October 31, 2018
VRMA International 2018: What We Learned
Thankfully, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas. We just returned from the VRMA International 2018 conference and are still reeling from the great sessions, events, and conversations. It’s always a pleasure to join the amazing people in this industry and learn how we can continue making short-term rentals better. Here are a few highlights from the event.
The amount of innovation is astounding
Walking into the vendor showcase the first time I was completely blown away. We could have probably taken all of the vendor showcases from the annual event in the 2-3 years prior and comfortably fit them into the space that the 2018 VRMA vendor showcase took up. VRMA President Mike Harrington told me that at the last minute they had to expand the vendor showcase space with the hotel in order to make room for 20 companies that were on the waitlist to exhibit. Amazing.
And it wasn’t just volume. The depth and variety of the innovation itself gets more impressive every year. From exciting new tools and products from “old hands” in the industry, to completely new players popping up and making a splash, Shaun Aukland of Google said it best in his keynote: “innovation comes from everywhere.” That is certainly true right now in vacation rentals.
And the money pouring in…
You couldn’t miss Streamline’s “Streamtown” in the vendor showcase, that was for sure. Not content with a booth, Streamline quickly put Insight Venture Partner’s money to use creating a small village in the vendor showcase.
And it wasn’t just them. Parties in past years have been nice and all, but this was something different. Perhaps some of it was just the location (everyone ups their game in Vegas), but even smaller players were hosting events in high roller suites this time around. And the bigger players? There was the “secret key” party from Ciirus and HomeAway, the “mansion” party hosted by BeyondPricing, the Ken Bone headlining new product launch from NoiseAware, and the list goes on.
Yet despite all of the crazy parties and events, perhaps the most visible (and appreciated) area that benefited from the higher spending this year? The hot breakfast (finally!). Thank you VRMA!
Ever-bigger players are taking notice
Last year’s VRMA Annual conference was a bit of a watershed in that Airbnb sent a co-founder to present a keynote. Airbnb had been a sponsor for years, but sending one of the original founders was a statement to all of us that now they were taking the space seriously.
This year that attention went to the next level as a global giant far beyond our industry came to present a keynote: Google’s Global Business Manager for Travel, Shaun Aukland. I expect this trend to continue. Does this mean next year in New Orleans we will be hearing from Jeff Bezos? Watch this space.
Small (can be) better
One of the more interesting insights coming from the Google keynote was the perspective from a $700B+ company that the future will actually be owned by the little guy. As Shaun said, “uniformity is the friend of scale, but the enemy of relevance.” This truism is even more applicable to our space where a big part of the value proposition is the unique nature of the inventory and the experience. Sure the big guys may be getting all the attention as they raise more and more money, but guests will continue to vote with their wallets, and the winners? All of you.
This point was further reinforced by the Godfather of Vacation Rentals, Simon Lehmann. ”Fragmentation on the supply side is going nowhere,” he said in one session. “For every company that gets bought, another 5 pop up.” The exception to this rule? Technology. According to him, and he should know, the roll ups in this area have not even really gotten started yet.
Book direct can make sense…
We heard from two international giant managers, Leslie Preston of Bachcare Holiday Homes in New Zealand, and Graham Donoghue of Sykes Cottages in the UK, that 75-85% of their bookings came direct – not through listing sites like HomeAway, Airbnb, and Booking.com. “There is hope for us yet!” many managers no doubt thought upon hearing this. But there were some important qualifiers. As TurnKey’s John Banczak pointed out: “There is an easy way to make that 100%…just don’t list on other sites. The problem is that is also a great way to make 20% of the revenue you could and should be making.”
Vacasa’s Eric Breon provided some more color on why those numbers were likely different for Leslie and Graham, and would not be as applicable to companies like Vacasa, TurnKey, or even most of the rest of the world. Both Bachcare and Sykes are on islands (literally), dominate their entire country, and for the most part have to only worry about a single language. So sure, book direct makes a ton of sense in certain situations, but those situations simply don’t apply to the vast majority of managers in our space.
With ~10 sessions often running simultaneously, my takeaways are obviously limited to those I was able to attend personally, or discuss with others. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Every single year the VRMA offers more and more to attendees from education, to networking, to pushing us all to innovate further and faster. If you missed this year’s event, make sure you don’t next time around. You will not regret the investment, I promise.
And if you were there, please share your own insights. We can all learn a lot from each other.
In closing, I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work in such a fast moving and game changing industry at this particular time. The companies and people I get to meet and work with inspire me day in and day out, and none more so than the incredible team at Rented.com (Mommy Shark Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo).