Last month, Sonder announced its valuation and debut on public markets. The vacation rental industry has been waiting with bated breath to see when this would come to fruition, ever since Airbnb’s IPO made investors sit up and take real notice of short-term rentals.
On the consumer side, shifting traveler behavior has helped short-term rentals continue to surpass other accommodation types as the preferred method of travel. But with this popularity now comes a whole host of opportunities and challenges.
When you boil this down, it all comes back to "quality." This is going to be a major force in the vacation rental industry in 2022, and here we unpack why.
Meeting expectations with quality
Expectations for short-term rental experiences were put to the test amidst the pandemic. Many consumers, who traditionally stayed in hotels, flocked to the privacy, space, and flexibility that vacation rentals offer.
Expectations for hotel and vacation rental experiences coming together is not a new dynamic of course, as consumers were already cross-shopping for both accommodation types, vacation rentals have been emulating the guest-service typically coined by hotels, and hotel brands investing in vacation rental portfolios.
It’s no surprise that Sonder, for instance, has become so popular: it marries the conveniences of a short-term rental space with the standardization and comfort of hotels.
For vacation rentals, premium linens and a seamless booking process are no longer differentiators, but are the baseline of what hosts and operators should be offering.
The attributes that will define quality in 2022 have become instead, cleanliness, extra amenities, enhanced communication and safety. Vacation rentals are more confident in defining their own brand standards and delivering predictable service for a five-star guest experience.
Supply challenges and the impact on quality
The demand for short-term rentals in the U.S. is forecasted to rise 14.1% in 2022, but that the number of available listings is still 9% below 2019 levels.
Laws and regulations can foster quality in the industry, while improved quality from the industry can subside or appease laws and regulations.
Jeremy Gall - Breezeway
It’s likely we’re going to see new inventory come from first-time hosts, fueled by the accessibility to self-manage via OTAs, and the low interest rate environment.
This is validated with what we’re seeing, as smaller operators more quickly understand the importance of automating operations to differentiate the quality of their inventory and the personalized service they can provide.
But what does the rise of the "hobbyist" mean for the guest experience? Does it become more personal or more unpredictable?
I would argue that it’s both.
There are some incredible hosts out there who will put 110% care and attention into creating a unique and welcoming experience for their guests.
Yet, there will be others who list on OTAs that can inevitably fall short of the elevated standards that consumers demand, and which professionals can deliver against.
This unpredictability may be a challenge for OTAs wanting to attract only the best properties to their platforms.
Quality as a marketing tool
OTAs are therefore placing more weight on the quality of their inventory, highlighting quality homes that consumers covet when searching for stays.
The quality service a manager provides, and the tech-enabled back-of-house efficiencies previously discussed, should be marketed in one’s listings in an effort to silence the noise. Marketing service delivery through OTAs will also create a competitive environment that forces industry standards and improves overall quality.
A rising tide lifts all boats.
Technology to help deliver quality
Investment in travel startups is expected to surpass $40 billion in 2022, with record investment in tech solutions that power the short-term rental industry.
There are now a seemingly endless number of tools that can help property owners and managers improve their operations.
The adoption of technology and compilation of an agile tech stack is one of the most optimized ways of providing a quality guest experience and quality back-of-house operations.
According to our survey data, scheduling and assigning property care tasks, along with coordinating work with teams, were the two biggest operating challenges for vacation rental operators last year - yet 57% of them still rely on manual workarounds and generic task management tools like spreadsheets and calendars.
These inefficiencies signal room for improvement. Technology will help optimize and enable quality work and in turn, improve front-of-house experiences. As API connections also become richer between various tools, technology will continue to help lift the industry higher.
Quality as a forcing function
With demand and growth comes ever-increasing regulatory pressure. While the increased exposure of short-term rentals has boosted both supply and demand, it’s also shined a regulatory spotlight more harshly on us - in ways it’s never been on before.
The demand for quality can be a two-way street: laws and regulations can foster quality in the industry, while improved quality from the industry can subside or appease laws and regulations.
The result of more regulatory scrutiny could be a commitment from vacation rental operators towards preventative maintenance and guest safety programs. Of course professional managers and smaller hosts can implement their own quality-focused processes to stay out of the regulatory limelight and continue doing what they do best: providing exceptional guest experiences.
As the vacation rental industry (and in turn the short-term rental industry) continues to grow and progress, quality is a common denominator that every homeowner, host, or professional manager can collectively be working towards.
* Check this interview with Gall, recorded for the How I Got Here podcast in June 2021.
How I Got Here, episode 70 - Jeremy Gall of FlipKey