Skift managed to get a first look at the beta, or at least one version of it because Expedia likely is playing around with several ways to promote HomeAway’s vacation rentals, interspersed with the 260,000 hotels available on Expedia’s sites.
The first thing that strikes you about this version of the beta is that there is no vacation rentals tab on the Expedia homepage — although that could come later.
From the Expedia.com homepage, I searched for a three-room vacation rental in Seattle April 12-18, and on the search results page a display appeared on top of the hotel search results for an unidentified “Vacation Rental.”
There is information that the vacation rental is rated 4.6 out of 5 and that the rate is “from $142″ per night.
So there’s no name of the vacation rental property and the pricing is vague, for now.
And, in this beta, you can’t actually book the property on Expedia.com.
Instead, users are advised they can “view [the property] directly on HomeAway.”
When you click the link, you navigate to a HomeAway booking page that is co-branded “HomeAway in partnership with Expedia.”
On the above HomeAway page, you finally find out the name of the property, which in this case turns out to be a vacation home on Phinney Ridge in Seattle.
After selecting your dates in the calendar, you then for the first time view the rate, $1,157, including taxes and fees, for the six-night stay.
HomeAway then gives the traveler the option of inquiring by phone or email, or to continue booking. From there the guest can pay by credit card, and submit the booking.
In HomeAway’s fourth quarter earnings call yesterday, CEO Brian Sharples said Expedia and HomeAway are in the very initial stages of the beta, and are testing to see how interested Expedia’s customers are in booking vacation rentals, and whether offering them cannibalizes Expedia’s hotel sales — a long-held fear.
Sharples said only around 12,000 properties on HomeAway’s global sites are capable of distribution at this point through an online travel agency, and HomeAway is taking the rest of 2014 to develop a distribution platform to make a lot more vacation rentals available.
The 12,000 properties constitute only about 1.3% of the 890,000 properties available through HomeAway’s global sites, and that small percentage is a testament to the lack of e-commerce capabilities among HomeAway’s listings, although things are improving.
So Expedia and HomeAway are taking things nice and slow in the beta, and are methodically observing what might become of this partnership.
The beta above likely will bear little resemblance to HomeAway’s vacation rental offering on Expedia.com if — and when — it officially launches in the second half of 2014 or perhaps early 2015.
After all, Expedia.com already offers Wyndham Vacation Rentals in a manner far different from the HomeAway beta: the properties are interspersed among the hotels, identified up-front, nightly rate is shown right away, and the booking is submitted on Expedia.com instead of having to navigate to the Wyndham Vacation Rentals site.
Expedia and HomeAway undoubtedly have plenty of more testing to do.