HomeAway Insights

10 Posts authored by: brian.sharples
brian.sharples

Service Fee Update

Posted by brian.sharples Feb 24, 2016

Since the launch of the new service fee on HomeAway, I have heard from many of our long-term customers via email. And I’ve been following posts on the subject on social media. Many of you share the same concerns, so it makes sense to respond on Community where all our customers can have the opportunity to read my answers to your questions. 

 

I want to let you know that I am listening to your concerns, and every HomeAway employee is committed to making you as successful as possible.

 

First, I understand that many of you would like more and clearer communication on changes coming to our sites.  Despite our attempts at communicating this change in advance, we fell short of your expectations.  I take full accountability to make sure we are better on this in the future.  Below, I want to explain our rationale for launching a service fee, and tell you a bit about how we plan to incorporate your feedback going forward.

 

Second, I want to acknowledge that we are in the middle of a huge shift for the industry.  The good news is that vacation rentals are now considered a mainstream travel option, but as a result travelers are demanding more from listing sites like HomeAway and VRBO.  Our research and experience shows that it is no longer enough for us to just operate an online classified listing site.  (I miss the good old days too – believe me.)  We know this because properties that are online bookable get chosen at almost double the rate of ones that are not.  And our most dissatisfied travelers are complaining louder than ever about listings with inaccurate calendars and offline payment methods that can’t be backed up with online receipts and solid financial protection from our company.

 

As a result we announced in late 2014 that we would ask all of our owners to make their properties bookable online by the end of 2016.  This doesn’t mean you can’t still communicate or negotiate with travelers prior to accepting a booking request, but it does mean that your properties need to be accurately quotable online, calendars need to be maintained, and we need to be able to process the booking through our systems in order to provide the financial guarantees travelers are demanding. 

 

To incentivize our owners to adopt online booking, we have increasingly been favoring online bookable properties in our sort algorithms.  It is no secret to any of our owners that a higher position in sort leads to more bookings. We are also rewarding listings in sort when they have higher conversion rates – because a listing that rejects most of its booking or inquiry requests is not a good experience for travelers. Most of the travelers who choose to stop using our sites say it’s because they are frustrated by not being able to find a property that is actually available.  This is offset by being able to book the property online so it increases the number of travelers who gravitate to HomeAway listings that are bookable online.  Worst case for our customers and HomeAway:  travelers leave our sites and go to sites where all properties are already required to be online bookable.

 

Our #1 goal at HomeAway is to drive more bookings to our owners and property managers.   Your success is our success, as it has always been in this business.  Every piece of evidence says that the right way to do this, given the demands of the “new” vacation rental consumer, is to do the following:

 

  • Provide transparent price and availability data so travelers can get accurate quotes online
  • Back up every transaction with a strong guarantee, instilling trust in new travelers who are unfamiliar with our industry and how it works
  • Invest heavily in brand and online marketing to compete with other travel alternatives such as hotels.  Now that vacation rentals are mainstream and the category is large, we need to work harder than ever to bring in more travelers
  • Protect the rights of owners to rent their homes on a short-term basis.  We are currently fighting battles in dozens of cities and investing millions of dollars to maintain your ability to rent out your home to guests.

 

So why did we launch a service fee? 

The biggest motivation was to better accomplish the things I’ve mentioned above.  Today, our subscription customers pay us roughly 3% of the revenue we generate for them while our major competitors charge 6-15% (mostly in service fees).  We’ve always been proud to be the lowest cost solution for renting your home.  But we simply can’t provide the level of marketing and service that today’s travelers expect without asking travelers to also pay a fee for the service we provide.

 

Many owners have asked me if our fee was motivated by greed.  The reality is that we’re re-investing the majority of this money into marketing to bring in more travelers (we nearly doubled marketing spend with the introduction of this fee) and to provide true financial guarantees that can protect and help travelers who have bad experiences from using our sites. And we’re also more than doubling our investment in government relations efforts to continue fighting for the rights of property owners all over the world.

 

With that said, let me address some of the other things I’ve heard in the letters and posts from our owners and managers:

 

“The new fee represents double-dipping because we’re charging both the owner and the traveler” – In our marketplace there are two people that benefit: travelers and owners.  Going forward, we are asking both sides to bear some of the cost for the service we provide, and research shows us that travelers do not see the fee as a barrier to booking.

 

“The combination of the new fee and what you already charge is too much” – We hear you on this.  With the launch of the service fee, we did take down the rates charged to our suppliers for our pay-per-booking listing product (and our subscribers are always welcome to choose that option).  In April we will announce a new long-term plan for subscribers that we believe is more balanced than what we have today.  This will be based on our research leading into the launch, the data we are observing from this launch, and also will include the feedback we’ve been receiving.

 

“Travelers won’t pay these fees and they will choke off bookings” – I can completely understand this fear, in fact, I had that worry, too.  So we did a lot of research and testing before launching this fee, which is already charged at even higher rates by our two largest competitors in the United States. We’ve processed tens of thousands of bookings in just the last few days with a service fee.  Early data tells us that the fee has not been a meaningful deterrent for travelers making a booking on our sites.  We will be carefully studying how these fees impact bookings at different pricing levels, and adjustments may be made in the coming weeks.  The booking data we’re seeing supports our belief that this fee will not have a meaningful negative impact for the vast majority of our customers.

 

“By simply calling it a ‘service fee’ on the site the travelers don’t know who is actually charging them.” – The community is right about this and we hear you.  We’ll be adding language to the sites to let travelers know the service fee is being paid to us, and will clearly spell out the extra guarantees that come along with booking online.

 

“I’m better off dropping online booking, even though it is what you asked me to do.” – Many of you are justifiably concerned that non-online bookable properties now look cheaper on the site.  And you may think switching back to the “old way” will make you more competitive.  I completely understand the point here, but it would not be the right move for your rental business, because the benefits of sort would completely outweigh any short-term benefit of opting out of online booking.  The fact is that all online bookable listings are advantaged in sort order. And our sort algorithms going forward will be incorporating booking history and booking conversion as a factor in determining search position.  Simply put – the more and higher frequency of online bookings you do, the better you’ll perform on our sites over the long term.

 

I hope this explanation was helpful, and I appreciate that many of you are nervous and still quite concerned.  I also want to acknowledge again that I could have done a better job of communicating our rationale up front. Please know I am listening to your concerns, and we will take them into account as we design our new pricing plan to be announced in April.  And rest assured that if we see a meaningful decline in bookings from the fee, we will make adjustments to get it right.  But at the moment bookings are flowing at a very good pace (consistent with booking volumes before launch of the fee), and I should also note that most of the calls made to customer service have been from owners, not the travelers paying the actual fee.

 

Please continue to write and provide input. Again I’m sorry I can’t answer everyone’s email personally.  But I will read them and come back in a few days with a post to answer other questions that are consistent from our community.  In the meantime I ask you to please bear with us through these changes and evaluate our service as you always have - based on the business we deliver to you over the next several months and years. 

 

Thank you,

 

Brian Sharples

Co-Founder and CEO

I’m very proud to share some news for those who list your properties on VacationRentals.com.  By early summer you will find many new and exciting features on your VacationRentals.com listing that have been developed as a result of your feedback on how we can bring more inquiries and bookings to your vacation rental. 

 

As a company, VacationRentals.com has a rich history of serving as an excellent source for beautiful vacation homes for families and groups around the globe.  Founded in 1997, VacationRentals.com has made its name as a premier site for our HomeAway family since 2007. 

 

The enhancements making their way on to the site will provide a new aesthetic for travelers browsing vacation rentals. The site upgrade will have a new owner dashboard and tools for you to update and manage your listings more efficiently. Also of note, we’re enabling more photos and property details and giving you the option to upgrade your subscription level and promote special offers to maximize your property’s exposure.

 

New Look and Feel

 

The enhancements will kick off with an all-new site design.  In addition to some aesthetic differences, a prominent change will include a brand new search method and filter options to help travelers quickly find the property that best suits their needs. Travelers will be able to search listings by location, price, availability, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms and more. They will also have the ability to create an account so they can save favorite properties and keep track of inquiries.

 

Make your Listing Stand Out

 

Starting on March 13, each listing will be able to upload 16 photos, free of charge, to catch the eyes of their prospective guests (once the site is upgraded early this summer, listings will receive 24 free photos). Survey research conducted on our travelers consistently shows photos as one of, if not the highest attractor of visitors to a listing.  Stunning, high-resolution photos can often be a make-or-break factor in whether or not your window shoppers will convert to bookings.

 

A new aesthetic feature that will be added to your listing is the ability to insert a video of your vacation home for the traveler to view—a compelling way to show off your home in addition to your photos. 

 

On a personal note, you will be able to add a profile about yourself and the vacation rental.  In addition, you will be able to add nearby points of interest to your listing which can act as a “local’s guidebook,” so to speak, for your vacation rental guests to check out your favorite restaurants, coffee shops, hiking trails or farmer’s market, etc. 

 

Exposure Options of your Vacation Rental

 

Completeness and quality is indeed a weighted factor in determining the position of your listing in search results and, in addition to the new travelers you’ll be able to attract thanks to your listing makeover, you will be able to attract even more by choosing between additional exposure options:

 

  • While the base subscription rate will remain at $199 per year, you can now choose between five subscription levels, placing your listing higher in search results for your vacation rental’s region.
  • Purchase a bundle to add your listing onto HomeAway.com and VRBO.com, and purchase a bundle to expose your property to travelers using our top 15 international vacation rental sites. The traffic to our network of sites average about 800 million people each year, something you may consider taking advantage of.
  • Run special offers on your vacation rental for offseason rates, last minute or special holiday rates, etc.
  • Purchase a featured listing to have your vacation rental highlighted within traveler searches to your region or on the VacationRentals.com home page.

 

Manage your Vacation Listings More Efficiently

 

And now on to the nuts-and-bolts portion of the enhancements:  you will continue to manage your VacationRentals.com listings within your new dashboard – but you will also have the opportunity to manage your HomeAway.com and VRBO.com bundled listings from the same location, streamlining any calendar, rates or property detail changes that need to be made.  Listing quality recommendations for how you can improve your listing are also sent through the dashboard, so while you’re logged in you can make note of any improvements to your listing that need to be made.

 

On the payments side, your VacationRentals.com listing will allow you to include quotable rates, accept online booking from travelers and receive and process payments online in a secure and easy-to-manage method.  As with HomeAway.com online booking, industry-low credit card processing fees and free eChecks will also be available through online booking with VacationRentals.com.

 

Access to your VacationRentals.com listings will also be accessible through HomeAway's mobile app, so that you can quickly respond to your future guests whether you are at work, walking your dog or perhaps enjoying a vacation rental yourself!

 

________________

 

 

For a detailed rundown of all changes being rolled out over the next few months, please visit our VacationRentals.com info page here: http://www.homeaway.com/info/homeaway/microsite/the-new-vacation-rentals-1.

 

Thank you for your feedback which allowed us to make these enhancements to better your business and thank you for your support over these now 17 years of VacationRentals.com!

 

Brian Sharples

HomeAway Co-founder & CEO

brian.sharples

HomeAway Goes Luxe

Posted by brian.sharples Oct 30, 2013

Luxe_Screenshot.jpgIt's been a super busy month for our business as we announced the launch of our pay-per-booking platform as well as a distribution partnership with Expedia. And today, we've got more exciting info to share with you all…

 

In an effort to broaden our appeal to a more exclusive group of travelers, and to give some of you more targeted exposure for your luxury property, today we launched a new site geared toward high-end vacation rentals - Luxury Rentals from HomeAway. Luxury travel is one of the fastest growing travel segments in the world, with more than a third of luxury vacationers planning to travel more in 2014, according to research.  Our hope is to provide the ultimate resource for travelers looking to stay in truly exceptional vacation accommodations.

