I attended HomeAway’s 2018 Summit in Austin, Texas this past weekend. The event was a 2-day event filled with market insights, future travel trends and the announcement of many new HomeAway/VRBO features. The event was split between main presentations and 14 Breakout Sessions on various relevant topics. In addition to all the sessions, there were many booths staffed by HA teams where you could learn (one-on-one) more about how to optimize your listing for better performance on the HA platform. Here is a recap of the event with highlights of new features announced, changes or enhancements and future trends:
- Boost Feature- HA announced a new property ranking Boost feature available to Premier Partners only. Although, any owner who attended the 2018 Summit was given access to this new feature! The Boost feature allows property owners to boost their ranking position for select dates to help increase bookings for those dates. The Boost feature allows an owner to apply credits known as “power ups” to increase property search position for a set period of dates chosen by the owner. “Power ups” are earned when an owner accepts bookings and travelers complete stays at the property using the HA platform over a 365 day period. There is no additional cost to boost the ranking of a listing. Boost Power ups expire 1 year from time they are awarded. The tool has been designed to try and promote gaps in a calendar or focus on select dates. This new tool will be accessed in the Market maker tool and is only for Premier partners. I saw a demo of the new Boost tool but have not used it on my own listing yet. I don’t know when this will be available to all Premiere Partners.
- Trip Boards – The new trip board feature assists multiple travelers staying together to more easily book a vacation rental home. The primary traveler can create a trip board and then invite other family members/decision makers (by email) to view favorited homes in the trip board. The tool allows all decision makers to provide input when planning a trip. And, travelers can vote on their preferred home, so the primary renter can proceed to book. Makes planning and booking a vacation rental much easier with families and groups (especially larger homes).
- Virtual Assistant (chat bot/VA) – The VA will exist in a new chat area on a listing. It is meant to provide instant answers for common questions and to provide the traveler with quick information to facilitate a booking. The virtual assistant generates answers from your listing content. Only information that exists in your listing will be used to answer questions. It is not meant to replace the owner. If the VA cannot answer the question, then it will suggest that the traveler contact the owner. Advantages are that the VA responses are fast and allow the traveler to make decisions to book your home. Still in Beta so it may not be visible to you when you view your property.
- Virtual Tours – Virtual tours are becoming a popular way to showcase real estate and VR properties. Proven to increase bookings/conversions and will be the future expectation of travelers looking for VR accommodation. Virtual tours take photos to a whole new level to assist travelers in booking the right accommodation for their stay. HA encourages property owners to complete and upload 360 virtual tours and it will support 360 tours for all listings. HA is offering the recording your home as a 360 tour in select markets (sorry I don’t have the list). For all other markets they have partnered with InsideMaps, so owners can buy equipment and complete 360 tours themselves.
- Smart Voice Technology- Smart technology and voice activated technology is becoming very popular in homes and vacation rentals. There was a session on how to use smart technology to help manage your rental that included a presentation by Amazon with a demo of a hospitality Alexa (voice activated technology). There is a partnership being worked on between HA and Amazon. An Alexa hospitality unit would allow homeowners to customize critical property/area details (known as a skill) into Alexa to replace information typically found in house binder. Alexa could be used to help people while on vacation by providing home instructions (WIFI codes, how to use Smart TVs, etc.) or provide restaurant suggestions or other area activities. Could also help owners manage their rental by using Alexa to control other smart devices such as lights, tv, HVAC, locks etc.
- Cancelations, Penalties and New Waiver for Cancellations – The traveler can initiate the cancellation of a booking at your property which is the best way to avoid cancel penalties on your metrics. There are situations when asking the traveler cancel is not appropriate or ideal. HA now has more comprehensive support for owners who need to cancel a booking(s). There are now cancellation waivers for cancels due to natural disasters, payment not received or when the home has experienced damage or is not rentable due to unforeseen circumstances (examples: hot water tank blows, no heat or other damage)
- Instant Book & Maximizing Visibility– Turning instant booking on increases visibility as your property will be displayed on Expedia. If you do not have Instant Book enabled you will not show on Expedia. Once IB turned on, it can take up to 4 weeks to appear in Expedia searches. Your property may not always appear on Expedia as Expedia decides when they will display your property to travelers. When an Expedia traveler books your property, your house rules will be shown to travelers. Custom rules are not shown. If travelers are not suitable you can request that the traveler cancels or you can request that the reservation be canceled, and the cancellation penalty can be waived if the guest is in violation of house rules at time of booking. I had previously not enabled Instant Book as I was concerned with cancellation penalties on unsuitable bookings. But with the new waiver for cancellations I have enabled Instant Book.
- Premier Partner- HA better outlined the criteria for becoming a Premier Partner. Your eligibility is reviewed every quarter to grant status. The criteria is based on results for 365 days. Any violation of T&C and you will lose PP status and can never get it back. Here is criteria to become a PP:
- Accept 5+ bookings
- Receive 3+ reviews from a traveler
- Achieve at least a 4.5 average rating from reviews
- Have an 85% acceptance rate or higher
- Have a less than 10% cancel rate
This was my 3rd Summit experience. At this Summit (and all previous events), I was impressed with the high caliber of the HA team members and their passion for the vacation rental space. HA makes a big investment into the conference and offers a lot of value for the attendee (relative to ticket cost) that included all the informative sessions and a chance to meet key team members such as homeaway_community_manager , senior decision makers and even President John Kim. I would recommend attending a future Summit event!