vrss businessman in crowd
May 25, 2018

3 Takeaways from VRSS

The third edition of the Vacation Rental Success Summit (VRSS) just wrapped, and what an event it was. It’s amazing to think that Heather and Mike came up with this just a few short years ago, and have already built it into such an incredible show. I had a great time connecting with old friends, making new ones, and learned a great deal. There were three particular takeaways that really stood out to me, and seemed worth sharing for those unable to make this year’s event.

The Numbers Are All Wrong

I had more than one conversation that centered on PhoCusWright and Hostfully’s recent report on the number of property managers in the alternative accommodation space. The numbers they reported: 115,000 globally, with 23,000 in the U.S. Many industry stalwarts thought this number dramatically overstated the number of companies, but, after my weekend in San Antonio, I believe quite the opposite.

To be fair, the “correct” number completely depends on how you define “property manager”. If you’re only speaking about “vacation rentals”, that’s one thing. If you add in Airbnbs, serviced apartments, urban rentals, and other arbitrary labels people put on the beds they rent to guests, you broaden your scope significantly.

Likewise, where you draw the line on who qualifies as a property manager and who doesn’t matters. Do they need more than 25 properties to count? More than 10? Does anything greater than one qualify if it’s their “job” and they are intent on growing?

I for one take the more expansive view. Putting a label on the bed you’re renting is not only unhelpful, but can even be detrimental to your business since it might unintentionally filter out potential guests. I also don’t see the point of putting a unit count hurdle to qualify as a property manager since the issue is not size, but how professionally you are treating the business of renting. For example, I ran into a manager from Baltimore that was first introduced to Rented.com when he was managing just one property – his own. He described to me at this event how, through our interaction with him, he realize that there was an entire business to be had in short-term rentals and, therefore, he focused on growing. Today he manages 20 properties and is planning on adding another 20 in the near future. And to think, if we had categorized him as not being a “property manager” because he only had 1 property, we would’ve not only been doing him a disservice, but ourselves as well.

From what I saw and learned from the attendees at the VRSS, there are far more small and medium sized managers out there than anyone realizes. At a minimum, the numbers PhoCusWright put out understate the manager universe by half, and potentially much more.

And They Are Only Growing

The event itself is a great measure of the growth and awareness of the space. From less than 50 attendees in its first year, to more than a hundred in its second, and close to 250 this year, the consistent doubling of interest and attendees on an annual basis is a good gauge of how fast the industry is growing.

In addition, the types of people the VRSS attracts is telling. I had the pleasure during my 6-hour delayed flight on Sunday night to get to know a fellow attendee. She’s currently a stay-at-home mom in Louisville, but as her children are growing, she’s finding more time on her hands and is looking into what’s next. At this time, she doesn’t have a single property under management, but she’s excited by the space. So excited, in fact, that she dedicated her entire weekend to travel to San Antonio and learn more about the industry before beginning to build her new business.

This is just one example, but it’s indicative of a broader trend. Interest in our space is growing, and the people coming into it are serious. This is not just a lifestyle business to them. They see an opportunity, and are investing their time and resources to make the most of it. Watch out.

Some People Just Don’t Get It

There was a sentiment, admittedly expressed more frequently by vendors than conference participants, that there were not enough “real” property managers at the VRSS to make it worth their time. These people couldn’t be more wrong.

A decade ago Eric Breon and Cliff Johnson were not managing a single home. Today the company they built, Vacasa, is the fastest growing property manager our industry has ever seen, with 8,000 homes under management. They actually sponsored the VRSS party this year (thank you, by the way).

Likewise, Steve Milo, a keynote speaker at the conference, entered the space not long before Eric and Cliff. Since that time, Steve has built VTrips into one of the largest managers in the country with nearly 2,000 properties across the entire U.S.

The same is true for companies like Oasis and Hostmaker. Both have been around for less than a decade and each are now partnering with a top 5 global hotel company (Hyatt and Marriott respectively) to make alternative accommodations far less alternative in consumers’ eyes.

The point being that there are future giants in our space that don’t even exist yet and others that are just starting. I can guarantee you they’re the ones spending their nights and weekends investing their time to learn and improve; not the ones looking down their noses at the competition. They aren’t complacent.

Watch out, or they’ll eat your lunch.

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