Over the past two years, the vacation rental industry has continued to evolve rapidly. HomeAway Software recently published its 2019 US Vacation Rental Trends Report providing new insight into the state of the market. According to Ryan Hutchings, general manager of HomeAway Software, “As vacation rentals continue to go more and more mainstream and competition increases with hotels, meeting growing traveler expectations will be the name of the game.”
The vacation rental industry is steadily growing. US revenue hit over $13 billion in 2018 with a projected annual growth rate of 7.2 percent. The latest data from HomeAway Software indicates that property managers are feeling optimistic. In fact, over 80 percent of respondents felt “extremely positive” or “very positive” about their company’s overall business outlook in 2019.
Five major themes emerged, ranging from building trust to incorporating emerging technologies. HomeAway Software talked to its partners about cost-effective ways to fulfill traveler expectations in 2019.
Instilling Trust Remains a Priority
Building traveler trust has never been more important. In the vacation rental business, that means consistency, credibility, and safe transaction processing. Overwhelmingly, property managers said that websites needed to incorporate more advanced trust signals.
Properly CEO, Alex Nigg, elaborates: “Trust is the biggest issue for the vacation rental industry right now. Travelers feel like they never know what they’re going to get when they stay in a vacation rental.” Accurate information builds trust, encourages repeat bookings, and saves costs by reducing the number of customer contacts.
In addition to the appearance and features of the property, Paul Hanak, director of digital marketing at ICND, says that your “About Us” page is a great place to use more trust signals: “Team photos, smiling faces, guest reviews, and community involvement are all great examples to instill trust in your visitors.”
Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance, shared a 2018 study revealing the top three decision-making factors for where US travelers will stay: location (63 percent), value (57 percent), and online reviews (33 percent) HomeAway also cites data from a 2018 survey showing that going from zero reviews to just one review can increase conversion by 40 percent.(1)
Share Experiences and In-Destination Solutions to Delight Guests
Vacation rentals have a real opportunity to capture experience-focused travelers, and “content is king” still rings true. According to Peter Scott, president of Bluetent, it’s a good idea to “Expand your strategy to include informational content based on search queries for activities, events, and things to do in your area.” By leveraging your local expertise, you can grow your brand and accelerate website traffic.
However, websites aren’t the only opportunity to highlight the experiential elements of your property offerings. A recent Forbes survey found that more than 40 percent of people under 33 prioritize “Instagrammability” when choosing their next holiday spot. That means property managers should remember to market the destination and surrounding areas on social media just as much as the property itself.
While pre-trip experiential marketing is paramount for drawing in new customers, delivering on quality experiences post-booking is equally important. As Scott explains, “With higher expectations to vacation like a local, the experience is just as important as the inventory, if not more important.”
Put Traveler Safety First, from Safe Stays to Safe Transactions
When asked what safety amenities were “must haves” in vacation rentals, 58 percent of US travelers selected smoke detectors, 44 percent selected fire extinguishers, and 42 percent selected carbon monoxide detectors.(1)
Travelers need reassurance that vacation rentals are properly equipped to keep guests safe, and we can expect to see these amenities become greater factors in booking decisions in 2019. It is important to make sure things like fire extinguishers are kept near where they are needed, that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order, and that guests are clearly informed about what safety amenities are and how to use them.
Data protection remains top of mind for customers. With big players like Facebook, Google, and Amazon making headlines over privacy concerns, it’s no wonder data concerns are playing a greater role in purchasing decisions. Travelers need reassurance that data provided in the booking process and beyond will be respected and protected. In a Hubspot survey, 82 percent of respondents said they will leave a website if it is not secure.”
While many online travel agencies have already taken pains to ensure compliance, it’s up to property managers to keep their own websites up to snuff. Partner with web experts who prioritize safety and security to protect traveler data, and highlight your commitment to security with certified badges and transparent policies.
Simplifying Operations Continues to Drive Efficiency
A recent survey from Breezeway found that 33 percent of US property managers believe that managing property operations is their biggest challenge. Jeremiah Gall, founder and CEO of Breezeway, explains, “Property maintenance and care requires a level of detail that puts an immense amount of stress on property operations, and managers will need to adopt intelligent technology to maintain growth.”
Yan Zang, owner at EZ Inspections, says that housekeeping is a good example of how automation can help streamline operations. “Technology can be leveraged to auto-create cleaning and inspection jobs based on checkout schedule, auto-assign specific cleaners and inspectors based on the property location, and even notify front and back offices when cleaning and inspections are complete via mobile apps.”
Breezeway’s Jeremiah Gall highlights the development of data-driven tools like chatbots and workflows as well as the importance of building operational programs that deliver on the brand promise. That promise could be luxury, accessibility, or a multitude of brand attributes: “Brand standards—a comprehensive playbook that decides how all small details should be handled—need to be leveraged by staff and service partners to ensure consistency. Detailed property care programs will be critical as private accommodations and vacation rentals enter the next phase of maturity.”
Incorporate Emerging Technology for a Competitive Edge
According to Richard Lang, vice president of sales at Dormakaba, “As consumers increasingly rely on smart-home technology, they will seek the same comfort and convenience when they travel.” That means technology will become a bigger factor for travelers when booking.
Today’s market has plenty of solutions designed to help property managers outfit their properties with the latest and greatest in smart-home technology. Property managers who prioritize smart-home amenities should highlight these benefits in their marketing and consider increasing rates accordingly.
HomeAway Software expects mobile apps and voice-based searches to significantly accelerate in 2019 and beyond. Bluetent’s Scott notes that “Voice queries are the future of guest experience and search engine optimization strategies. With voice assistance, guests can receive instant answers about vacation rentals—everything from check-in/out instructions to FAQs and information on how to contact the property manager.”
According to Deloitte, integrating immersive technologies like virtual and augmented reality are about to become the new gold standard for shopping. In fact, a study by Google found that business listings with a virtual tour generated twice as much interest online. Plus, over half of respondents (67 percent) say they want more businesses to use this modern marketing material.
The vacation rental industry is taking note. In 2018, HomeAway announced a large investment in virtual experiences. “The barriers to entry for virtual technology have never been lower,” says Ben James, senior product manager at HomeAway. “Given that each one of our vacation rentals is unique, being able to walk through a property before booking helps travelers make informed decisions.”
As vacation rentals reach a wider audience, rising traveler expectations are inevitable. Forward-thinking property managers are already starting to reap the rewards. Three out of four HomeAway Software customers grew their revenue over the past 24 months, and the company expects that number to rise in 2019.
With an in-depth understanding of the industry and recommendations from some of the top software partners in the industry, HomeAway Software’s 2019 US Vacation Rental Trends Report gives new insight for the road ahead. By taking steps to establish trust, prioritize experiences, promote safety, operate efficiently, and adopt new technology, property managers have a real opportunity to both meet and exceed expectations.
Hutchings says that 2019 offers property managers a chance to provide unforgettable experiences: “At HomeAway Software, we see the proof every day that vacation rentals have the ability to deliver unique, personal travel experiences that hotels and other traditional forms of lodging just can’t match.”
(1)“HomeAway US Traveler Amenity Collections Survey 2018”