 

The decision to create this site is not a departure from our current business strategy to be the most complete vacation rental marketplace in the world; however, we hope that by having a site tailored to a particular travel segment, we're able to provide additional visibility for and deliver more qualified inquiries to those in the luxury category, and improve the search experience for travelers seeking high-end vacation accommodations.

 

The luxury travel experts at Andrew Harper curated the collection on our behalf by developing a strict, 75-point screening process to admit only the most luxurious homes to the site. We're adding new properties regularly, and are proud to have a diverse selection homes on the new site. I invite you to please take a look! 

 

Thanks,

Brian

As you probably know, HomeAway’s mission has always been to make finding and booking a vacation rental as easy as booking a hotel. With our latest product release, I believe we’ve made great strides towards achieving that goal and am pleased to announce the introduction of online booking on HomeAway.com and VRBO.com.

 

With online booking, travelers have the convenience of paying securely online, and the booking process is more streamlined for both you and your guests. While we are aware that this particular release isn’t a “win” in the innovation category, it is a relatively new offering in the vacation rental industry and will indeed be a game changer for some guests.  

 

As we’ve posted in the past, the Internet has fundamentally changed the way we do business. We demand speed and convenience, and the ability to pay online by credit card makes booking a vacation quicker and easier. Plus, it enables travelers to finance vacations, accrue credit card reward points and feel confident in their purchase. Online booking delivers this to the vacation rental category.

 

Because we know conversations between owners and travelers are so important to the reservation process (in fact, 70% of travelers said it was the best part), we made sure to include a review period so there’s time to answer any questions they have about the property or questions you have of them. 


The product is an extension of ReservationManager™, which enables you to accept credit card payments and eChecks through our secure interface. Online booking is a free service, but because we understand you demand choices in terms of how you want to manage your rental business, it is not automatically added to your listing. However, you can easily sign up through the owner dashboard

 

The Nuts and Bolts of How it Works

 

With online booking, prospective renters click the “Book It” button on a listing, which instantly generates a detailed quote and enables travelers to agree to your rental contract (which you store ahead of time).  Travelers then submit their payment information directly from your listing and you are notified about the request. You have up to 24 hours to accept or decline it.

 

When you accept a reservation, the payment is processed immediately and your availability calendar is updated accordingly. Any additional payments are automatically scheduled and invoiced, reducing the manual work involved with confirming a guest.

 

If you aren’t able to confirm a booking within the 24-hour period, ReservationManager will automatically decline the reservation request and the traveler will not be charged.

 

To learn more, check out the video below:

 

 

 

Again, while it’s not a required service, I highly encourage you to take a look at the product and see if it’s for you.  We know travelers want a simpler, easier way to book a vacation home and online booking solves that problem. Ultimately, we believe it is the right choice to delight travelers, simplify the booking process for you, and make the entire vacation rental category more efficient and competitive.  As always, we welcome your feedback.

Over the last couple of days, I was (as I’m sure many of you were) glued to the television with much anticipation to see how Hurricane Sandy, appropriately named “Frankenstorm,” would play out.  After ripping through the Caribbean, the storm barreled straight up the east coast and in the last 48 hours, made a hard left turn right into Atlantic City. 

 

According to our count, there were 13 states in Hurricane Sandy’s path, causing the destruction of countless homes and businesses all over the east coast. 

 

News reports have revealed many travelers have been stranded due to transportation cancellations to and from the northeast, and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes until the roadways are cleared and once again safe for passage.  

 

Everyone said this was going to be an epic storm, and sure enough, it was.  However, now that the worst of Hurricane Sandy is over, and the sun has once again started shining on the beautiful coastline, it’s time to start assessing the damage and figuring out what we can do to help.  

