The pandemic changed the face of the vacation rental industry in countless ways. As travel was turned upside down, guest expectations and booking behaviours changed radically.
In response to these changes, tech companies abandoned their plans and built new products and features with lightning speed to help property managers soften the blow.
Furthermore, numerous tech startups were born, bringing never-seen-before solutions to the market that would help businesses survive in and beyond these difficult times.
Today, we celebrate the innovators who helped our industry survive with their fast reactions and tireless efforts.
In preparation for this article, we shared a LinkedIn post asking tech companies how they pivoted and what new features they built. Here’s what they said!
New features and products built by vacation rental tech companies in response to the pandemic
Distribution was one of the main areas where changed travellers behaviours required instant action from vacation rental tech companies. And the first problem to tackle was the abrupt change in length of stay.
Before 2020, most leading vacation rental websites were focused on short-term bookings. Bookings for more than 30 days were considered a rarity. But when the pandemic hit, people started to flee big cities and book vacation rentals for several weeks to wait out lockdowns.
Channels – and channel managers – had to react quickly and make changes to their systems to offer more inventory for mid and long-term bookings. The Rentals United channel manager was at the forefront of these changes.
“For example, Airbnb and Vrbo released new versions of their LOS pricing APIs and Rentals United clients were among the first in the world to take advantage,” said Michal Wlodarski, Head of Product at Rentals United.
According to Michal, another crucial step was reviewing the readiness of properties to accommodate guests during the pandemic as people started to look for ways to avoid direct contact with others.
“Channels came out with a wide range of amenities such as contactless check-in/check-out or sanitisation while cleaning and included them in the filters travellers use to narrow their search when booking,” he said. “Again, Rentals United offered our clients to select these amenities and update their listings within days of the release.”
Different software companies chose different ways to adapt to the changed circumstances. For example, Hospiria decided to focus on availability management.
“We built a smarter availability search that combined location, availability, price, amenities and other features into a match score, so a reservations team can tailor a shortlist to the precise preferences of a guest,” said Richard Bridger, COO at UnderTheDoormat and Hospiria.
“We then linked that with a more refined availability calendar for owners where owners can let us know when they were ‘open to enquiries’, not just 100% open or closed,” he added.
As a result, “property managers could do a better job at placing long enquiries by seeing which owners would open up availability, without the team having to memorise the portfolio or miss out on a booking just because a couple of nights were taken.”
As we all know, implementing enhanced hygiene and safety measures at vacation rentals became unequivocally important during the pandemic. Consequently, the demand for new tools that would simplify cleaning management skyrocketed.
To respond to this need, YourWelcome created an integrated property care and messaging platform.
“We developed PropertyCare.com powered by YourWelcome to ensure our clients can manage every aspect of the guest journey from multi-channel communication to housekeeping/maintenance management in a single place regardless of what PMS they are using,” said Jason Smolarek, Head Of Sales at YourWelcome and PropertyCare.com.
The new platform has a multitude of functions, allowing property managers to schedule cleanings, automate tasks, track inventory, send automated messages to guests, automate pre-arrival check-in and ID verification and more.
Similarly to enhanced cleaning, contactless check-in evolved from a nice-to-have to an absolute must. Smart locks, lockboxes and other similar solutions became the norm, with thousands of property managers adopting them to avoid in-person check-ins. As a result, companies like KeyNest were able to expand their services rapidly.
“We launched 3,000 new automated lockers, installed across 500+ city centres in Spain, France, Germany and Italy that VR managers can use to store their keys and thus offer their guests completely contactless check-in. Super easy to use, mostly 24/7 and all bookable at keynest.com in 2 clicks,” said Marc Figueras, Co-Founder at KeyNest.
PMS providers were also compelled to get on board with contactless check-in and build their own solutions for it. This is exactly what the team behind SIBO, an all-in-one rental management platform by Sweet Inn did.
“During the pandemic, we have launched a very important milestone for SIBO and a game-changer in the operations of our property manager customers: online check-in,” said Michael Lancry, Head Of Business Development and Partnerships at Sweet Inn.
SIBO’s online check-in feature allows property managers to scan and verify IDs, collect deposits, grant property access, confirm ETA and guest details and communicate with guests all 100% online through a guest mobile app.
It’s safe to say that the pandemic has turned vacation rental revenue management on its head. KPIs connected to historical data became much less useful, if not irrelevant. Companies providing revenue management services and technology were forced to come up with new tools that would help property managers price better in this new, unpredictable world.
