When this is all over, and it will be, one day, we’re all going to need a good holiday, and what better than staying in a villa in the Italian countryside? Long walks through the vines, a glass of wine by the pool and shopping for fresh produce at the local market… if anyone tells you it’s not the best holiday there is, they are a dirty liar!
But how do you make sure you get the best place, at a fair price and that you don’t get ripped off? Well, I’m about to tell you, obviously…
Start with the booking engines
Your first port of call should always be Airbnb and VRBO. Everyone who rents out a villa will list it on at least one of these two sites. There really isn’t much point looking at Booking.com or Hotels.com as you are unlikely to find anywhere on there that you won’t find on these first two.
Go beyond the first page
Airbnb rewards owners who play by their rules… if you want to appear higher up the listings, you don’t need the perfect house or loads of five star reviews, you need to turn on flexible pricing or instant booking, you need to take a Covid cleaning questionnaire and you need to have the correct number of photos. So, if you only look at the first page of results you risk missing a whole host of wonderful places that, for whatever reason, have chosen not to do these things.
Turn off the Superhost filter
Airbnb’s Superhost programme is, to put it bluntly, a load of BS. It doesn’t guarantee you that your host will be wearing their pants on the outside, it just guarantees that they take a lot of bookings through Airbnb. The criteria for becoming a Superhost are that you have to have taken 10 bookings through Airbnb in the past year (or at least 100 days over 3 stays), have an average review score of 4.8, at least a 90% response rate and a cancellation rate of less than 1%.
What’s more, these stats don’t have to apply to one property. If the host manages 10 properties, it applies across them all. They could have 9 beautiful places and 1 absolute dump and yet still come up as a Superhost. With that number of properties, they could also be ignoring requests and cancelling bookings fairly regularly and yet retain their Superhost status.
If you’re booking a Villa, which is available for, say, 20 weeks a year, 10 stays through Airbnb is a lot. We, for instance, have only ever taken about 5 bookings through Airbnb a year… we do however have 100% 5 star reviews, a 100% response rate and a 0% cancellation rate. If you turn on the Superhost filter, you will miss out on us, and thousands more places just like us.
If you want to know if a host is ‘Super’, read the reviews, don’t fall for Airbnb’s marketing tricks.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search, see if it is possible to book direct. Search the name of the Villa to see if they have a website, or ask the owner.
Airbnb takes a fee from both you and from the owner, so you will almost always get a better price by going direct. You will also get the chance to build a better rapport with the owner and this can only enhance your stay.
Of course, booking direct carries certain risks, but these can easily be mitigated by reading reviews and asking lots of questions. If you get a bad feeling, just walk away.
Rules, Rules, Rules
Not many people know this, but Italy is a land of rules and regulations. Okay, I’m just kidding, everybody knows it… but what you might not realise is how much it affects your choice of a Villa. If you book somewhere that is regularly flouting the rules, there’s a chance that they will be shut down before you arrive, leaving you with a rather worthless booking at a place that no longer exists.
“What can I do about this?” I hear you cry. No, really, I heard you! Well, first things first, let me outline a couple of things for you:
Any Villa you book will either be run as a business or as a private entity. If it’s a business it will have a Partita IVA (a VAT code to you or me) and this should be displayed on their website and in any advertising they do (ie Airbnb, VRBO etc). There are many different types of business which can rent out places to tourists, but all will have, and should display, this tax code.
If the house is rented privately, it is what’s known as a Locazione Turistica. This is a simple rental between private individuals with no extra services allowed. It is not a business so it won’t have a Partita IVA but in most regions of Italy the owners are required to display a CIR code on any advertising they do. They should also quote, on their website or advert, the Italian law which by which they are governed.
If they are displaying neither a Partita IVA nor a CIR code or law, ask them what they are, although honestly, you’re already off to a bad start. Maybe give them a swerve…
The question is: “Why does all this matter?” and the answer is: “Stop being so impatient, I’m about to tell you.”
A Locazione Turistica (that’s the private one) is governed by A LOT of rules. As I mentioned already, they are not allowed to offer any extra services: so no cleaning or linen changes during your stay, no welcome basket on arrival, no selection of wines in the house for you to buy, no organising a chef for you, no tour guiding and no driving you around.
The host is allowed to be friendly, to help you if you need help and talk to you as fellow human being, but in terms of the rental they are allowed only to give you the key. They cannot offer you any other type of service. You are, of course, allowed to organise these things yourself and the host can give you advice, phone numbers, contact details etc. before you arrive, to help you do this, but they cannot do it for you.
As a consequence, they can’t charge extra for anything, and that includes a cleaning fee on websites like Airbnb. The cost of cleaning must be included in the price. They also can’t charge you any extra for utilities, or for using the pool, or for bed linens or towels… nothing. Any extra charge is a service, which is not allowed.
They also can’t be on Google My Business because, say it with me, it’s NOT A BUSINESS. So if you know it’s a Locazione Turistica and yet you can see it on Google Maps… run like the wind!
They also shouldn’t have any branding or a flashy logo, and they shouldn’t have an online booking engine on their own website. Basically, there should be nothing that might lead someone to confuse it with a business. They can, of course, have a website or an Instagram page (though go steady on the branding…) and they can be on booking sites, as otherwise nobody would find them, but that is just about it.
They will also need to register every guest with the local police and, in most parts of Italy, you will need to pay tourist tax when you get there. Again, if these things aren’t mentioned or don’t happen, it’s a big red flag.
If you are looking at renting a Locazione Turistica for your holiday and they are on Google My Business, if the cleaning charge is extra, if they offer a range of services and if they look to all intents and purposes like a business, then they are breaking the rules and risking some really, really, REALLY big fines.
Which brings me back to… “Why do I care?”.. Because if you book somewhere and they get hit with a 100,000 euro fine, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to pay it. Then what happens to your booking? Even worse is if they get shut down for being ‘abusivo’. Again, what happens to your booking and any money you have paid?
What are you waiting for?
One final piece of advice… assuming travel gets back to something approaching normal in 2021, demand is going to be extremely high, so get researching and booking as soon as you can. It’s not like you’re allowed to go out and have fun right now anyway, so at least it will give you something to do!