“The issue of raising quality in short-term rentals is a fundamental one for our industry. It is so closely tied with raising standards, trust, guest experiences and professionalism. It’s an issue that each individual manager or host can’t ignore – nor us collectively as an industry. Many managers are already excelling in this area, but for some, there is still a long way to go.”
– Jeremy Gall, Founder & CEO of Breezeway
Wait. Some of the most desirable vacation rental home destinations’ lure is their unique qualities. From accommodations to appointments to service, what one brand or property does often is what sets it apart from the competition.
However, with increasing traveler demand, vacation rental operators – from boutique styled properties to larger global chains – are exploring the value that could come with setting standardization for pricing, marketing, operations and cleanliness.
Merilee Karr of UnderTheDoormat and Travis Riner of Homes & Villas by Marriott International offered their views on management standards during a conversation with AJL Atelier’s Simon Lehmann at Breezeway’s Elevate Operations Summit virtual event March 10-11.
“Our rental industry has been around for several decades, much longer than the past 10 years, when Airbnb first came on the scene,” Karr said. “Professionally managed vacation rentals have existed since the 1950s, but it was after the global financial crisis that the sharing economy and peer-to-peer homes managed by individuals really began to grow.”
Karr said the beauty of the industry is that it provides authentic stays. Keeping choice for consumers is very important. “I am really encouraged by companies such as Marriott entering the market and promoting standards in our industry, because it is something that I am passionate about. It’s part of what we have sought to deliver at UnderTheDoormat since we began our business in 2014,” she said.
“Back then, having standards wasn’t something the industry had really identified or understood, but I knew eventually everyone in the industry would embrace this as the industry grows and consumers demand the highest quality.”
Homes & Villas by Marriott International began in spring 2019 as a high-quality alternative to rental homes in markets that might not be ideal for hotel placements.
“Some markets just don’t support hotels,” Riner said. “They are too seasonal, or the homes there are too established, so it doesn’t make sense to put a hotel there. When guests are using their [Marriott rewards program] Bonvoy points, they expect a Marriott-level experience. This is an opportunity for us to provide that kind of service in a vacation rental.”
Riner said the unique brands within Marriott are not intended to squash any of the authenticity that comes with the homes or the neighborhoods in great destination vacation venue areas. For instance, its Autograph Collection does not include any items that are Marriott-branded.
Karr says the industry would thrive with standards rather than standardization.
Finding More Time for Service
For Karr, her company’s software Hospiria is a solution for smaller independent property managers and operators of five to 50 properties.
“Many property managers want to (and should) focus on the guest experience, but they find themselves wrapped up in the administration of maintaining properties on the platforms, managing inquiries or pricing,” she said. “It takes all the marketing, distribution and technology hassle away from property managers so they can focus on the hospitality experience.”
Some of that could be lost if larger companies buy up smaller ones and standardize operational practices.
“There are occasions when larger companies buy up the smaller companies as they just aren’t able to compete,” Karr said. “I want to avoid that, because I believe that authenticity is something the travelers want and the local companies who have local knowledge are best able to deliver. We have to avoid becoming standardized and guests getting basically the same experience in London as in Paris as in San Francisco.”
Given the impression the pandemic has made and continues to make on cleanliness, housekeeping has become a hot-button for any type of hospitality. Here, standards could be more embraced.
“For us, our cleaning standards are more about the outcome of what we want our rooms to be – get it cleaned,” Riner said. “And not about you must use these steps at this regularity, etc. Cleanliness and safety have moved to the forefront and customers expect the same level they would get when staying at hotels. The goal is to create the illusion to the guest that they are the only one to sleep and shower there.”
In hotels, rooms typically are sized between 700 and 900 square feet of space, they generally include consistent fixtures and have been maintained by the same housekeeper for years, Riner said. Establishing and maintaining standards, therefore, would be simpler than applying them to the varied floorplans and appointments of vacation rentals.
“Vacation homes have so many more touchpoints for the guest, Riner said. “It’s a more challenging job to maintain them, and often the place is cleaned by a contracting company where different people service it each time, unlike hotels that might have the same housekeeper cleaning the same floor of the same hotel for years.”
Sustaining Industry Growth
Ideally, growth comes from a mixture of institutional companies and heart-and-soul owners, Karr said.
“Short-term rentals are now commanding similar prices to what 4- or 5-star hotel rooms get,” she said. “Many customers see short-term rentals as a safer option than hotels, and provide a great experience for families and longer stays so there’s opportunity for our industry to grow as the sector recovers.”
She said a study by STR showed that there is an 11 percent increase in consumer preference by travelers for short-term or vacation homes since the pandemic.
Karr said that when one thinks about how corporations are now using vacation and short-term rentals as an option for their business travelers, having standards is even more important. And this week, UK-based TrustedStays became the first such company to win a government RFP.