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How Houfy is building a Book Direct OTA.

houfy.com review
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Houfy is not just an alternative to Airbnb. It wants to be an alternative to the overall OTA (online travel agency) model of intermediation. Houfy has built a vacation rental listing site where owners keep control of the communication with their guests. The platform also enables the guests to book directly with the hosts. This is why Houfy bills itself as a “Book Direct OTA”. With more than 50,000+ listings, Houfy has grown into an interesting contender. To fuel its growth, it can count on its attractive business model for hosts (book direct, no fee), its ease of importing existing listings from Airbnb and Vrbo, its engaged community (6,000+ members), and revenues from upcoming paid services such as premium listings and website creation.

In order to know more about Houfy, we talked with Thijs H. Aaftink, its creator and owner.

Neither #BookDirect, nor OTAs are perfect

The #BookDirect movement has gathered speed over the last years, especially after the likes of Airbnb and Booking.com bypassed the existing cancellation policies of their hosts and forced them to refund guests in March 2020, at the onset of the COVID crisis.

One of the tenets of #BookDirect is that hosts can collect real customer data, for instance email addresses, and not receive temporary anonymous emails that they cannot use to contact guests later, as it happens on Airbnb. Yet, having a full-blown #BookDirect strategy may require vacation rental owners to build their own website, master SEO, be active on Instagram, set up an emailing system, and write content.

2022 vacation rental conference

Enter Houfy, with the promise of bringing the best of the OTA platforms (demand and supply aggregation) and the best of the #BookDirect movement (full control on the booking process and guest communications).

Is Houfy legitimate as a “Book Direct OTA”?

Here’s how Houfy bills itself:

Houfy is a social marketplace for vacation rentals and real estate properties. Houfy makes it easy to find, rent or sell vacation homes and real estate around the world with no booking or agent fees by connecting properties directly with guests and buyers.

Houfy’s mission statement is to “connect people with places.”

What makes Houfy an OTA

Houfy is a platform that aggregates supply (listings) and demand (travelers). Just like Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com, it is a 2-sided marketplace.

The company gets its traffic through word-of-mouth, SEO, and widgets embedded on the websites and blogs of its hosts.

Like other OTAs, the platform offers features such as search, maps, reviews, calendars, communication tools, and payments.

Hosts also have more control than on most platforms over the whole booking process:

  • They can set up the cancellation policy of their choice
  • They can set up their own payment terms
  • They can communicate direclty with their guests
  • They get the actual customer data

Houfy also offers some integrations, such as the dynamic pricing tool PriceLabs.

Finally, Houfy is also a platform that powers other vacation rental businesses. For instance, the company provides the technology for Fabstayz.

What makes Houfy a #BookDirect channel

The major point is that there is no fee, neither hosts, nor for guests.

Guests book directly with the hosts, with no intermediation from Houfy. If they take payments through Stripe and Square, hosts can receive direct deposits and payments from guests.

The company can count on a community of engagement hosts, with more than 6,000 members in its Facebook group. The activity of this group, which started in 2016, reflects the desire of the company’s founder to create a social marketplace.

Hosts can also leverage their own websites and blogs to generate bookings by embedding widgets created by Houfy (see below).

houfy vacation rentals

To boost its supply, Houfy makes it easy for hots to import their listings from the likes of Airbnb

Trying out a new vacation rental listing channel can be cumbersome for hosts, as they have to re-create their listings, from the photos to the property descriptions.

For vacation rental platforms, the Cold Start problem hinders supply growth. Houfy does a pretty good job at enabling hosts to start fast on its platform. Booking.com also enables hosts to import their Airbnb or Vrbo listings, but Houfy does it better. In a few clicks, the new listing is 95% ready to go live on the platform.

Here are some screenshots from their listing importing process visible at https://www.houfy.com/new/listing :

houfy import listing
houfy.com review
houfy vs airbnb

Houfy in 2022: Paid services to grow revenues and fuel demand

For 2022, Houfy founder Thijs H. Aaftink is counting on the launch of paid services to grow its revenues and invest more money into marketing.

The company is launching a website builder, to turn listings into independent websites with their own URL.

houfy website builder

It is also launching visibility offers to its hosts, such as Last Minute Specials & Featured Listings.

Finally, Houfy wants to leverage its social marketplace DNA to become partly community-owned in the form of a DAO, i.e. a Decentralized Autonomous Organization. It is a community-led entity with no central authority. It is fully autonomous and transparent: smart contracts lay the foundational rules, execute the agreed upon decisions, and at any point, proposals, voting, and even the very code itself can be publicly audited. Imagine Houfy coins, fo instance.

Conclusion

Houfy is an interesting case of a different kind of OTA, powered by a strong community. In 2022, the company wants to start growing faster.

We see two major issues that the company needs to solve:

  • Will its paid services allow it to get enough revenues to compete in marketing channels with OTAs such Airbnb and Booking whose take rate is 15%+ on each booking?
  • Can the company attract hosts beyond its current community of early adopters? It will to move away from core fans to more mainstream hosts who may be less interested in setting up everything, from a Stripe integration to cancellation policies.

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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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