4 Key Takeaways from the 2023 VRMAs

Oct 27 2023
hostfully conference vacation rental industry event

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The Hostfully team at VRMA 2023
Hostfully showed up in Orlando spirit along with a whopping 200+ vendors at the 2023 VRMA International Conference.

This year’s annual VRMA International Conference was nothing short of magical — aided by its Orlando location. The energy was palpable throughout, from the general sessions to breakouts and across the enormous exhibitor hall, where 2500+ attendees and 200+ vendors came to chat vacation rentals.

Here are 4 key takeaways from the 2023 VRMAs.

Takeaway 1: Defining an evolving industry

From the opening general session, “The Future of Vacation Rentals,” a foundational consideration infiltrated the conversation. When discussing the future of vacation rentals, we first need to acknowledge the industry’s evolving landscape. Vacation rentals, short-term rentals, property management: none of these titles truly encapsulates the spectrum of what we do.

For example, “vacation rentals” doesn’t consider guests booking work stays, event locations, or even those on the nomadic lifestyle path. Arguably, the term doesn’t differentiate itself from other common accommodations (i.e. hotels).

“Short term rentals” on the other hand discludes the pandemic-surging trend of mid term and long term rentals — which may become increasingly popular as state regulations tighten on rental duration minimums.

“Property management” undermines the critical and constant guest experience aspect —not to mention, it fails to properly address the inextricable importance of turnover, access, insurance, amenities, and so much more.

Though there’s no perfect answer for this lingering and evolving question, in his general session, “Embed Innovation Into Everyone’s DNA™,” Duncan Wardle proposed yet another way of framing the industry. To paraphrase, we’re not in the business of vacation rentals — we’re in the business of guest experiences.

This much broader, holistic, more human imagining of what the industry is and does speaks to what property management companies already know: hospitality is at the heart of any rental business. Whatever you want to call it, the key to success in this industry is found in a careful balance: providing impressive accommodations and providing impressive service.

Takeaway 2: What customers will want

Right now concepts like “inclusion,” “diversity,” and “sustainability” are great for touting, but change is always gradual and the fact is unless customers demand differently, property managers and software partners can easily fall into the same old patterns. It’s increasingly important, however, for those in the industry to pay attention and approach the industry proactively. And with such growth across customers, managers, and providers, now’s the time to stand out. But how?

Well, it’s clear that travelers are more and more diverse — which means they expect more diversity in the market. These guests want to see themselves and their needs reflected in those they entrust. If you’re Spanish-speaking, you want to book a property from someone who speaks (or can speak) Spanish. If you’re a Spanish-speaking property manager, you want to use a PMS that has Spanish-speaking customer support. Diversity doesn’t stop in one category; inclusion holds true across hospitality. After all, everyone wants to feel welcome.

Hostfully's eco initiative tree at VRMA
For every demo a PM signed up for, they could add a leaf to the Hostfully tree. And for every leaf earned, Hostfully matched it by planting real trees locally. It’s a little step in the right direction.

Similarly, an industry fueled by travel, energy, and let’s face it, pollution, will need to push beyond lip service. More and more customers recognize climate change and want to offset their roles by seeking properties and services that have the environment in mind — without sacrificing the other desirables they’re seeking. Right now, climate-friendly efforts are treated like a “nice-to-have,” but as climate change continues, suppliers and PMs will need to consider sustainability as an integral part of their offerings.

Takeaway 3: What property managers want

While property managers need to pay attention to guests’ needs, software companies, suppliers, and services need to keep up with their clients: the property managers. So just what are property managers seeking these days?

There’s a warranted suspicion of AI technology, and yet at the same time it’s clear that property management companies are seeking software with AI embedded. With multiple panels on AI this year, the VRMAs invited AI discussions. It’s clear that in the near future, the PMSs that manage to incorporate even more technologies to eliminate work for managers will thrive.

And fortunately, those in the short-term rental space understand innovation is the name of the game. Flexibility, adaptability, integrations, and trial and error are our assets and so we’re leaning into all the best ways to optimize.

Takeaway 4: Patience will pay off

As our customers expect faster, better, cheaper, so do property managers. And why shouldn’t they? Technologies are becoming more advanced. Integration partners are growing by leaps and bounds. AI is automation’s new frontier. And yet, from the seasoned PMs in the mix, the overwhelming takeaway is that, as we speed up, we also need to slow down.

The VRMA conference boasted 200+ vendors, including 70 PMSs, 30 smart device partners, and 100+ niche ancillary services. The landscape is expanding. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or jump ship to the next shiny thing. But more than ever property management businesses need to do their research.

That means take time to evaluate your immediate business goals, find the PMS (your central hub) that works for it, and build a tech stack that will meet those goals. This was a primary takeaway from VRMA’s session, “The World of Software: What’s Out There and How Is it Changing?”

The World of Software presenters at VRMA
“The World of Software: What’s Out There and How Is it Changing?” panelists. From L to R: Michelle/MJ Boyle (Unique Northwest Vacation Rentals), Alex Zemaniak (JZ Properties), Ashley Kubiszyn(River Ridge Rentals), Kathy Kelly(Digs Vacation rentals), moderator Margot Schmorak (CEO and Co-founder, Hostfully).

It’s simply unavoidable: when it comes to your property management software, the more you invest, the more the return on that investment. Practically speaking, this means onboarding isn’t fast, but it’s absolutely necessary. And those who’ve found massive success know that laying a strong foundation is key. Building a trifecta of trust between your team, your tech stack partners, and your customers is a must.

All panelists reiterated the same advice: once you select a software, go all in. Frontloading your operations with good old-fashioned time, effort, and patience will ultimately lead you to efficiency, ease, and success. So set aside time and resources to research your options, and onboard properly and patiently. Your PMS will ultimately save you tons of time and resources. Your business deserves it — and future you is bound to thank you.