One of the leading dynamic pricing companies in the sector, PriceLabs launched two new features. Market Dashboards, according to Anurag Verma, Co-Founder at PriceLabs, are “for anyone to keep better tabs on evolving trends in their markets at a hyper-local level and answer questions like “Am I the only one getting super last minute bookings?” or “Are others in my market also seeing longer bookings in general?” to “Did I get lucky last week or is the market beginning to see a lot more booking activity?”
Additionally, the PriceLabs Portfolio Analytics tool helps “customers to keep tabs on how their portfolio is performing at a broader level against past years, against the market, etc, but also to help identify trends at a property level that might be harder to spot otherwise,” said Anurag.
Moreover, the boutique consulting firm AJL Atelier has also built a tool to support property managers in their revenue decisions.
“We have developed the most comprehensive profitability algorithm that allows you to track profitability on a booking and unit level. We are revolutionising the way we look at the vacation rental business,” said Simon Lehmann, CEO and Co-Founder at AJL Atelier.
“We can integrate revenue and cost management to analyse different levels of profitability, unitary, and portfolio level. We have introduced in our industry KPIs such as unit variable cost vs ADR, break-even point, unit booking cost, % of achievement of profit. Moreover, we classify and differentiate the cost structure to help property managers to take the best strategic decisions when the season starts,” added Ezio Albanese, Profitability Solutions Architect at AJL Atelier.
Last but not least, Rentals United’s revenue management tool RU Data Studio was born out of an effort to help property managers get more bookings and increase their profits by combining revenue management and distribution data.
“The goal was to build a tool during these challenging times that helps property managers gain back valuable time by focusing on what matters to strengthen their business,” said Doug Truitt, Head of Revenue Success at Rental United.
RU Data Studio reports allow property managers to measure performance on a market, property and channel level; increase the speed of revenue actions on each channel; and boost reporting efficiency.
Vacation rental tech startups born during the pandemic
Not only did the pandemic force existing software companies to rethink their product offering and come up with reactive features, but it also encouraged the birth of several fledgling startups.
Here are just a few of the new companies that are furthering innovation in the vacation rental industry:
Property management systems
There’s no shortage of new vacation rental software solutions on the market, one of them being Mr Alfred.
As CEO and Founder Oriol Plana Masiques told us, Mr Alfred is “an operating system for traditional vacation rentals, combining a suite of digital products and world-class expertise to empower operators to simplify and grow their businesses.”
It includes features such as marketing and distribution, price optimisation, operations management, reporting, and more.
Revenue management platforms
If you’re subscribed to the VRTECH newsletter, you will have heard about Turbosuite, the new kid on the block in revenue management.
According to Founder and CEO Manuel Martín Florido, the Turbosuite Revenue Management System “boosts revenue by 37.6%, Average Daily Rate (ADR) by 14.3% and also improves the ranking and visibility for our clients.”
Manuel claims that their value proposition is different because they use 100 times more data than their competitors, collected not only from Airbnb but also from Booking.com.
“We use a 360º integral service, applying pricing strategies with different rates according to the market segmentation. While our competitors only publish one price per day, we publish 60 different prices depending on the type of client we are looking for,” Manuel said.
Finally, the past year saw the birth of a new direct booking and marketing engine called LODGEA.
“We liberalize marketing and booking of accommodations by providing a solution to directly market accommodations using integrated marketing automation,” said Ricarda Kies, CEO and Co-Founder at LODGEA GmbH.
The platform lets you automate and integrate all your marketing efforts, from social media to SEO and Google Ads.
New developments in blockchain for vacation rentals
Before we wrap up the article, there’s a growing trend we need to talk about: blockchain.
Several companies have started using some form of this revolutionary decentralised technology to add value to the vacation rental industry. For example, EzyStayz is “soon to launch Game Mechanics on our platform so users can play and win travel credits,” said Chief Innovation Officer Vipin Mahasayan.
And there’s Fairbnb.coop, a company that’s been fighting to ensure sustainability and fairness in the vacation rental industry for years.
According to Co-Founder Emanuele Dal Carlo, the latest addition to their platform is “a blockchain certification management system designed to guarantee the positive relief impact of the tourism products and services offered through Fairbnb.coop and hopefully other platforms in the host communities.”
In light of the pandemic, focusing on sustainability in travel and tourism has become more important than ever. As a result, innovation in this field is essential.
Once it’s released, Fairbnb.coop’s certification system will work with smart contracts to “ensure legal compliance, local communities approval and sustainable practices for every listing,” Emanuele said. “It will be Open Source and available for all platforms in order to spread lawfulness and sustainability,” he added.
If you’re intrigued, you can learn more about blockchain and vacation rentals on the Rentals United blog.
If you work at a tech company, what new solutions have you developed in the past year? And if you’re a property manager, what life-saving new features have you been using? Share this article on LinkedIn, tag us at VRTECH events and let us know!