November 4, 2015

Lessons We Learned at VRMA 2015

This year, over 1,300 property managers and vacation rental industry experts flocked to New Orleans for the biggest industry even of the year: VRMA 2015. Piled into a rented van with the guys at SafelyStay, the team drove down to New Orleans to catch up with our peers and check out the latest trends in the industry.

Here’s what we learned:

1. There is nothing new under the sun.

No, seriously. This year is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Vacation Rental Managers Association. Despite media reports to the contrary, the business of short-term rental management is not something that just cropped up in the last few years thanks to Airbnb.

Speaking to early members of the association, even at the time of VRMA’s founding, no one pretended this was some crazy innovation. They created the VRMA to share stories and best practices because many of them had been working in the space for years already, and wanted to better learn how others were getting on. Vacation rental managers still have the same questions: How do we recruit new homeowners and homes?How do we optimize for conversion? CEO Andrew McConnell moderates a session on recruiting new homeowners with Heather Bayer of CottageLINK Rental Management, Mike Harrington of Topsail Realty Vacations LLC, Eric Breon of Vacasa, and Ashley Hamm of 360 Blue, LLC.

The questions are the same, and with vacation rental management as old as vacation rentals, vacation rentals are as old as vacation homes. I’m pretty sure even Cicero had a beach house he rented out a few peak weeks each year.

The point being, don’t buy the hype. This is an established industry, with a storied past, so my advice to you: Don’t act new.

2. Everything has changed.

The former point notwithstanding, this is a tremendous inflection point for the industry. Besides the perennial stalwart sessions on things like housekeeping and HR, this year’s conference offered numerous sessions. George Volsky of Seaside Realty offered a session on new business models, Tom Leddy, Amy Hinote, and Doug Kennedy spoke of new technologies, and we even heard of entirely new approaches to management from Cliff Johnson at Vacasa and Michelle Acquavella at Sea to Sky Rentals.’s vacation rental income calculator helps property managers determine offers for fixed rent contracts that guarantee owners a fixed rental income for the year and allow managers to quickly grow inventory while increasing control.

The technology is getting smarter, and so is the industry: Alina Cerusici and José Vázquez at Avantio walked us through what vacation rental software can do, Rentals United is helping owners and managers get more bookings, Parakeet is automating the home, Amy Ochoa and Blake Leszczynski are simplifying distribution with LeisureLink, and Evan Hammer and Nick Persico with SmartHost and David Ordal and Douglas Ross with Everbooked are teaching us how to price with perfection.

In the early days of the Internet, the widespread distribution it enabled completely transformed the industry. We are seeing the same happen again today as the industry evolves from what was a very local-only, cottage industry, into one that is increasingly influenced by larger and larger players.

This is not to suggest vacation rental management is not a local business. By definition it has to be local. Those sheets aren’t washing themselves (yet). What it does mean is that those able to strike a balance between local presence, knowledge, and relationships, while at the same time providing this on a regional, national, or even global scale, will increasingly operate from an advantaged position as compared to their competitors.

3. We’re just getting started

Yes, there was tremendous change post-2000 as HomeAway got larger and larger. Yes, there continues to be tremendous change as the Airbnb-effect transforms how people think about travel.

But it is also just the start. Companies are expanding, and management companies like Pillow, SenStay, Globe Homes and Condos, SkyRun, Grand Welcome, and iTrip are leading the industry as they expand multi-regionally and provide local knowledge on a global scale.

In conversation with TripAdvisor’s Ben Drew, Airbnb’s David Burden, HomeAway’s Bill Furlong, and Angel Llull of, analyzed the industry’s next thirty years of growth.

Yes, the upcoming changes in the vacation rental industry may be scary, but they will also be a tremendous opportunity for those who play their cards right.

If this year’s conference is anything to go by, it is no exaggeration to say we could potentially see as much change and innovation in the next five years as the industry experienced in the previous thirty.

For better or worse, may we all live in interesting times.

Photo by Vanessa de Souza Lage at Rentals United. To see the VRMA 2015 in photos, view her article here.

What were your favorite takeaways from the #VRMA2015 conference? Let us know in the comments below!

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