The subject of professionalization is a recurring one in the short-term rental industry at the moment, and it is easy to see why. In the past few years, especially the last two, the vacation rental industry has seen unprecedented growth and category awareness, and with this awareness comes the responsibility of guest expectations. Consumers may be shifting from traditional accommodation options such as hotels etc. to short-term rentals with great fervor, but they are also bringing with them expectations about a level of standards to be matched or better yet exceeded, in return for their money.
Our interviewee today, Chris Maughan, fits squarely into the conversation about the professionalization of the short-term rental industry as the Founder and CEO of I-PRAC. A short-term rental accommodation accreditation platform, I-PRAC verifies and certifies short-term rental professionals everywhere after a rigorous application process to help them uphold industry standards that build trust and confidence.
In this interview, we discuss:
- Why is building trust important for businesses in the short-term rental industry
- What role does I-PRAC play in building this trust among guests
- What steps can short-term rental business owners take to cultivate trust and brand authority
- Product marketing versus trust market
- The changing role of OTAs as guest expectations rise
Differentiating yourself as a business that provides value and not a glorified cleaning company
Dear Rental Scale-Up members, today I am with Chris Maughan. He is the CEO of I-PRAC, which is a global short-term rental trust accreditation platform. As you may know, consumers are more and more demanding, right? People have been talking about the awareness of the short-term rental industry. Now the awareness is here and consumers are starting to be educated. They have higher standards. They have more expectations about staying in a place. So how can you as a property manager express that you are a professional? How can you differentiate yourself? With Chris, we’ll be talking about how you can do all that, so you are perceived as not just a fancy cleaning company but a real business that provides value. So without further ado, Chris, welcome. How are you?
Very well, Thibault, pleasure to be here finally!
So, Chris, what does I-PRAC do exactly?
I-PRAC is a global trust platform. Basically what we are into is accreditation and we verify and certify trusted short-term rental professionals around the globe as I-PRAC approved. Then they get their I-PRAC certificate logo so they can present that to their potential guests, customers, partners, so that they can show that they’ve gone through a robust application process to become accredited by a recognized body within the industry. That’s where I-PRAC stands. It’s not a booking platform. It’s not a marketing platform. It’s purely an accreditation platform that provides that accreditation logo to people to just kind of look at it and go, ‘ah, they’re I-PRAC approved, that means they’re operating to a certain professional standard’ and that’s what I-PRAC stands. It stands for International Property Rental Approval Certification.
Health and safety remains a core concern for guests
We were talking before shooting this video about the expectations of high net worth clients or big corporations when they want to book a villa, for example. That’s something you know pretty well. You’ve been in the industry for 21 years. You are a property manager. So what can you say, using your own experience either from I-PRAC or from the industry side of what do you do about these rising expectations?
After 21 years in the industry, you kind of feel that a lot of the time you see corporates leading the way in how most of the business is carried out. Like in our business here in Cannes, we work with some of the leading brands around the globe, like Google, Spotify, Twitter, Disney. And we provide the accommodation here in Cannes for the festivals that they visit. And even though we’re not coming to them with the ideas, they’re actually giving us their demands and their demands are quite clearly say, look, we cannot put our executives in a certain standard of apartments. We can’t take these kinds of risks. They’re coming up to us saying this is the standard. These are the protocols that we need you to represent when you’re accommodating our team and it’s, and it is all about standards.
Health and safety are huge, and I think that’s something that a lot of people just don’t recognize today in our industry. They say they do, but they don’t do the work and the accreditation behind health and safety to confirm that you’re providing a health and safety-conscious apartment. We all know accidents can happen, but you have to be doing the maximum that you can as a business to rectify these before they can happen.
I think these big businesses and big brands are really pushing for higher standards. Otherwise, for many years they went to hotels. They felt comfortable with hotels. They knew what they were getting in a hotel. Once short-term rentals came to market, and there’s a lot of really high-end quality properties out there, it was interesting for them to just say let’s rent a villa. We don’t need 10 hotel rooms. But the cleaning has to be on point. The service has to be on point. The health and safety are on point, everything working. So I think you’ve got to be operating at that level where attention to detail is key. Otherwise, these companies are going to look at you and think now you’ve got a nice property, but managed very badly, and that’s the difference.
