As the VRMA International Conference quickly approaches ─ October 13! ─ what better way to get excited for the largest global event for the vacation rental industry than by chatting with a returning session speaker? Arrival spoke with the Vice President of Global Segments at Booking.com, Olivier Grémillon. Read about Olivier’s views on industry changes and how Booking has adjusted accordingly, details on what to expect during the upcoming conference and so much more.
You’re returning to speak at the VRMA International Conference in New Orleans this year. What’s changed in the industry since you spoke in Las Vegas last October?
As the vacation rental industry continues to mature in the digital age, we are seeing an increased emphasis on meeting travelers’ expectations across the entire customer journey, from the moment a potential guest lands on a property’s page or site, until they return home from their stay. Because of this, property managers are putting additional focus on hospitality, accountability and reliability, whether that means featuring accurate photos of a property, providing clear instructions on how to find the keys when arriving at a property or ensuring customers know who to call on when something doesn’t go as planned.
Ultimately, professionalism is a key part of the industry’s evolution. This wave has been building for quite some time, but has accelerated over the past 12 months. Another clear signal of this has been more and more business models moving towards instant confirmation, removal of guest fees and other options that make things as easy as possible for the traveler, and ensure they have the best trip experience possible. We’ve long operated this way at Booking.com and continue to build on what we know travelers prefer as a way to stay ahead of the curve and grow more business for our partners.
And how is Booking adjusting to those changes?
Our goal has always been to make booking any type of accommodation anywhere in the world as seamless as possible. With changes in the industry, we are working hard to deliver the right products to our accommodation partners as they strive to meet growing customer expectations and demand for alternative accommodations. By enabling accommodation partners to run their businesses as they see fit, and make sure that they can outline policies and set expectations clearly at every stage of the customer journey, we believe this creates a win-win for customers and partners alike.
Moreover, as the industry evolves, our global customer base will become even more of an asset to our accommodation partners. We recently shared that 40% of our active customers booked an alternative accommodation at some point within the last 12 months, and with the breadth and depth of our inventory ─ all available on a single platform ─ this number stands to grow in the future. By working with accommodation partners to best showcase the details of their property that make it a unique and welcoming place to stay, our businesses will continue to truly grow together.
Last year you had a clear focus on your partnership with professional property managers. How was that message received? Has the message changed at all?
Professional property managers have always been a hugely important part of our alternative accommodations business, and will continue to be in the future. We recognize their needs are fundamentally different than other types of accommodation partners, and are committed to ensuring we meet those needs with relevant tools and products, listening and responding to their feedback. Since last year, we have engaged in active dialogue with our alternative accommodation partners through hosting hundreds of events and leveraging our network of 200 local offices. This meaningful conversation has not only strengthened our relationships and partnerships with the short-term rental industry, but it is enabling us to build a shared vision for the future of the industry.
These conversations have informed many of our developments, and we’re constantly looking for ways to ensure that we can get this feedback consistently across the globe. That’s why, for instance, we have formed an advisory board of property managers and connectivity providers to engage with on a regular basis to guide our next steps from a product and support perspective. As with all of our accommodation partners, our primary objective is to make sure that we are working in true partnership with property managers to help them deliver great stay experiences and grow our businesses together.
What can our property manager attendees expect to hear from you this year?
We are excited to share even more products, tools and services tailored to property managers’ specific needs, which have been informed by their feedback and guided by our vision and strategy for the future of the short-term rental industry.
With such a large portion of accommodation partners also now making use of channel managers and property management systems, we likewise have a renewed focus on connectivity, doubling our product and tech resources in this particular area over the last year. So expect some news from us here as well.
Finally, we will also be focused on bringing intel and learnings to panel sessions and workshops (in New Orleans) to share with property managers. We know our accommodation partners are eager to delve into our intel across industry trends, customer insights, forward-thinking technologies and much more.
How about on the supplier side? You’ve also been forming more partnerships in this space, like the recent announcement of the NoiseAware partnership. How key are these partnerships to your growth and strategy? And, can we expect to see more?
At a global and local level, we've always looked at leveraging strategic partnerships through various channels that help connect accommodation partners with service providers within the wider travel ecosystem. Any strategic partnership we make has to improve the partner experience by simplifying a process, reinforcing trust and confidence or eliminating a pain point. Our focus is on continuously bringing value to our accommodation partners through partnerships that bring them enhanced technologies, greater exposure or alleviating operational burden.
Because we know how much our accommodation partners like the new opportunities that come from Booking’s strategic partnerships, we are constantly looking at new opportunities to anticipate and meet their needs and improve their experience with Booking.com, and we hope to have more to share with you very soon.
What’s the next big thing you see coming down the road in this industry? What will you be talking about at VRMA in 2020?
There is no doubt about the potential for AI and machine learning to dramatically improve the travel experience and we are investing in highly effective and extremely practical ways to deliver an even more seamless customer experience, increasing personalization throughout their travel journey. Our research has found that nearly half of travelers (41%) are excited for travel brands to use technologies, such as AI, to make travel suggestions based on past travel experiences. Whether for leisure or business travel, we’re excited to see where this can take the traveler experience, as well as accommodation partner exposure on our platform.
At VRMA 2020, we are excited to share our plans to strengthen the foundations of our partnership with even more investment in marketing, product developments and overall support for our accommodation partners, and how we are working together to push the short-term rental industry into its next iteration.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Our accommodation partners, particularly property managers, are pivotal to Booking.com’s alternative accommodations business, and I am looking forward to future developments in the industry as I truly believe we are just scratching the surface of what the future of travel has to offer and what we can do together.
Get more information on the program, schedule, exhibitors, registration options and more here. We’ll see you there!