnb, had done.


In response to the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, officials in D.C. urged people not to travel for the upcoming inauguration. Following that, Airbnb released a blog post a week after the attack on Jan. 13 stating they were, “aware of reports … regarding armed militias and known hate groups that are attempting to travel and disrupt the Inauguration.” It said guests whose reservations are canceled will be refunded in full.

Later that day, completely ignoring what Airbnb had posted and going on with its regularly scheduled social media calendar, Vrbo Tweeted this.

Followers began to let Vrbo know immediately that they missed the mark here. People flooded into this thread and expressed how they felt about Vrbo not following, or even acknowledging, what was happening in our country and in D.C. The comment to receive the largest traction is shown first below, followed by others.

The Friday after Airbnb’s announcement, both Expedia and Vrbo released statements saying “the safety of its guests and hosts is of the utmost importance and anyone planning to travel to D.C. next week was encouraged to follow local governmental regulations and check the latest news for updates.” In addition to that, the account began replying to comments with this response.

A reply thread was then written by Steve Schmidt, one of the founders of The Lincoln Project and a communications and public affairs strategist who has worked on Republican campaigns.

The Expedia Group then released a formal statement on their social media, housing a document that explained how they would keep the cancelations in the Washington, D.C. metro area and all U.S. state capitals up to the host’s discretion or, should there be an issue or security concerns, Vrbo would do it themselves.

Though this may be good news, it was far too late. People on Twitter had already voiced their opinions after the delayed response. On Jan. 19, The Expedia Group seemed to get the hint that they should be doing more and stated it will block new reservations through Friday, Jan. 22.

This situation is showcasing a prime example of good PR done too late. Though Vrbo ended up rescinding their original idea and eventually came to terms with the severity of reservations in major cities, all of the backlash, lost customers and now, questionable reputation, could have been prevented if it wasn’t first completely tone-deaf to America’s current events.

  1. Know your brand and what it stands for. Every successful brand must know this. If your brand is wanting to stay relevant and reliable, statements and social posts have to line up your brand with events occurring around you. Vrbo is all about being a reliable, friendly and diverse brand; one I would argue should be more socially aware of events happening than Airbnb. In this situation, it seemed like Vrbo was disconnected from its community and the world, causing the social channels to slip up and post about something irrelevant.
  2. Be “on” at all times.  Keeping up to date with competitor movements and societal changes is imperative to a successful brand. You can see in this example that people were getting the feeling that Vrbo was ignoring their customer’s needs and the movements happening by other brands. This was bad news for Vrbo and if it would’ve been caught sooner or managed properly by its team, we wouldn’t be here talking about it.
  3. Listen to the people. In this instance, that’s exactly what Vrbo did… eventually. We have access to virtually everything in our pockets, including creating two-way conversations with customers. Building a relationship with your customers can lend more support when you make a mistake. And when you do, show them you’re listening and act quickly to make it right.

Being socially aware these days is something that we all must be on top of. Above all, listen before engaging and ensure your message matters.

Until we come together for another PR failure,

Aaron Blank
CEO + President