Home Lodging - A Hidden Danger for Hotels?
Saturday, 22nd March 2014
Source : Roland Wildberg ~ Exclusive from ITB 2014
Renting of appartments does play an increasing role notably in Europe with relatively constistently high prices even for basic accommodation; How homeAway.com does prepare for future market combats.

4Hoteliers Image LibraryThis has reinforced in recent years: From holiday homes to flat rentals, private accomondation is on the rise, and it is financial leaving its mark on the global hospitality and lodging landscape. Thus, this market cannot be ignored even by the traditional hospitality industry the phenomenon AirBNB shows how easy a new approach easily can bridge the gap and turn the market.

HomeAway.com is the worlds largest online vacation rental company and serves as a platform between apartment owners and interested tourists. On ITB 2014 Petra Friedmann, President EMEA of HomeAway.com referred to in an interview about "the state of privat lodging in Europe, the growth of online shopping and booking and the impact on traditional hospitality ". The interview was moderated by Lorraine Sileo, Senior Vice President research, market research company PhoCusWright.

Friedmann started with a description how their rental platform has permanently changed the market: "European are used to rent houses - but HomeAway created a hole sector. Trying to connect all the home owners. Giving them exposure to travellers in all the world", the President EMEA said. This sector, she stressed, is very fragmented. By large global players like interhomes up to individuals who rent a single apartment or house very different actors can be found. Thus, there are three different stakeholder groups, with whom a platform has to deal with: private homeowners, managers from major rental companies and potentially booking users. Here, the confidence certainly plays an important role after all the tourists have never heard of a particular real estate, until they find it on the site and finally book it.

Building trust is a task for the momantarily ubiquitous review systems, and of course there is also one available at homeaway.com. However, Friedmann here pointed to a problem: Unlike hotels with hundreds of reviews an individual apartment has to get along with a much lower turnover of guests on it - for example, a family per month. All reviews are confirmed. So only the people can rate it a private property have really lived.

Like with hotels, mobile booking play an important role. Homeaway has recently made an aquisition to optimize that segment: "Glad to have you" www.gladtohaveyou.com, an app that helps people organize their travel, has been bought by homeAway. "This enables us a better travelling experience" so Friedmann. "While we previously had to write the necessary information on a piece of paper next to the TV, you have it all online now."

Nevertheless the personal contact between tenants and landlords is still inevitable (80% of bookings are still through direct contacts between landlords and tourists) not everything can be substituted by automated booking systems. Although it is the company's objective that 50% of the rooms shall be bookable online, but on the other hand it should still be possible, like in a hotel, pick up the handset and call directly when questions arise. That direct communication is a remaining key target in homeAways approach, keeping well in mind that for the user there are always on average 6 independent interactions to be made, until an apartment is rented.

The American shooting star Airbnb has developed to a major competitor. Friedman does not consider it any great danger: "The big difference is that we have secondary homes, while Airbnb is 90% primary homes." With homeAway.com, when you open the closet you won't find clothes of the owner or his aftershave in the bathroom. It's really your room."

Conclusion: Also the rental of apartments is increasingly professionalized, which makes the difference between the booking of a hotel and an apartment disappear by and by. Given the fact that houses are cheaper and larger, especially hotels are asked to expand their range of services, otherwise they risk becoming the victims of this development.

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Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry has always fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing work-live-balance at its best.

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