Professionals from across all walks of the vacation rental industry came out in big fashion in Orlando, representing a strong and vibrant market full of opportunities.
Record attendance was indeed among the major headlines from the VRMA National Conference, held October 15-18. Nearly 1,500 vacation rental professionals gathered at the Omni ChampionsGate to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and to sound off about the future direction of a constantly changing market.
Crowds were large, sessions were packed, and vendor presence continued to expand, with more than 85 on display in a teeming exhibit hall. It all underscores the fact that vacation rentals are being recognized as big business worth an estimated $138 billion in 2016—with expectations to grow to a value of $194 billion by 2021, according to a recent Skift article.
Attendee and VRMA Board Member Toby Babich, CMCA, AMS, RSPS, ARM, shares this perspective: “Yes, travel is entering a new age, full of slick digital assets, easy processes for booking, a spectrum of information and research, and the ease of secure online transactions—it is an exciting time to be a traveler. The world is as close as a swipe and click, and vacations have never been easier to customize and book. We can go anywhere, right now, with ease.”
As expected, the sessions drew great interest with powerful content geared to help improve all aspects of business for vacation rental managers.
The keynotes were highlighted by two of the industry’s heavy-hitters. First up was Nathan “Nate” Blecharczyk, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Airbnb, who discussed the importance of professional managers in providing an unparalleled experience to guests. Blecharczyk provided insight into the history of Airbnb, as well as a sneak peek into some of the new tools the company is providing to better assist managers in delivering a better guest experience.
Not to be outdone, Jeff Hurst, chief commercial officer of HomeAway, talked about MarketMaker™ and the other tools and features that the company is making available to managers to assist them in running and upskilling their businesses. It was an intriguing look into the state of the company, which continues to evolve its focus on product development.
Another engaging discussion came on Tuesday when Simon Lehman of Phocuswright led a talk on the future for property managers with panelists Ben Edwards, Jodi Taylor Refosco, and Steve Milo. As the vacation rental management landscape continues to shift, this session explored data around those changes and the ways in which property managers can evolve and survive in this disruptive landscape.
Leonard Brody, business and technology visionary, discussed the rapid pace of change, innovation, and disruption facing this market and potential solutions, while Alan Schaefer, founder and CEO of Banding People Together, combined behavioral science with lessons learned from touring the world as a recording artist to explore how to unlock one’s best self.
Outside of the general talks, the breakout sessions drew large attendance with content that touched on everything from business planning to marketing to housekeeping. And the exhibit hall had a bit of something for everyone.
“The sheer size of the attendees was overwhelming in a good way—and to see all the first time attendees,” says Brandon Sauls, president of ICND, regarding the packed exhibit hall. “From a vendor showcase perspective, it was great to see the lively booths with different things like the tables and money machines to really give it the ‘trade show’ feel.”
This was a chance for the industry to see all the latest and greatest technology and service tools to incorporate into their business. From dynamic pricing tools and marketing technology to cleanings/inspections/property maintenance offerings, there was something to see for everyone in the vacation rental market.
Aside from the exhibit hall, attendees had additional options for getting in front of solution providers. The Education Hub, for example, was a fast-paced outlet for engaging with suppliers. Condensed into 20-minute educational discussions, speakers were asked to present a new idea, hot topic, or trending issue.
The idea is about providing attendees with an outlet to discuss the timely topic and introduce them to new learning formats and speakers, create a level of intimate interactivity, and make the presenters approachable.
Amid all of the sessions, interactions, and discussions, perhaps the best part of this time spent in Orlando was the fact that each attendee came away with their own key takeaways. Some that can be applied to the business right away, others that are more future facing to the business in general.
Speaking to the former, Kirsten Brink, regional manager with Vantage Resort Realty of Maryland, was invigorated by the idea that mobile will continue to grow and will eventually be the dominant way in which guests interact with property managers. She made particular note of the trends around data mining and segmentation of customer data; targeted marketing; and promotional push notifications to existing guests to encourage them to stay longer and help fill midweek stays, among others.
On the topic of the future of this market, Babich adds, “By engaging in the VRMA National Conference, talking to other managers from around the world, listening to a variety of educational sessions, and interacting in panel discussions and organizational updates, one thing is clear to me: The future will be written by the same dedicated professionals who carved out this industry dozens of years ago, and what we write is only limited by our own imagination and ability to adapt. The future is bright, and professional managers are shining the spotlight. Go forth, learn, adapt, and move this industry forward.”
An event such at this doesn’t come together by chance; it’s made possible by the hard work of VRMA’s board of directors, planning committee, staff, attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and sponsor partners.
Gold sponsors include: Generali Global Assistance, HD Supply, HomeAway, NAVIS, Streamline, and VacationRentPayment. Silver sponsors include: Airbnb, Booking.com, CiiRUS, Guesty, ResortsandLodges.com, and TripAdvisor. Bronze sponsors include: AIG, Ascent Processing, Bluetent, Breezeway, dormakaba, EZ Inspections, HomeAway Software, JANIIS, LiveRez, Lynnbrook Group, Maxxton, Proper Insurance, Rently Keyless, TRACK Hospitality Software, and VacayHome Connect.
VRMA also raised $23,005 at the conference through its silent auction. Held in conjunction with the Tuesday evening party sponsored by NAVIS, the auction funds will support the association’s government relations and advocacy efforts.
See You Next Year!
Mark your calendar now for VRMA’s events being held in 2018: The European Conference, March 4-6 in Paris; the Western Regional Conference, March 26-27 in Portland; the Eastern Regional Conference, April 16-17 in Miami; and the International Conference, October 27-30 in Las Vegas.