From October 23 to 26, I attended the 2022 VRMA International conference. It’s one of the biggest and most influential vacation rental conferences in the world. I attended it as both a writer for Rental Scale-Up and as the Head of Product Marketing for PriceLabs. Here are my takeaways from this great event.
A quick tour of the OTA (online travel agency) booths at VRMA International 2022
- Hopper Homes is showing its growing presence in the vacation rental industry
- The brand wants to convey a younger, quirkier image than that of its competitors. Hopper wants to be known as the brand that talks to a new generation of travelers (e.g., Gen Z) on new channels (e.g., TikTok)
- For the moment, Hopper Homes is focusing on succeeding in key US markets, such as Miami. It will ramp up its presence in other North American and European markets once it has found the right recipe to dominate a market.
Expedia Group (Vrbo and Escapia)
- In the US vacation rental market, the Expedia Group has a sizeable presence, thanks to its booking platform Vrbo.com and its PMS Escapia.
- The Expedia Group booths were optimized to hold as many customer meetings as possible.
- The Vrbo booth was located right at the entrance of the exhibition hall, denoting the brand’s strong links with the VRMA organization (and probably big budget for this event)
- Airbnb does not have a booth at each and every vacation rental conference, unlike some of its competitors
- Its booth was not the most spectacular but what stood out was the number of Airbnb employees present at the show (20+ people). The company wanted to show that it was re-engaging with vacation rental managers after 2 years of talking about its small host-first strategy.
- Safety in numbers: Booking.com used the backdrop of its booth to convey how large the booking platform is, with more than 6.2 million listings of homes, apartments, and other unique places to stay (i.e. not hotel rooms).
- Booking.com was also busy meeting current and new users of its platform.
- Hometogo wants to position itself as a booking channel that can compete with the likes of Airbnb, Vrbo, and Booking.com. Its booth was located across that of Booking.com and was just as large.
- While Hometogo’s users are mostly German-speaking Europeans, the company wants to grow its presence in the US, both in supply and customer base.
- Beautiful booth 😉
Thoughts about the format of the VRMA International 2022 conference
- The biggest-ever conference for vacation rental managers (some conferences for smaller hosts have managed to have more attendees)
- A dense educational agenda, with sometimes up to 10 sessions simultaneously. Hard to choose from such a great schedule!
- A very large exhibition hall, with an impressive showcase of OTAs, PMSs (Guesty had the biggest booth, but the Streamline family of solutions had the largest foothold), data and revenue management companies such as the PriceLabs booth where I was working, guest experience (e.g., TouchStay), guest communication, homeowner acquisition (e.g., Vintory), operations (e.g., Breezeway), and furnishing solutions (e.g., Minoan, HostGPO).
- The conference took place in Las Vegas at the huge Ceasar’s Palace hotel, where many attendees got lost looking for a conference room and their bedroom.
What property managers and their teams really want to get out of a conference: Actionable solutions to their problems
Before I share my takeaways about the big OTAs, revenue management, and other shiny topics, let’s be clear that what property managers are looking for is concrete solutions.
At a large event like VRMA, some property managers come with their team: The revenue manager is interested in hearing about how to hold a revenue management meeting, while the head of operations may want to see how to better dispatch and track cleaning and maintenance tasks.
This is why the educational sessions are so useful and complementary to the exhibition hall.
Two key topics also dominated some conversions:
- Stricter regulations and bans are not only hitting big cities but traditional vacation rental markets as well. For instance, in June 2022, the Steamboat Springs City Council passed a ban on new short-term rentals in most of the town.
- VRMA has launched a program called “Right to Rent” whereby property managers can donate from $1 to $25 of a booking to an advocacy fund. The money is collected through participating PMS software solutions.
- Vacation rental “horror stories” and stricter regulations are putting a lot of pressure on vacation rental managers to ensure their properties are safe.
- As a response, Breezeway is partnering with VRMA to launch an exclusive property safety and quality training course.
Airbnb wants to re-engage with vacation rental managers but is love sometimes a one-way street?
- Airbnb showed human presence: A large number of Airbnb employees were around, especially when Airbnb was speaking at an education session
- 2022 Winter Release is coming in a few weeks
- The company insisted on the success of:
- Long stays: 19% of room nights,
- Flexibility: The “I’m Flexible” feature has recorded more than 2 billion searches since launch,
- Airbnb Categories (180M views since launch)
- Aircover for hosts
- 2/3 of Airbnb listings offer either a flexible or moderate cancellation policy
- With its Airbnb.org initiatives, the company believes that it has moved from the Sharing to the Caring economy
- Airbnb hinted that more categories would be on the way (Plus and Luxe may become Categories). Hosts would be able to see to which category their listing belongs and to nominate their listing for a specific category.
- During a live panel, Airbnb and Vrbo had to reply to questions from three vacation rental managers.
- It quickly turned into a session where vacation rental managers would ask Airbnb to justify its policies while Vrbo was getting praised for its own.
- The Vrbo model, where the vacation rental manager can be the merchant of record, upload their own cancellation policies, and easier communicate with guests outside of the platform, seems to be more popular with VRMA attendees.
- Overall, Airbnb was seen as more controlling for an added value that was unclear to vacation rental managers.
- The Vrbo representative went as far as saying that he embraced the Book Direct movement: Vrbo can bring guests to a property the first time, while it is the property manager’s job to give the guests reasons to book direct next time.
- When drawing conclusions, it is important to remember that VRMA attendees tend to come from traditional vacation rental markets where Vrbo has a long presence. Short-term rental managers operating in big cities, and often born out of the Airbnb ecosystem, tend to be underrepresented at VRMA conferences. So, the sentiment about Airbnb may not be the same in other parts of the short-term rental markets.
With short-term rentals the #1 priority of the company and the US market #2, Booking.com has been busy fixing the holes in its U.S. vacation rental strategy
The Booking.com presentation was notable as its tone was very candid about the past failings of the company in the US. While the room is almost empty during the presentation, the company showcased product improvements that can be potential game-changers for its destiny in America.
So many people missed the Booking.com presentation that we thought that it deserved its own dedicated article:
My first-ever panel about dynamic pricing and revenue management software
- I had to stand in for Anurag Verma, PriceLabs’ co-founder, at a panel gathering the CEOs of the main revenue management software solutions in the vacation rental industry: Andrew Kitchell from Wheelhouse, Andrew McConnell from Rented, and Julie Brinkman from Beyond.
- Thanks to the 40+ brave people who attended the “Getting Under the Hood of Some of Today’s Most Established Pricing Tools – Without the Sales Pitch” panel, hosted by Sarah Franzen and Emily Pattillo!
- Sitting on a 9:00 AM panel on Day 3 of Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA) International (i.e., the morning after the closing party added to the
- It was a great concept to get 4 big competitors on a panel and try to force them not to pitch but talk about the industry, their strengths and weaknesses, and compare key features. As someone hosting panels every month at Rental Scale-Up, I appreciated how Sarah and Emily corralled us away from pitching.
- My biggest learning is that talking about revenge management software to people who are not already users requires speaking another language than to customers. Some words and concepts we use are just not familiar yet to non-users. They want to understand the key differences between the products and get transparency on how the price predictions are formed and where the data comes from.
Once again, I had a blast attending the VRMA International conference. Reconnecting with old industry friends and meeting new cool people gave me so much energy. Whether as a write for Rental Scale-Up or as the Head of Product Marketing for PriceLabs, I walked away richer in ideas and contacts than when I came in. And all this, without betting one cent at the casino 😉