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How the COVID-19 crisis helped Expedia Group turn a much-criticized HomeAway into a positively perceived Vrbo

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In early 2019, property managers were using very harsh words when talking about HomeAway. They felt that the company had turned its back on them, imposing decried policies (e.g., taking a commission on offline bookings) and going through technical glitches (e.g., losing the past reviews of hundreds of properties).

Yet, at the end of summer 2020, the situation is very different:

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Trusting its partners, a key to Vrbo’s turnaround story

How did Vrbo achieve this? First, Vrbo stood behind its partners’ cancellation and refund policies when travel restrictions hit the world. Second, Vrbo’s President, Jeff Hurst, said that Vrbo had trusted its partners (vacation rental owners and property managers) to do the right thing for travelers. Third, the company launched a series of new initiatives, from flexible cancellations to advertising vacation rentals to families, that helped it meet the changing needs of travelers.

An interview with Expedia Group’s Lisa Chen is casting more light on this turnaround story. Lisa Chen is now Vice President, Global Lodging Connectivity & Solutions, at Expedia Group. Yet, she was the one responsible for professional property managers at the crux of this impressive change period (Her official title then: VP / General Manager, Global Business for Integrated Property Managers at Vrbo).

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Lisa Chen on acknowledging HomeAway’s mistakes and taking action to reposition Vrbo

Lisa Chen’s interview is part of the great Secret Sauce series, conducted by Rentals United. Here are our noted on what she said there:

HomeAway’s mistakes

Her role at Vrbo was created because the company had made mistakes and it didn’t consider a property manager’s unique needs in some of the past products and policies

As for the COVID-19 crisis: Vrbo responded with cancellation support, with cleanliness measures, and with trusting partners to do the right thing. And so, as an example, the company didn’t unilaterally force cancellations. They trusted their partners to do right by their travelers. Vrbo is also rewarding those property managers that were good actors with ranking credit and more.

4 ways Vrbo took action to face the COVID-19 crisis

1. Product and Policies

Promoting flexible cancellations and extended length of stay: So we’ve introduced the ability for property managers where possible to accept bookings with the length of stay longer than 32 days up to 180 days, as well as more flexible cancellation policies and the ability for travelers to initiate a cancellation or change request, streamlining the communications and resolution.

2.  Marketing and Merchandising

We’ve taken steps to better merchandise cleanliness, cancellation policies, running ads that promote the benefit of vacation rentals, quickly committing marketing investment.

3. Data insights and Coaching property managers

Vrbo shared insights on how to improve performance and created educational materials, webinars, articles that covered traveler trends, all available in the Discovery Hub

4. Industry-wide efforts

Launch of the Expedia Group Academy: An educational program designed to bring new skills specifically to furlough travel, industry workers, and other small lodging partners that want to up-level their skills.

Vrbo also worked with VRMA, local officials, US officials. For instance, in less than 72 hours, VRBO partners sent in 25,000 emails to US congressional leaders -ensuring that vacation rental companies were included in the cares act.

Conclusion: How will Vrbo’s supply of entire homes help it through Winter 2020-2021?

Vrbo has already started advertising its vacation rentals, lodges, chalets, and cabins as great places where to get the family together for the 2020-21 holidays. It worked well for the summer of 2020. How will this positioning fare in the winter?

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Rental Scale-Up

Thibault is the founder of Rental Scale-Up. He owns vacation rentals in St. Barths and Bali. He also leads innovative projects for companies within the vacation rental industry. Feel free to reach out to Thibaut Masson on Linkedin.

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