Our Thought Leader Spotlight series is a regular profile interview of interesting and notable ‘game changers’ in the international vacation and short-term rental industry.
We ask these industry experts, all with different backgrounds in the industry, questions that aim to get to the core of what they view as both the challenges and opportunities facing the vacation rental industry. We also delve into how our Thought Leaders personally relate to the industry, and what they, and their businesses, bring to the collective table.
What businesses, organizations and enterprises are you currently involved with, in the industry?
I’m a frequent speaker and writer on the short-term rental industry and the founder and CEO of Properly, the operations platform for private accommodation. Properly is a platform used by property managers to manage all standard operating procedures at their properties, across all of their service providers and in the office. Properly is also used by branded collections of properties, to manage brand standards across multiple service providers and other subcontractors. Lastly, Properly helps service providers to deliver high quality, consistent experiences to guests.
What do you consider to be the key to your success?
We believe that the key to growth in our industry, and to growth for Properly, is a flight to quality. What separates the private accommodation industry from the 5 times larger mainstream hotel industry is consistency of experience, and our ability as an industry to guarantee that consistent experience to guests.
We see Properly as the platform that connects everyone that cares about quality with each other, to deliver a seamless, great experience even though that experience is delivered by multiple parties working in unison. For Properly to be successful, we need to be the network that seamlessly connects service providers, property managers and distribution to deliver consistently amazing experiences to our guests.
In your view, what are the biggest challenges and or threats to the vacation rental industry?
As an industry, our challenge is that operators are so fragmented. This leads to wildly uneven quality across our portfolio of listings, which in turn constrains our growth. I rack up some 30 to 50 private accommodation stays per year, and have experienced anything from the amazing to the appalling. At our best, we can deliver unique, authentic accommodation in interesting neighbourhoods, with lots of space and great kitchens. At our worst, we deliver stained bedsheets, no Wifi, and stand up our guests with no access to the place they booked at 1am in the middle of a city (I have experienced each of the above myself in the last 6 months). We also allow guests to host loud parties which get the neighbours up in arms, leading to increasingly hostile regulations in all major cities, and at least some of our urban colleagues have at some point played fast and loose with regulators. So quality – in all of its facets – is both the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity to our industry.
What counter measures would you suggest to minimize these risks?
We need to embrace quality as an industry, and invite those that have in the past opposed us, into our industry. Many major hotel brands (Accor, Marriott, Choice, Hyatt) have changed from seeing private accommodation as threat, to treating it as an opportunity. This will take the wind out of the sails of our opponents. But if (hotel) brands are to distribute our inventory, they will require brand standards to be enforced across our fragmented value chain. This is a major positive for us both as it should grow our industry by helping us to overcome perceptions of inconsistency, and creates additional high-value distribution channels that lessen our reliance on the big three (Booking, HomeAway and Airbnb).
In your opinion what are the greatest opportunities for both individual property management businesses, and the industry as a whole, both now and in the short to medium term future?
Individual property management businesses will need to focus more on delivering consistent quality and standards. At the moment, the biggest obstacle to conversion is a lack of trust, and we won’t be able to overcome that obstacle until we can communicate the standard we’re setting and deliver to that standard consistently.
As for the industry as a whole, China is making huge strides in the short-term rental industry and very few are observing their advancements. New build is another category to look out for – in keeping with my comments about standardization, new builds allow more control over quality and standards, and I think we can expect to see those property types play more heavily in the industry in the next few years.
If you were to start over again in the vacation rental industry, what would you do differently?
This industry grew up almost overnight. It went from a cottage industry to the biggest new category in travel, which meant there were a lot of knee-jerk reactions both from a local legislation point of view, and in investment. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. If I were to go back, I’d account for longer time frames for just about every new category. The solutions aren’t immediately evident in a rapidly-growing industry, and we’re starting to see individual companies changing fundamentally to correct for that rapid growth early on.
And finally….. what and where would your dream vacation rental be, and who would you invite to share it with you?
The whole point of vacation rentals is that you don’t have to choose just one location! So I’m going to cheat and give you a couple: Vashon Island in Washington state; Golden Bay in New Zealand; Ubud, Bali; and of course Rome, Italy. I can easily pick the one person to share all of them with, though: my partner Tammi.