Following MyVR’s announcement of its new integration with Expedia, I sat down with MyVR Product Manager Brent McCullough to discuss the opportunity the channel holds for vacation rental property managers, channel best practices and why MyVR decided to partner with Expedia.
Brent McCullough is no stranger to the short-term rental industry. He comes to MyVR after nine years at RedAwning where he served as Director of Operations and Chief Product Officer, launching 21 channel integrations and achieving almost 300% yearly growth. Brent’s expertise in short-term rental connectivity, data synchronization and complex operations puts him at the forefront of MyVR’s charge to maximize channel performance for our property managers.
Joseph Bauer: Briefly tell us about what makes Expedia unique. Why is this channel important for property managers?
Brent McCullough: The core benefit of being on Expedia is the exposure to the huge number of travelers looking for accommodations, from all over the world. And it’s not just a short-term rental audience. There is an opportunity to gain exposure to visitors that haven’t really considered short-term rentals.
To give you some frame of reference, if you combined together Airbnb and HomeAway’s visitor numbers, Expedia has almost 10x the number of visitors.
I think the opportunity is so giant that people really shouldn’t be thinking about, “Is Expedia right for me or not?” They should be thinking, “How do I get on Expedia? How do I make Expedia work for me?” Why would you say ‘no’ to more people seeing your listings? Especially when they include hard-to-reach targets like international travelers.
Bauer: What would you set as a performance expectation for property managers getting on Expedia?
McCullough: For a good comparison of results, I would look at your Booking.com results. My experience is that Booking.com and Expedia are pretty neck-and-neck for booking volumes.
Another good reference point is Airbnb. People should expect Expedia to be at least as good as Airbnb in terms of booking volume. My experience is the percentage of people looking for STR on Expedia may be lower, but there are so many visitors that the number of people who are interested in STR is quite high. Even if you’re only found in the 10% of vacation rental-specific searches on Expedia, booking volume can still be several times better than Airbnb.
Bauer: A lot of property managers may view displaying next to big hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott with high brand recognition as a reason NOT to add Expedia. Is this something PMs should be concerned about? How can PMs compete or expect to compete with these massive players?
McCullough: Some travelers on Expedia may start out looking for a hotel because they have a really high level of confidence in staying at the Hilton; they know exactly what they're going to get. And, when it comes to short-term rentals, travelers might not be sure what to expect.
You should make sure that your listings reflect the essential amenities of a hotel, and you can meet the basic expectations of someone who is looking for a hotel (i.e. Wi-Fi). You likely already provide that, but when you're structuring the listing, taking time to call out the items that might make people less worried can go a long way.
The nice thing about Expedia right now is it's a little bit of a blue ocean. They are still trying to figure out how to offer up vacation rentals at scale, so depending on the current iteration of search, your property may show up next to Hilton or another major hotel chain. This is an opportunity for your listings to pop to travelers because, when compared to hotel rooms, short-term rental rates are much more affordable.
Being able to convince travelers that you can provide the essential amenities of a hotel and more will be enough to book their reservation.
JB: You mentioned Booking.com as a channel that yields similar results as Expedia. What other similarities are there, if any, between Booking.com and Expedia?
McCullough: Expedia and Booking.com have been competing with each other, really aggressively for a long time. They absolutely look at what the other is doing. And I think an output of that is they are relatively similar in how they promote or how they interact with guests and their experiences on the back end.
Although there are some important differences, they're fairly similar in that they understand hotels backwards and forwards, and they've been hyper-competitive about that. Some of the things that are required for vacation rentals don't fit quite right into that hotel model. It's been an organizational challenge for them to adjust for this new business model, given that they're super successful with existing business.
The bottom line is, PMs should see this as a giant opportunity. They've got the money, they've got the visitors, they've got the audience, they've got the brand, and they’ve got the reach internationally in all these different markets. All signals point to them having a place in the vacation rental advertising space, it’s just a matter of time.
If you are able to get on these channels now, it will pay huge dividends for your business in the future.
Bauer: What is the best plan of attack for PMs getting on Expedia?
McCullough: My recommendation for property managers is they should come up with a strategy to be on Expedia. It's expensive, and operationally it can be quirky because it was originally built for hotels, but it's a huge opportunity.
A PM should not look at Expedia as an expensive channel that's just going to cost them more money, but as a place where they can design a strategy (or maybe tweak their existing strategy) to meet their objectives, effectively making it worth the additional expense of Expedia.
If you have a wider audience who is considering reserving your rental, then you can gain more attractive bookings. This can come in the form of longer stays, higher prices, or whatever else “more attractive” may be for your property management company. If you keep the number of people exposed to your rental the same, then you won’t be able to attain those better, higher quality bookings.
Property managers should really think about what they might do with their pricing, with their restrictions, with their minimum night stays, with their number of turn days if they had this giant additional audience. And the answer is maybe they can take better stays by including Expedia in the mix.
So I think the short-term strategy should be: can you book your same inventory with longer stays so managers can use availability that otherwise wouldn't get booked? Like who's going to book Tuesday to Thursday? No one is going to do that in most markets. So if you can attract a weekend stay that actually covers more of the week, it incrementally means a lot. It's something like 30% more.
The work is finding what kind of better stay would you want or would you need to make it worth paying 20% to Expedia?
Bauer: MyVR spent a lot of bandwidth and brain power into connecting with Expedia. From MyVR’s point of view, why are you excited about integrating with Expedia?
McCullough: It goes into the strategy or the concept that a property manager should be on as many channels that they can be to drive performance. Why say ‘no’ to additional people seeing your property? Those are additional potential guests.
The challenge is how can they make that happen? How can they make it make sense for themselves and their owners? And MyVR is an enabler to that. Because property managers are already doing the work to make their properties perform as well as they can on Airbnb and HomeAway or wherever it might be.
The incremental effort of adding Expedia is actually not that much given all the work that MyVR is doing to make that connection work.
Our connection is direct. My experience is that there are so many things that can go wrong when you add a third party channel manager in the middle. To take someone's core property data and make it come out as correct as possible on these channels is hard enough to do in one step. If you add another step, especially with property management software without modern, robust APIs, then you lose insight into what's happening, making fine tuning your business across channels far more challenging. There are still challenges, but direct connections are absolutely the most effective way to sync your data into channels correctly. And right now, accuracy is where you should focus. If you can have detailed control of what your data is, what your pricing is, and how your amenities appear on these channels then you are setting yourself up to do well.