 

As we’ve done with previous disasters like the Bastrop, Texas Fires, Gulf Coast Oil Spill and Flooding in Vermont, we’re creating a directory of homes that are available to assist the evacuees in need of temporary housing.

 

While we know this isn’t feasible for everyone, we’re looking to those of our customers, whose vacation rentals were not damaged, to help provide shelter for their displaced neighbors in the way of complimentary or heavily discounted stays in your properties.

 

We know this is a sensitive time for everyone near the storm’s path, but if you would like to support the recovery effort by donating your home, you can do so by clicking here.

 

We really appreciate your compassion and generosity in this great time of need.

 

Our sincerest thank you,

Brian

brian.sharples

Why all the change?

Posted by brian.sharples Oct 18, 2012

As always, I want to thank our customers and the loyal users of this Community for using our products, providing feedback, and helping us understand your marketing needs. I recognize the last several months have been frequented with change for our customer base, and change can be scary.  I want to assure you there are reasons behind these changes, and I hope to use this forum as an opportunity to explain how we got where we are today.

 

Our goal has always been to serve, as best as we can, the vacation rental industry.  Since the start of the company in 2005 and over the course of the following years, in addition to focusing on our organic growth, we employed a strategy of acquiring other key vacation rental websites.  This resulted in HomeAway, Inc. becoming the umbrella company for over 20 sites in an effort to be the best marketing partner for owners and managers all over the world. 

 

While this set a strong foundation for broad traveler reach and global recognition, it also created lots of complexity for our company and our customers.  The acquisition of 10+ vacation rental sites resulted in managing multiple technology platforms, owner dashboards and versions of the listing manager.  I can’t tell you how many times I was asked by owners why they couldn’t manage their listings in one place or purchase listings as a bundle, and how much it pained me to answer those questions.  But I knew it would take time for us to consolidate these systems and make the right solutions for the most users.

 

The consolidation of our platforms and technologies caused some challenges over the years, but we have entered the next phase of this company’s evolution where we can focus on bringing additional value to our customers with new tools and marketing options.  This year, following the migration of the VRBO.com platform onto the HomeAway.com platform, we launched Network bundles.  This was a crucial step in offering a global presence for your rental property to maximize your return on investment with our sites.  Happily, the time and cost-savings associated with this change is one that has been well-received.

 

Other changes, though, have not been as well received.  As part of our goal in enabling owners and managers to manage their listings in one place, we also have to standardize the listing manager tools themselves so that they are the same across the globe. This, in turn, means change for just about everyone and most recently, this happened in the update of our rates structure.

 

The goal of our new rates format was to provide a more consistent experience for travelers, while generating higher demand and more qualified inquiries to you with quotable rates. Additionally, the new format was designed to:

 

            * Reduce the manual work of providing quotes to travelers

            * Power our search results with more accurate prices based on stay dates

            * Display consistent prices to a global audience of travelers

            * Enable your property to be bookable online, if you choose, while providing control over who stays in your

              rental home

            * Provide full credit for the rates component as part of your sort order 

 

Unfortunately, the outcome of this change included some unanticipated results for which we sincerely apologize. 

 

Each employee at HomeAway, including me, spends a couple days on the customer support line as part of a program to bring us closer to the needs and concerns of our customers. By coincidence, I happened to be manning the support lines on the day that we launched the quotable rates format.

 

I fielded some challenging calls and learned first-hand about your concerns. I also gained an appreciation of the importance of rates, the wide range of approaches to setting rates and providing quotes, and some of the challenges you’ve had in using quotable rates.

 

We are disappointed that we failed to anticipate the complexity of many of our customers’ rates, and we are working diligently to fix this.  You can read more about the changes to come from our Chief Product Officer, Tom Hale.

 

The good news is there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are offering a solution for those of you who wish to revert to the traditional rates structure until we get it right. Quotable rates are our ultimate goal in improving the traveler experience, but we first need to ensure it works for our paying customers. In the next few days, you will be able to switch back to the previous rates format if you feel that quotable rates does not work for you at this time, and we will continue to make improvements to better serve you.

