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A newcomer’s experience at Rezfest 2019: 4 takeaways

By October 3, 2019 No Comments
A newcomer’s experience at Rezfest 2019: 4 takeaways

We at Hostfully were delighted to come to Vrbo’s Rezfest for the first time this year. We are seeing more and more customers using Vrbo for their business, and with the recent close of our Seed funding round earlier this year, we were thrilled to be able to participate. 

Reminder/side note: HomeAway recently rebranded to Vrbo earlier this year with a smart, modern logo and retirement of the HomeAway brand. They also changed the pronunciation of the V-R-B-O name to Ver-boh. At Hostfully, we were a bit amused by the announcement, especially the emphasis on using an acronym as a newly formed…noun/verb? Soon will we be “staying at a Ver-boh” and “Ver-bohing out my apartment while I’m out of town?” Time will tell

Our other experiences with industry conferences have been at VRMA events, where we’ve exhibited for a few years. Given this context, I’d like to share a few takeaways from this year’s Rezfest that may be interesting to other companies in the vacation rental industry who may not have been able to attend:

1. The big transition to Escapia and acknowledgement that running a multi-platform business is hard

The big news for vacation rental managers this year is that all property management software platforms owned by Vrbo (including V12.net) are being sunsetted and that users must make the shift to Escapia. This year at Rezfest, Vrbo went above and beyond to provide support for customers who need to migrate to Escapia. This included an all day help center, early morning sessions and late evening ones too, in addition to an entire extra day of the conference. Definitely a full court press from Vrbo to keep customers happy during a big transition.

There was also a small but significant reckoning from Vrbo executives that the old strategy – keeping multiple property management software offering live and up to date – was probably a strategic mistake. If having one property management software offering is the best way to go, why didn’t this happen sooner? Why not do an immediate push to migrate users to a single cloud platform? We will never know.

2. Vacation rental manager toolset is looking more and more like that of hotels

Expedia is taking advantage of its expertise in hotels, transitioning that functionality into vacation rentals. Vrbo announced that once vacation rental managers achieve ‘price consistency’, they can use features including Boost (a short term paid SEO enhancer) as well as a ‘see other offers from this provider’ carousel to promote their listings. 

Digital marketers will notice that these feel a lot like Facebook’s advertising platform. And indeed, vacation rental managers should be excited about these enhancements as long as they work. Boost boasts a predictive algorithm that will tell you how likely you will get a booking during the selected period if you use it. But will it actually work?

3. Expedia software is really opening up: MarketMaker pricing can extend to other bookings platforms

Before two years ago, the Rezfest was just for Vrbo software users, so there was always a big emphasis on support for property managers using their software. But now Vrbo is striking a different tune, inviting all property managers – not just those using their software – to join. Another change is that Vrbo is actively inviting competitive software companies, including property management software, digital guidebooks, and dynamic pricing companies.

Indeed, the Expedia/Vrbo software is opening up. Market Maker, dynamic pricing tool, which launched with a beta two years ago, is now available to all Escapia customers. That’s not surprising. 

But what is surprising is that Market Maker pricing is now open to other property management software platforms, which means that this pricing can also be pushed to Airbnb, Booking.com, and other competitive booking platforms. When asked if this was explicitly ok, a Vrbo executive said “we want all our property managers to be as successful as possible. If using Market Maker on other platforms helps them, then we’re happy about that.”

4. Making the most of Expedia – extension into the overall guest experience

Our final conference takeaway is about how Vrbo is leaning in to the broad offerings that the Expedia parent company offers. There was a big focus on helping guests get the most out of their entire travel experience, not just the vacation rental booking. This included a big emphasis on AI and incorporating it throughout all stages of the guest experience. Examples include using a chatbot to ask Vrbo about where to stay for a 2-bedroom beach house in Destin, FL, to asking Vrbo what the wifi code is for a specific property. 

Another focus was on an agenda builder that includes suggestions of tours activities, so that Vrbo can provide a more complete travel experience beyond just booking the home. Similar to Airbnb Experiences? We think so!

We’re especially excited about this, as Hostfully has emphasized the vacation rental guest experience since day one. We have also recently invested in new features that help our property managers make more money while satisfying their guests needs even more than before. We believe that this broader focus on the travel experience is inevitable and that travelers already expect more than the market can deliver.

Overall, we enjoyed our first Rezfest and look forward to hearing more from Vrbo as they innovate and shape the industry. 

Do you agree with these takeaways? What did we miss? We would love to hear about your favorite takeaways from the conference and specific sessions that we may have missed. Do you have any questions about Hostfully software or what we are working on next? Feel free to reach out st hello@hostfully.com.