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The sad demise of another former Aussie icon — Stayz

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(Expedia image by viaggioroutard (CC2.0) via Flickr)

Since home-grown accomodation portal Stayz was sold to a global travel giant, things have gone from bad to worse, writes Sophie Love.

Stayz is a great Aussie idea, invention and institution. The online place where dreams are made. Where we go to escape the mundane repetition of our rat race lives. Where we can step off the hamster wheel and imagine restful spaces, restorative getaways and rare relaxation. Stayz has been the first step on our holiday journeys for more than a decade.

Benignly bought by Fairfax in 2005, the media empire proved it could build digital portals and Stayz’s glossy, magazine-style spreads of holiday homes, retreats and rentals lured us away from the grindstone. But by 2013, their little website that could dominated the destination landscape in Australia and the big players from overseas were champing to get at the action.

In 2013, the temptation became too much and Stayz was purchased by U.S. holiday rental group HomeAway. $220 million changed hands (not that us little property owners were aware of it — that’s how much our combined efforts in cleaning and catering for Australian holidaymakers are worth apparently!) Then, in 2015, HomeAway was itself purchased by global travel giant Expedia for $US3.9 billion ($5.4 billion).

Over the last few years, we have noticed significant changes — the nice helpful Aussie call centre got the boot and we had to try and explain ourselves, Australia and its uniqueness to call centres in Manila (very trying!). Our listings and map placements and all sorts changed causing much confusion and many time consuming calls to the Philippines. 

And then all of a sudden we were told Stayz would become HomeAway and wasn’t it great, bright and exciting? No. Australians associate the word Stayz with their holiday planning. We weren’t given any choice and the PR teenagers continued to spruik their inane patter. 

There have been too many changes to catalogue. Too many battles with the development teams as we owners told them exactly what we thought of their changes, lack of communication, lack of explanation and blithe assurances that all would be wonderful. It’s been a long haul and we Aussies know how to do long haul.

Behind the scenes your holiday destination portal has been a mess of the highest order. 

If you haven’t booked your next holiday through HomeAway yet, know this: you will be paying a high price for the privilege (between 3% and 12%) — no one seems to be able to explain why there is a sliding scale or what it is related to so you’re going to be poorer. And whereas with Stayz property owners could choose how they got paid (50% up front and 50% after arrival) now we are lucky if we get paid two days after you are gone. Which is not a happy feeling for the property owner who, after all, has worked hard to make everything lovely and welcoming for you. So, while we might not technically be poorer, we feel it too.

So, the little Aussie site that could, would and did has been swallowed up by a global monolith. And the holidaymakers and property owners who underpin its success are to be spat out in the process.

There’s a great opportunity for some enterprising Aussie to start a truly Aussie Stay site. Please!

Sophie Love is a farmer, writer and owner of the Avalon River Retreat, an accommodation destination on the mid-North Coast of NSW. You can follow Sophie on Twitter @TheNakedFarmers.

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