You can have a nice property. It’s very easy to display a nice property on a website or on an OTA. It’s what happens after the booking has been made and that client arrives. What’s the standard of that experience. What’s the standard of the service. What’s the standard of the cleaning. What’s the health and safety, you know, all of these kinds of aspects. That’s what we’ve learned over the years, working with these big brands, is that their expectations are very, very high. So we have to deliver, and if you’re not prepared to deliver you don’t gain.
Product vs. trust marketing: Which should you be focusing on?
So expectations are very high, both from corporations and individuals because people are learning, right. So how may I express, as a property manager, that I am a professional? How can I differentiate myself from others? Either on my website or the platforms – how will people know I’m a professional who will be delivering the standards you just mentioned.
I think through your own website is the easiest way to do that. But I think that again is a problem today because so many of the bookings are coming via the OTAs. The OTAs are very protective of what marketing, or what descriptions or photographs are being used on the OTAs. So it’s very difficult for an operator to give their whole company view of who they are as a brand — a trusted, professional brand via an OTA — because the OTA is kind of blocking all of that information anyway. So really the customer’s trusting in the brand of the OTA rather than the brand of the operator.
But if you’ve got your own website, I believe today 85 to 90% of short-term rental property managers booking direct, their own website is well below par. They’re not investing in the standard of their own website content and this is where we have to get better. They have to build that website with trust and brand in mind, rather than just a basic four or five-page website that’s just showcasing properties and a contact number. We’ve got to get more detail on the branch. So if you’re not working on your brand, your mission statement as a company, your expectations as a company where you’re heading as a company, these are important factors, and you do this through your content on your website, and through your marketing.
I talk about trust marketing and product marketing a lot, and they’re not the same. So let’s differentiate the marketing factors. You can market the fact that you’ve got beautiful properties and you’ve got great locations and different things like that. That’s product marketing. But if you want to go down the other side, which is trust marketing, that has nothing to do with product, that’s about who you are. That’s about who you are as a company, who you are as a brand, what you represent, this industry. That’s probably what more people are looking to hear and see now.
I know that I would rather book through somebody who’s got a brand name behind them than somebody who’s just got a nice villa to rent. For me, property managers need to start investing more in their own website and driving people to that website, even when they stay, say have a look at our website and putting all of the quality content about trust, sustainability, mental health initiatives, the quality of your company, when your company was founded, who are the founders, what’s your mission. All of these aspects go towards building that trusted professional brand that people can believe in and trust, and that’s what the end goal needs to be.
A shift in model for OTAs incoming?
I really love the way you differentiated between product marketing – great photos of a great villa – and trust marketing, which has to do with the company, what the company stands for. Who’s behind the company as well, right? What am I doing? Who are these people? Especially if you’re going to shell out a lot of money, you want to know who’s behind the company.
Thank you so much for this insight, super well-structured. So Chris, if people want to know more about your company and want to talk to you about trust marketing, for example, what’s the best way to reach out to you.
You can contact me directly. My email is [email protected], but all of the contact details of the company are on the website which is www.i-prac.com. I’m happy to talk in-depth about trust because that I believe is the future of our industry and where it’s heading. If you’re not heading into being professional and getting to that high standard, then over the next two to five years, you’re just going to be right down at the bottom of the ladder where no bookings are going to come. I guarantee that even OTAs in the future will have to start thinking about changing their model to kind of think it’s not just about getting as many listings on the site. It’s about getting the listings professionally managed.
This I believe is quite a big problem that Airbnb and Booking.com, they do a fantastic job in the industry, and their brand awareness and their brand trust are on point. That’s why they give so many bookings on a weekly basis to so many global people. If they couldn’t do that, they wouldn’t have a business. But if you look at what they do is they own the consumer. They own the customer. They know that they don’t own the property that’s listed on the website. They also know that they don’t have any control over the property management company who’s listing the property on the website. What they do know is ‘we can control the customer’ and the way to control the customer is through confidence, trust and that’s how they keep coming back to them all of the time.
I do believe that OTAs will start to look at, we can’t just have anybody listing on our site anymore. Things are happening. We need to get higher standards. We need to be recognized as a booking platform of trust, a little bit like what Marriott is doing with their Homes & Village. They’re going out and literally saying you can partner us. So they’re not like a huge OTA. They’re choosing specific property managers who fit their criteria. And I think that is the model for the future, for sure.
Thank you, Chris! Recently on Rental Scale-Up we talked about Plum Guide‘s curation, for example, on the topic of aggregation versus curation, which is a great topic as well, I agree. Thanks for your time today, Chris, and I wish you a great day in France.