 

Please hang in there with us and look for my blog post in the next few days on online booking, an exciting new marketing option we are offering. With online booking, travelers will have the convenience of paying securely online while still providing you with a 24-hour reservation review period to establish a personal connection with your guests if you so desire. The feature will be 100% optional, but we aim to make the booking process more streamlined for both you and your guests, and quotable rates play a huge role in this endeavor.

 

We ask for your patience as we continue to work through these changes together, and we ask you to trust that we really have your best interest at heart. The changes over the last year have been a valuable learning experience for us, and we will use these learnings to continue to improve our products and better serve you. 

 

And as always, we welcome your questions, comments, and feedback.

I know my blog posts generally begin with me saying how excited I am to announce our latest news, but this time, I’m not sure if excited truly captures my emotions. 

 

At the end of the day, the word that best describes how I feel is proud.  Proud to tell you all that after years of operating HomeAway.com and VRBO as two separate sites, our team has made it possible for the sites to join forces – giving travelers more choice when they want to find a vacation rental and you all the opportunity to have an even more efficient way to manage your vacation rental businesses.  The changes won’t go into effect for another month or so, but we couldn’t wait to tell you all about it!

 

What does this mean for you?

 

While the sites will continue to operate as independent brands, the changes will make it possible for you all to update your HomeAway.com and VRBO listings simultaneously, using one interface.  For you HomeAway old-timers, the idea is similar to the calendar function we introduced with HomeAway Connect, a few years ago, but now your listing will be identical on both sites making it easier and faster to update photos, rates, etc.

 

Also, by popular demand, we’re introducing a new “bundled” pricing structure so you can have listings on both HomeAway.com and VRBO.com for $80-$750 less per year than before.  We are even offering a global bundle so you can have a listing on 15 additional international sites.  The goal was to give you more flexibility and choice with your marketing needs.

 

We’ve created a microsite dedicated to explaining this change in further detail and how it affects each of you. You can check it out here: http://network.homeaway.com  

 

Finally, as we’ve said before, we value customer feedback and speak with hundreds of customers about our plans prior to releasing a new product or service. I’d like to share with you the feedback we received from THE pioneer of the vacation rental industry and original for-rent-by-owner customer, VRBO.com founder, Dave Clouse:

 

“This will be a huge time saver for both owners and property managers and will increase the accuracy of listings. Renters can now have more confidence that listings on all sites have the most current information and photos.  It's a win-win situation for everyone, and makes both VRBO.com and HomeAway.com even better!”

 

We hope you’re just as pleased with the news. 

 

Look out for an email announcing the launch of these changes and the opportunity for you to take advantage of them. Also, if you have any questions feel free to contact our customer support team here.

 

Thank you all for your business and continued support of HomeAway and VRBO.

 

Sincerely,

Brian

 

*Dave and Lynn Clouse founded Vacation Rentals by Owner (VRBO.com) in 1995.

I have to say I am REALLY excited about our new ad campaign that launches on January 15th during the 69th Annual Golden Globes!  Kudos to our advertising team and new agency of record, GSD&M, for really nailing the essence of HomeAway’s business with the new tagline, “Let’s Stay Together.” 

 

This time I feel like we’ve really got it RIGHT!  Truth be told, we’ve resorted to some pretty gimmicky stuff in the past couple of years, preying on the hotel industry and trying hard to stand out in the pack of Super Bowl ads with something shocking and memorable. 

 

Two years ago it was the Griswolds, an award-winning campaign starring the one and only Chevy Chase.  It received a ton of buzz and even won an EFFIE (for most effective ad campaign), and we sure had fun making it!  But for the most part that ad was a way to simply introduce the brand and poke fun at hotels versus vacation rentals.  And with only 30 seconds at the Super Bowl, we had little time to really highlight the positive benefits of renting a home. 

