We sat down with our industry partner, Hostfully, to learn the origins of the platform, what sets Hostfully apart from other VR softwares, and their predictions for travel trends in 2021. Read on for the full interview below.
Tell us about Hostfully (background, how/where/why it was founded, and the vision/culture).
Our founders are travel enthusiasts and have experience managing vacation rentals. They know the rewards, but also understand the aches and pains of property management. It was clear that there was a market for powerful software that boosts the guest experience, helps hosts and managers scale and grow their business, all while keeping overhead down.
A big reason why vacation rental businesses have a hard time growing compared to hotels is scalability. Unlike hotels, operational costs increase proportionally with the number of properties managed. With our tech solutions, we provide the tools to break that cycle. Hostfully is built from the ground up to help small portfolio managers go from 1 property to 100+ with automation and third party integrations.
We believe it’s not just the product that counts, but also our workplace culture. A great team that’s engaged, motivated, and with the right work-life balance will inevitably create great software. To that end, there’s no closed door at Hostfully (figuratively, we’re fully remote). We all chip in to tackle challenges and problems ahead of us. This makes a big difference when it comes to responding to industry trends and customer support. If you have a point of contact at Hostfully and have a question or want to recommend a new feature, it’ll make its way to the right ears.
You recently published a ‘Future Bookings Report’ that illustrated how short-term rentals have rebounded by catering to domestic travelers, staycationers and remote workers.
Has there been any unexpected booking data in the last few months since publishing the report?
We’re seeing signs of another great domestic travel season in the US. Repeat and direct bookings are also gaining more momentum. This is following the cancelation wave of 2020, where many hosts and managers took steps to reduce reliance on listing sites and OTAs. However, with the EU recently announcing that vaccinated US travelers will be able to travel, we’re expecting that market to slowly rebound again. How this will affect the domestic US market remains uncertain.
What do you think the summer rental season will look like?
Pent-up travel demand still hasn’t faded from 2020. We all thought remote work and homeschooling would end, but it hasn’t. Parents need a break away from home/gym/office/school. With more adults vaccinated, a better understanding of how COVID transmits and inter-regional travel relaxed, we expect to see guests traveling further away from home.
How many different tools and technologies does Hostfully integrate with? Why do you think managers have expanded their technology stack in recent years?
Hostfully has integrations with many major vacation rental software providers. Our industry-leading technology makes those interconnections reliable and easy to keep up to date. We’ve seen technology take a bigger role in vacation rental management for several reasons. The major one is that the industry is maturing. What used to be a gig, or side hustle, has turned into large-scale operations. So it only makes sense that hosts and managers are turning to technology to cut down on repetitive tasks or use tools to help boost productivity.
The other factor is an understanding by hosts and managers that scaling and growth in a vacation rental company follows a different pattern than other business models. In most industries, scaling brings along with it cost-savings. But due to the personalized nature of vacation rentals, the need for care and attention in cleaning and turnover, and the distance between properties, scaling and cost-savings don’t sync up. This is where the power of automation comes in. With tools like Hostfully and integrations like Breezeway, hosts and managers can achieve economies of scale. These types of software reduce the requirement to hire more staff, and optimize how managers spend their time.
What is the impact that guidebooks can have on the guest experience, and why do you think they are increasing in popularity?
Travelers nowadays want to experience an area like a local. Hosts and managers have that knowledge, but delivering that to the guest can be time consuming. Or worse yet, if you don’t have graphic design skills, good luck preparing a visually appealing hard copy guidebook. Then you have to consider that guests want self-check-in. There’s branding. If you can keep a consistent look and feel throughout the guest’s experience, you’re more likely to score that 5-star review. Finally, you can collect guest contact information, which allows you to keep in touch and own the customer information rather than relying on a booking channel. Check out some examples here.
Digital guidebooks solve multiple pain points. For area recommendations, our solution puts it all on a map for you. The guidebook loads on any device and works in an intuitive way for the guest. Guests get great recommendations, and you don’t have to spend 30 minutes explaining to them how to get there. On top of that, digital guidebooks can be set up to include house manuals, directions, and even the option for the guest to book in another one of your properties. So that saves hosts from having to greet the guest to explain how the property works. Finally, a digital guidebook’s look can be customized to your company’s branding. Guests tend to like that since it conveys a sense of professionalism. This takes the experience from “looks like we’re staying in someone’s second home” to “wow, we booked with people that really know what they’re doing”.
Perhaps the most interesting feature we’re seeing hosts and managers put to great use is the Marketplace. From within the guidebook, a host can upsell products and services. Some hosts use it to sell late checkout, while others act as the middleman between the guest and local tour operators. Whatever the upsell is, it’s creating a second revenue stream for hosts and managers.
What do you think the future looks like for the vacation rental industry? What opportunities and challenges lie ahead?
Most analysts agree that the industry will continue its upward trajectory. Conservative estimates put that at 6% year over year, which is huge. We’re confident that this is an industry with long-term growth potential.
As for the technology part, we’re seeing lots of potential on the automation side. Even processes like guest communications can be partially automated these days. And with the rise of AI, it won’t be long until our industry has some sort of new tool that assists multi-property managers handle guest communications either automatically, semi automated, or at least provide some sort of augmentation capability. Just look at your Gmail inbox. Based on context, Google provides three recommendations for you. How long until similar technology reaches vacation rental software is anyone’s guest. But it’ll represent another huge boost in productivity for hosts and managers.
Congrats on winning a VRMB Keystone Award this year. What makes Hostfully stand out from other PMS platforms?
We were thrilled to learn that this was our second year in a row winning an award. It’s a huge compliment given that the team at VRMB spend so much time researching industry software.
Like so many other software companies, we strongly believe our technology is what sets us apart. But that’s abstract for the hosts and managers looking for the best PMS. So what does great technology look like in practice? For starters, it wins awards. It’s also accessible to companies of any size (we range from single property owners to 100+). A great PMS also needs to be recognized by the industry giants. We have preferred partner status with the major listing sites and OTAs. Airbnb, Vrbo, Booking.com all get to see our technology and recognize its robustness.
On top of technology, we’ve made significant investments in customer support and account management. Our customer service reps answer questions in a matter of minutes. Compare that to hours or days by some of our competitors. In fact, customers give us above 90% satisfaction rating when it comes to support. This is way above industry standard. We also have a great onboarding process that reduces chances of disruptions to your operations and bookings.
So what sets us apart isn’t just great technology, it’s the human side of the business. Our customers trust us with their daily operations, and reciprocate by making sure they’re well-supported.
To learn more about how Breezeway and Hostfully work together, visit our integrations page.