We had the chance host a panel of executives at Phocuswright’s conference in Los Angeles, with the largest vacation rental companies in the US and talk to them about several issues facing short-term rental companies, including third-party marketplaces.
One interesting topic discussed among these leaders was Google’s entry into vacation rentals, HomeAway’s performance, and what OTAs can do better in distributing vacation rentals.
AH: What could OTA’s do better?
Steve Milo (CEO, VTrips): Execute. You left off one of the OTAs, TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals. Four years ago, they were number two in terms of driving revenue and traffic to a lot of the companies up here. TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals did not execute. And the lesson right now, when we have more demand than supply, is that people in lodging have the power to pick and choose which places we want to distribute our inventory. So that means we need an OTA that can—not just talk, not just try to sign us up to a contract—but actually execute in the category in a way that is sustainable and bookable. Some of the companies have done very good job, some have done a not-so-good job.
Expedia, right now, is less than 1 percent of our revenue. They have not executed on this category. On the other hand, Google, which I would say is an OTA, continues to be a bigger and bigger component of our ad spend and our revenue because they are executing and we are looking at them and working with them and they will eventually start doing CPA directly to our site where we can have customized landing pages, particularly set up on a dynamic pattern with conversions. Remember, there is no rate parity requirement for alternative accommodations. We can always have the lowest price on our website. Google is going to be the equalizer here. The OTAs have to start to execute or they are going to be the rear view mirror for Google.
AH: Eric, Do you agree? Do you feel like Google is a game changer for you from a customer acquisition standpoint?
Eric Breon (CEO, Vacasa): Not from our perspective. I think we were built on the OTAs and I think, we’ll continue to be on the OTAs. I think we’ll have the ability to be [on Google] . . . I would say it’s not a game changer for us.
AH: Lino, you’ve been working on your brand [at Wyndham]. Where are you on direct booking now?
Lino Maldonado (VP, Wyndham Vacation Rentals): So it depends largely on the market. Some of our ski resorts are much more heavily dependent on the OTAs. We look at OTAs as very strategic partners. We don’t have inventory distributed on every channel every day. We’re very selective. Some channels are much better for larger homes. Others are perfect for condominium-type product that’s more similar to hotels. So I don’t see Google putting everybody out to pasture, but I do feel like that many of the channels can do a much better job at showcasing our inventory . . . To this day, I think it’s been a hodgepodge. Some partners we have done extremely well with. HomeAway was one of those partners that we started with back in 2007, and we did an extraordinary amount of business with them. And then they sold to Expedia, and things have slowed down a little bit and now it feels like we are being stuffed in a box.
AH: Have you seen your percentage of bookings coming from HomeAway decline since Expedia purchased the company?
Lino Maldonado: Yeah, we have. And we also have some information that was flowing through us directly. Like the guest email address [and] the guest phone number where we would do a retargeting for those guests, if they didn’t commit on the first visit. That has gone away since. That was a pretty big initial hit. And actually that same year we had a tremendous uptick in [vacation rental home] owners coming directly with us for full-service management because they lost their only marketing channel that they had. Many of them were only distributing on HomeAway at that time. And that change really negatively impacted the individual owners and chased them our way.
Amy Hinote: And John, most of your bookings are coming from HomeAway, right?
John Banczak (Co-founder and Chairman, Turnkey Vacation Rentals): They’re our largest distribution channel. For sure, it has gone down over the past year. But they don’t generate over half of our bookings.
We’re looking forward to what Google has to offer. HomeAway has made it harder over the past year. What would I like to see from them? Well, if you think about how Google operates, it is very clear how to work with Google. If anyone’s ever managed any type of Google campaign, you really know how to manage it. You know what you get, you know why you’re positioned in a certain area, you know why it costs what it does. You don’t get that from the HomeAways or the Airbnbs of the world. It’s hard to manage. You put a home on there one day, it may have a great ranking; and the next day, they do some bookings and then it falls in ranking. For us, to the degree a channel makes it hard for us to understand how to drive revenue through it, then you naturally have to look for another channel.
And I think that’s what’s happening right now with the HomeAways of the world. If you don’t know how to manage a channel and then you either just stare at the screen and then hope for the best or you go find an alternative. We’ve been doing a lot of finding alternatives so our direct traffic is way up. I think our brand is obviously starting to catch on. We have got more repeat visitors now. But once the Google ads launch in the way we expect them to, I expect that to be a sizable dent into what we get from HomeAway.