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It remains to be seen what Booking.com does with its new Villas.com and how heavily it gets promoted, but Booking.com clearly is committed to the vacation rental sector, and will likely make many more moves. HomeAway has to do much more to get its digital act together.
Villas.com, the new Booking.com initiative, offers 146,663 “vacation rentals,” many professionally managed properties, with reviews, photo galleries — and importantly, the ability to book online with instant confirmations.
For some of the properties, the guest doesn’t have to pay up front, but merely reserves the property with a credit card, and pays upon arrival.
It is no coincidence that Booking.com features more than 460,800 hotels and alternative accommodations — including the same 146,663 properties that you’ll find on the new Villas.com.
But a dedicated site for vacation rentals, villas and apartment will create added consumer awareness — and the entire online travel industry, already focused on Booking.com’s spending power, will be looking to see whether Booking.com markets the hell out of Villas.com on Google and elsewhere.
Headaches For HomeAway
To say this is HomeAway’s worst nightmare is not to say that HomeAway management is cowering in a corner, and that they haven’t seen this coming as Booking.com has been pushing in earnest into vacation rentals for the last couple of years.
HomeAway has dozens of vacation rental websites around the world, a penchant for growing through acquisitions, and fields 952,000 listings at the last official count. TripAdvisor, which recently acquired VacationHomeRentals.com, is no slouch, either, with 550,000 rental properties in the fold.
But, consider the digital acumen of the new Villas.com in contrast to HomeAway’s situation.
HomeAway has a fledgling new marketing and distribution agreement with Expedia and it will take months to get it going it going at any scale because only a minority of HomeAway’s 952,000 listings are distribution-capable, officials say.
HomeAway and Expedia are working on the issue, and HomeAway has made progress in making more of its vacation rental listings bookable online, but it has a long way to go.
Digital Conversion is Booking.com’s Strength
In contrast, Booking.com and Villas.com are doing to the vacation rental industry what Booking.com earlier did to hotels and the online travel industry — leaving them in the dust digitally speaking, and likely creating a legion of imitators.
For example, take a look at Residence Villa Daubenton in downtown Paris on Villas.com (and it gets similar treatment on Booking.com).
It is a digital conversion (turning lookers into bookers) wonderland.
In addition to the photo gallery and a “Good 7.7” rating based on 206 user reviews, you’ll see messages flash such as “Most recent booking for this property was yesterday at 16:44 from the United States.”
And another: “There are 5 people looking at this condo now.”
In other words, hurry up, you’d better book it soon or it will be gone.
These sorts of messages, pioneered by Booking.com in the travel industry, have become almost industry standard for online hotel booking, but Booking.com is bringing these skills to vacation rentals, as well.
Lookers are advised: “Last chance! We have 1 apartment left.”
Users are urged to “book now,” and they’ll get an immediate confirmation, with no prepayment requirement for some of these properties. Guests can just put in their credit card and “pay at the property in local currency,” Villas.com states.
Contrast Villas.com/Booking.com’s digital acumen in vacation rentals with some of HomeAway’s listings, where you still have to email or phone the manager or owner, and send checks when there is no online booking capability.
HomeAway has a clear edge in scale — those 952,000 listings — but Booking.com has the digital DNA and massive marketing clout.
It remains to be seen what Booking.com does with Villas.com and how heavily it gets promoted, but Booking.com clearly is committed to the vacation rental sector.