 

Last year we stayed with the “Why hotel when you can HomeAway” theme and introduced the “Minister of Detourism” as a character tasked with saving family vacations.  In the process, we made a major faux pas when a (fake) baby was flung into a window during the ad. That caused quite a stir, and in retrospect rightly so. We quickly pulled the ad and apologized.

 

This year is very different!  We’ve decided to skip the Super Bowl – it forces you to try and be provocative to stand out.  Rather, we have a much longer and broader campaign, and have really taken the time to focus on what our business is really about – promoting togetherness with families and groups. 

So this year it is all goodness, togetherness, and happiness – and emphasizing where you stay is as important as where you go while on vacation. As an added bonus, we got Al Green to agree to license his classic song “Let’s Stay Together” for our campaign.  The end result is a beautiful and artistic scrapbook montage of families and friends having the time of their lives while on vacation, and of course staying in rental homes!  

 

Most importantly, this campaign is as much about the industry as it is about HomeAway.  If we can simply get people to associate vacation rentals with better togetherness, then we will have succeeded with the campaign.  I think it is going to be a real winner for our industry; I hope you enjoy it too.

 

You may read the press release and view the 60-second ad here: http://www.homeaway.com/info/media-center/press-releases/2012/lets-stay-together

 

I look forward to reading your comments.

 

Best,

Brian

brian.sharples

Movin' On Up!

Posted by brian.sharples Jun 28, 2011

What were you doing 15 years ago?  Interestingly enough, fifteen years ago I was CEO of a business called Intelliquest and at about this time I was preparing to take that company public. Well, at that same time in 1996, an industry was being born, as Dave and Lynn Clouse were planning to launch a site called VRBO.com (or Vacation Rentals by Owner), so they could help their friends manage and market their vacation rental properties.   

 

Boy does time fly… 

 

Screen shot 2011-06-28 at 7.58.35 AM.png

Fast forward to 2004 when Carl Shepherd (the co-founder of HomeAway) and I were lost on a highway off the coast of Oregon, headed to a place named Depoe Bay.  It was here we met the owners of the premier U.S. vacation rental sites, A1Vacations.com, GreatRentals.com, CyberRentals.com and the most prominent of all, VRBO.com. We were there to share our idea about transforming the vacation rental industry: we wanted to build the world’s most complete vacation rental marketplace, but we knew we couldn’t start from scratch to do it. In February 2005, Carl and I formally established HomeAway (formerly called WVR Group—don’t ask!). That month we acquired three of those four sites, as well as the U.K.’s, Holiday-Rentals.co.uk. In June 2006, we combined their inventory, along with that of FeWodirekt.de, a German company we acquired in December 2005, to launch HomeAway.com

 

VRBO.com wasn’t part of the original acquisitions we made to form the company- although we sure would have liked it to be.  As pioneers of the early vacation rental industry, the Clouses knew they had something special.  They didn’t want to sell the business they’d poured their hearts and souls into until they felt like they had found a good home for VRBO. According to Dave, “Over the years, we were approached dozens of times by those who wanted to acquire VRBO. Because of this, we were able to take the time to ’choose wisely‘ who we wanted to partner with.” Consequently, after much observation they realized “…there was no better place for VRBO to be than at HomeAway.”  With that, they decided to entrust their business to us, and we’re so honored they did!  

 

As many of you have now seen, this summer we are celebrating the fifth and fifteenth anniversaries of HomeAway.com and VRBO.com, respectively.  I’m extremely proud to be part of this company, which is fueled by the tireless efforts of our global team and the brand advocacy of our loyal customers.

 

Looking back on our accomplishments, I feel as though we’ve made tremendous progress towards our long-term mission, and I want to take this opportunity to highlight some of the things we’re most proud of, in no particular order:
   

 

•    The launch of HomeAway.com— this was a massive effort that helped us put our company on the map and is one of the reasons we’re celebrating today!

