Late last year, Breezeway’s Founder and CEO Jeremy Gall and VRMB’s Matt Landau sat down to discuss listing site independence, and its importance in the vacation rental industry. As listing site independence becomes a bigger focal point in the industry, many property managers and owners are spending more energy and resources on direct bookings (#bookdirect), and are moving away from their reliance on online travel agencies. Matt and Jeremy explored what exactly independence from online travel agencies really means, and how realistic managers can be in achieving it.
Jeremy and Matt also touched on Jeremy’s experience in founding FlipKey (a marketplace for listings), and made predictions as to what the booking landscape will look like in the future. You can listen to the full ‘Unlocked’ episode here, or read the consolidated version below:
Matt Landau: I’m here in Scottsdale, Arizona with Jeremiah Gall, who is a true vacation rental pioneer. Jeremy founded FlipKey in 2007, and after selling the business to TripAdvisor in 2013, started his new brainchild, Breezeway: a smart property operations platform and mobile app that helps managers optimize their housekeeping, inspection and maintenance operations.
Jeremy, why don’t we start with a deeper dive into your background in the vacation rental industry.
Jeremy Gall: Property managers and owners really struggled with brand recognition a decade ago. At the time, people would put up air quote testimonials on their websites about how awesome their properties were. The problem with this approach was that it lacked verification. Guest reviews didn’t exist on any of the main booking sites – vacation rental managers weren’t on TripAdvisor or Expedia. We built FlipKey to solve this problem, and to create tools to help bring in more travelers. This was the lynch pin of FlipKey – the listing reputation.
Matt: So, the crux was really connecting the host with the traveler?
Jeremy: Exactly. We were a user-friendly marketplace that solved this problem for hosts and managers. The thing about a marketplace business is that there’s a big chicken and egg problem. Attracting enough visitors and travelers is not an easy thing to do. As you know, the travel landscape is highly competitive.
Matt: Could you have messed up and still succeeded?
Jeremy: Maybe a little bit. There was definitely a little bit of luck with timing. I think all startups make mistakes, and the key is to learn fast and find a way to succeed. We were pretty early – HomeAway raised a ton of money right when we got started, and started their roll-up by buying VRBO and other top listing sites. It seems like ancient history now, but it was all really going on at the same time. Airbnb was fooling around with air mattresses and was just starting to gain traction. Then, their rocket ship took off with the urban landscape.
Matt: That time period in the industry is what a lot of people refer to as the good ole’ days. But then the industry of marketing vacation rentals evolved, and people started to get smarter and learn new tricks. This is where the concept of Listing Site Independence comes into play. What do you think of this phrase? Is it realistic to think that single property owners and managers can be entirely independent of OTAs?
Jeremy: Well, most property managers in this business were either born into the industry, or they started with one property and grew organically. Listing site independence is important to a manager's growth and brand, but I think the concept is relative and needs a little calibration. As far the marketing vacation rentals go, the train has already left the station. The largest listing services in the world have billions of dollars at their disposal and are very good at what they do. They've built up a brand in traveler recognition which is tough to compete with no matter how many properties you manage. Full independence is almost impossible.
Matt: What happens when dependence to listing sites starts compromising the health of your property management business?
Jeremy: Relying too heavily on bookings from OTAs can reduce the number of return stays and referrals your business gets, but it also comes with benefits. You don’t have to spend the thousands of marketing dollars that it takes to bring travelers to your website, and build your brand. Not to mention, many consumers enjoy the shopping experience that listing sites offer. A healthy proportion of OTA bookings depends on where your company is in its lifecycle stage, and how strong your brand is.
Matt: Do you think the listing site landscape will change dramatically in the next few years?
Jeremy: That’s a great question. One of my favorite sessions from the Streamline Summit was Jeff Evans speaking about the kinetic landscape that is the vacation rental landscape. The listing side of the business seems fairly locked up. I don't think we'll see a new Airbnb pop up out of nowhere. That said, I think there will be listing sites that start to emerge over the next five years that don't exist now, which will cater to very niche traveler demographics.
Matt: Independence means more now than separation from listing sites and OTAs. It means keeping your eyes open for new techniques and approaches to build your brand.
Jeremy: Building your brand and generating repeat guests is the biggest key to driving independence. Sure, using listing sites gets you more guests, but the real trick is effectively re-engaging with your visitors. Connecting with guests is what separates managers from their competitors, and is the first step towards curating a positive brand experience.
Interested in learning more about building a strong brand through consistent property operations? Drop us a line, we'd love to chat!