TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring UK-based IAVRA, a technology platform for agents in the vacation rental marketplace.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
We are IAVRA, the International Association of Villa Rental Agents, a business-to-business service created by professionals with backgrounds in marketing, banking, and travel.
We are a password-protected, subscribers-only platform which connects client agents with villa agents in order to make the process of renting holiday properties more reliable and efficient. Other features include branded brochures, an advanced search feature, and a guaranteed commission for agents- a technological answer to current problems within the villa rental industry.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
IAVRA is funded by a private investment company with extensive experience within the international real estate market.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Renting a villa can be a huge hassle for both client agents and villa agents. Travel agents must trawl the web for suitable properties by visiting a multitude of individual villa websites, re-inputting the same information about date, location and price range each time.
When presenting properties to clients, they have to make their own informational brochures, a time-consuming and laborious process. Even after a successful villa rental, travel agents must sometimes haggle with villa agents for their commission.
Villa agents provide information to everyone who makes an inquiry, serious or otherwise, wasting time with questions which do not always lead to rentals. Small villa agencies often suffer from a lack of exposure, dependent on the individual efforts of the agents to market the villas.
Consumers must be wary of large websites which provide direct listings by owner, as hundreds of holidaymakers have lost thousands of pounds after being scammed by fraudulent villa listings. These sites are often nothing more than listing boards, with no guarantee of quality or even ownership.
There is a definite need for higher standards and greater cooperation within the holiday rental industry, in order to benefit client agents, villa agents, and end consumers. The IAVRA website is an invaluable tool for both client agents and villa agents to amplify their networks and increase transactions.
Describe the business, core products and services?
IAVRA is a closed platform for client agents and villa agents to connect. Travel agents get direct access to a password-protected database of villas from all over the world, enabling them to search listings from multiple villa companies all in one go.
Features include professional, branded brochures for travel agents to send to clients, as well as an advanced search feature which allows them to find properties much faster, sorting listings by price, location, and amenities, including swimming pools, gyms, tennis courts, and even helipads.
These two features alone save a lot of time for agents, but other services include a guaranteed 10% commission for client agents, as well as the assurance of dealing only with villa agents that have been personally vetted by IAVRA in order to ensure quality and direct contact with the owner.
IAVRA allows travel agents to expand the portfolio of villas they can then market to their clients, and exposes a villa agent’s properties to a much larger audience of potential renters, increasing business for both parties.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
We have over fifty villa agencies who are IAVRA subscribers, representing almost 2,000 properties in 39 countries which include some that have been featured in Conde Nast "Best" lists.
We are currently in the process of signing on more travel agents to our site, and we’ve had an encouraging response, with London-based travel company Black Tomato already a member. IAVRA is only for businesses, signing on travel agents and villa agents.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
IAVRA was born out of personal knowledge of the difficulties encountered in booking villas for clients from our previous experiences as client agents. Conversations with other travel agents about the difficulties in booking villas and the need for a one stop platform further validated the IAVRA concept.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
IAVRA's business objective is to make it easier to rent holiday properties around the world for villa rental professionals, using a one stop platform and vital time saving tools.
The revenue is subscription based, and IAVRA does not get involved in the transaction between agents in order to minimize the number of middle men, though it does guarantee a 10% commission for agents.
The time saved by agents using IAVRA is significant, and a free trial is available for them to use the platform in order to appreciate its utility. Marketing is of the utmost importance, as profitability depends on the subscriber base. Word of mouth and personal recommendations will become more important as agents realize how useful the platform is.
We hope to build a community of like-minded professionals wanting to conduct business, which requires a constant marketing drive.
We will be attending trade fairs such as World Travel Market and the International Luxury Travel Market in order to present our concept, make contacts, and sign on new companies as subscribers. Our other marketing efforts extend to social and print media, as we are active on Twitter, Facebook, and a blog.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- IAVRA’s powerful, time-saving tools, guaranteed commission, global range of properties and fast-growing database of contacts are all strong arguments for agents to sign on. The branded brochures and comparison charts allow an agent to quickly respond to client requests for villa rentals in a matter of minutes, whereas without IAVRA it could take hours to search various websites for suitable properties. IAVRA brings together the best villa companies, giving travel agents an unprecedented selection of listings soley from reliable agents with direct owner contact.
- Difficulties of B2B marketing. Because IAVRA is for travel professionals only, it faces the same challenges of business-to-business marketing that other b2b startups have. Existing contacts in the travel industry, social media, and trade fairs are important tools for lead generation when signing on clients.
- There is a real need for something like IAVRA in the current holiday rental market, and most travel agents would greatly benefit from a way to boost their online productivity.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- Though most business is done online, some new web technologies are slow to catch on within the travel industry. However, the IAVRA website is extremely user-friendly, and there is no complicated software to learn, making it an easy tool to integrate within a company’s existing business operations.
We've only received good feedback about the idea which has been very encouraging, but clearly no product is for everyone, and IAVRA is not the right avenue for some travel agents or villa agents.
We've made some changes to try and capture some more of the potential market, but we aren't trying to sign on every villa agent and travel agent out there, and so have pushed ahead with our core goal and objectives.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
Our success will be based on the number of paid subscribers as well as the number of successful bookings facilitated by IAVRA.
Customer feedback is also extremely important to us, as our primary objective is to make doing business easier and more efficient for client agents and villa agents.
We hope to add a number of additional features to the site as time goes on in order to continue to increase revenue and generate business for our subscribers.
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NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.