•    The acquisitions of VRBO.com and Homelidays.com—when we first started the business, we had some major competitors among these two brands, but luckily they’re now on our team and helping us to build the world’s largest vacation rental marketplace

•    Our First Super Bowl Ad— one of the boldest moves we’ve made at HomeAway—spending millions of dollars on a high-profile ad, while being a young tech company is usually a recipe for disaster, but I’m proud to say the commercial was a success and just won the Gold Effie award for one of the most effective campaigns of the year (other winners included Old Spice and Snickers)!

•    Raising $250 million in private equity funding on one of the worst days of the stock market in recent years—this is a true testament to the quality of the vacation rental offerings from our customers, the strength of our business and the future potential of the vacation rental industry

•    The entrepreneurial spirit lives on - the early vacation rental businesses were literally started at and run from the kitchen tables of their founders, and we try to epitomize that entrepreneurial spirit in every move we make, even honoring the idea at our weekly all-staff meetings, which we call “Table Talks.” We feel forever indebted to those original owners who helped us kick start our journey and define the culture of our company 

 

But the thing I think I’m most proud of is the impact we’ve had on our customers.  We’re thrilled when we hear another success story of an owner who was able to afford their dream retirement home as a result of the businesses we’ve either created or brought into the HomeAway family.  On the traveler side, and I can certainly relate, it’s heart-warming to think about the millions of vacation memories created as a result of HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and our other sites.  It was because of these great memories that I decided to start this business back in 2005!

 

To wrap up, I’d like to thank you all once again for helping to get us to this point.  Our customers are the life-blood of these two sites and we wholeheartedly appreciate your trust, support and commitment. We still have a long way to go, and I promise you we’ll continue to work tirelessly to make the experience of working with HomeAway better and better.

 

Here’s to the next fifteen years and the many more milestones to come! 

 

Cheers, 
Brian

 

P.S. Check out the links to all of our Anniversary Celebration Items:

 

Press Announcement

Anniversary Trivia Challenge

“History of HomeAway” Timeline

Rent Your Way Around the World Infographic

Wow, what a fantastic weekend we had at the HomeAway® Summit!  The energy and engagement from the attendees was terrific, and I want to personally thank one and all who attended.  These gatherings provide an amazing opportunity for the HomeAway staff to interact with our customers, and those interactions are crucial in our quest to make our services the best they can be.  Just like last year, we received a ton of great suggestions and feedback on a variety of products and policies that impact your business. There were long lines for the microphone at the end of every session – and we sure appreciated the conversation!  The highlight for me was our new “sneak peeks” series, where our technology team showed a few new things we have cooking and we were able to get direct customer feedback on what efforts to prioritize in the future.  Our developers are also a bunch of thespians and comedians – something I never realized. 

We also saw a great deal of interest in our new ReservationManager™ payments platform, with many people signing up on the spot to test the service.  There has been so much hard work put into this product by our team that it was especially gratifying to see such a positive response. 

 

And of course there remain areas where we are still under-delivering and need to improve, and we thank everyone for their candor and helpful suggestions.  As with last year, our owners and managers remain concerned about rental regulations, the still uncertain economy, and of course want us to deliver a bundled HomeAway/VRBO® subscription as soon as possible! 

Our customers are a passionate bunch, and we hope they also got a flavor for the passion of our own team, and the many improvements we are making to the experience of using our sites.  We can’t improve without the direct input of our customers – and we demonstrated many products and improvements that have been developed as a direct result of feedback from last year.  We took away yet another bundle of great ideas – everything from ideas for new services to scripts for new advertisements. So thanks to one and all!  I can’t wait for 2012...we plan to make it bigger and even better.  And hopefully, HomeAway can deliver on all the great ideas you had this year.

Thanks again to everyone who participated and of course to our amazing staff for planning another superb event!

 

If you have additional comments or thoughts about the Summit, please feel free to post in our Summit 2011 Feedback and Discussion thread and I will do my best to respond.

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