Expert Insights 6 mins read

Hospitality PR guru Jessica Gillingham on delivering an amazing guest experience in a digital world

Delivering amazing guest experiences in a digital world

Jessica Gillingham is the Director of Abode PR, a boutique public relations agency and consultancy. Adobe PR specializes in working with clients in the international vacation and short-term rental space. Jessica writes and speaks regularly on topics related to public relations as well as the short-term rental and the travel industries.

Today she sits down with Hostfully to share her insights on emerging trends in the vacation rental industry, her favorite industry publications, and what the guest experience means in an increasingly digital world.

Q: What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in the vacation rental industry right now?

There’s so much going on in the vacation rental industry right now. It’s a really exciting space to be in as we’re seeing big growth and a lot of change.

First, let’s consider the convergence of markets. Serviced apartments, hotels, and vacation rentals are becoming less defined as separate entities. This convergence is leading to economies of scale which fuels the industry-wide boom. Second, guests are becoming less concerned about what they’re booking. They’re favoring the overall guest experience rather than the actual physical space. Third, we’re seeing the consolidation of tech businesses offering solutions adapted for the vacation rental industry.

As with any fast-growth industry, getting the messaging right and building relationships is key to transforming misinformed perceptions. So from a communications perspective, we have to ask ourselves where the vacation rental model sits in relation to travel and hospitality industry as a whole. This helps us understand how to communicate the benefits of vacation rentals and property management to stakeholders; from property owners, to new guests, governments and strategic partners.

Communication and messaging will continue to be an important growth factor for the vacation rental industry moving forward.

Q: What action have you taken in your business recently as a result of emerging trends in our industry?

My public relations company, Adobe PR, specializes in working with clients in the short-term rental industry. Initially, we were working mostly with vacation rental property management companies. But due to industry growth and convergence of businesses previously mentioned, we’ve begun working with technology companies. We’re seeing tech leaders integrate property management and travel technology solutions together. And since technology doesn’t distinguish between types of short term rentals, we’re seeing a blurring of the lines between hotels, serviced apartments, home sharing and vacation rentals.

Q: What sources of news and ideas you couldn’t live without?

I’m an avid reader and consumer of vacation rental industry blogs and publications. It’s how I keep up-to-date on the latest industry news, strategies, and events. A few of my favorite vacation rental experts include:

My favorite publications include Skift, PhocusWire, Short Term Rentalz and VRM Intel. I also write a regular column and contribute articles for the Vacation Rental Management Association’s Arrival magazine, so that’s always on my reading list. Finally, I’m a huge fan of the Hostfully blog which is a great resource to get inspired on vacation rental hospitality and marketing strategies.

Q: What’s your favorite vacation rental industry event?

In any industry, going to conferences is a great way to develop new relationships and learn about new trends and technologies, and get inspiration for new ideas. Not to mention that being in the hospitality industry, our events are always a great time!

I try to go to the VRMA National and the VRMA European Conference. Many of my clients attend these events so it’s also a great opportunity to meet them in person. 

The Vacation Rental Success Summit and Vacation Rental World Summit are also on my list. I’ve found them to be informative and educational.

This year I’m also planning to attend GuestyVal for the first time, which I’m very excited about. It’s a great place to meet industry influencers and see what new solutions are on the horizon.

Q: What does the guest experience mean to you in our digital world?

The vacation rental industry wouldn’t have become what it is without the internet. But this brings with it an ever-growing set of expectations by guests. They see a great experience on social media and expect it on their next vacation. So as our consumers live in an increasingly online world, the pressure on hosts to offer a great experience will continue to grow. To meet these growing demands, the guest’s experience must be at the forefront of everything. 

Unfortunately, the vacation rental segment sometimes gets a bad rap due to the lack of standardization across property types. Everyone can offer a clean bed but not necessarily great guest experiences. There can be a lot of variation from one rental to another.

Technology will help vacation rental owners address those needs by bringing personalization and automation through tools such as digital guidebooks and online property management systems

Ultimately, the guest experience is the key differentiator that drives bookings and guest retention, and technology will remain an important part in delivering a high quality experience at scale.

Q: What book has helped you the most in your business?

One book that I recently read that I found to be helpful with my business is The Business of Expertise by David C. Baker. Leading a business in a highly specialized industry, it’s reinforced the importance of building expert knowledge to succeed. It also reminded me why drilling down in one niche is good.

Q: If you had to pick a market outside your current area of operations to expand, where would that be?

I’m not a property manager, but I’ll answer this as if I was one! I’ve believed for a while now that the real opportunity is in the urban markets. We’re seeing how relatively young urban property managers are growing very successful and profitable businesses quickly. They’re leveraging technology to automate and scale vacation rental operations, marketing responsibilities, and management of vacation rentals in both towns and cities.

If I was starting out, I would find an urban location in Europe that still had vacation rentals opportunities, and I would build a business with a strong brand there.