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The technology and commercial deals are falling into place to accelerate the professionalization of online vacation rental marketing.
The latest proof is that RedAwning, a vacation rental network and a marketing service, has acquired Leavetown Vacations, a company that has helped property owners market their multi-unit rentals to consumers.
The companies kept terms for the all-cash deal quiet. Leavetown, founded in Canada in 2008 and with about 25 employees, had raised a Series A investment of an undisclosed amount from venture firm 7 Gate last fall.
RedAwning, which will have about 250 employees after the deal, builds websites for properties and markets them under its RedAwning brand on consumer booking platforms, such as Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, HomeAway, VRBO, and TripAdvisor’s Flipkey. It will add Leavetown’s inventory to its network.
The Key to the Deal
Of note, the Vancouver-based Leavetown had built technological interfaces meant to appeal to the overseers of multi-unit properties.
In contrast, Emeryville, California-based RedAwning has primarily focused on serving traditional vacation rentals, such as standalone houses.
RedAwning aims to integrate its digital marketing services with Leavetown’s tools that sync up with the back-end software services used by many North American multi-unit property owners. These services include Sabre Hospitality’s SynXis, Amadeus Hospitality’s TravelClick, Availpro, and Yieldplanet.
Broader Industry Tech Merge
The two approaches of RedAwning and Leavetown highlight a larger lesson about a faultline in how different software vendors have built diverse systems for various types of properties when it comes to marketing and distributing lodging.
It remains an open question whether the products are similar enough that the back-end technology will merge over time.
One central difference between the category of tools can be summed up by representation-level connectivity, used by typical hotels, and key-level connectivity, used by classic vacation rentals.
A hotel may use connectivity tools built for the representation level when it has, say, 20 rooms that are generically interchangeable. It may only need to advertise a generic room type, such as a two-bedroom with a queen bed. Online travel agencies and price-comparison sites typically use this generic, or representation-level, model for displaying content.
A rental owner may use connectivity tools built for the key level, instead, when he or she wants to market a specific property with a single main key. This is often the best way to use a channel like Airbnb that has up until now mostly promoted listings for individual units. Already, Airbnb is eager to host boutique hotel properties on its site, for instance, but not all hotels have the connectivity to display rooms at the key level.
Whether software is ideally meant for key-level or rep-level affects everything from the fields for entering data in the software to how the APIs (application programming interfaces), or way of exchanging data, work.
Technology issues get blurred when the owner of an aparthotel, condo building, corporate housing, or multi-unit resort needs to market and distribute a property differently and doesn’t want to have to duplicate its content or workflows. Until now, companies have had to, for example, use RedAwning and Leavetown separately to market and distribute rooms because of the connectivity differences of key-level and rep-level.
Consider The Austria Haus Hotel in Vail, Colorado. It has multi-unit inventory, such as several two-bedroom units, that it can market generically at the rep-level. It uses the Sabre SynXis booking engine, and then connects to Leavetown to market its properties on Leavetown, which in turn can onward distribute each unit through Airbnb.
As noted, most online travel agencies use a rep-level format. Yet in the future, vacation rentals and hotels that want to set aside some rooms for specific selection will gravitate toward key-level marketing.
“We believe the overall industry trend is that guests will increasingly want the option to book specific rooms, regardless where the lodging falls on the spectrum between hotels and rentals,” RedAwning CEO Tim Choate said.
RedAwning’s absorption of Leavetown will take place in two phases that mirror changes the larger industry will have to undertake to overcome various other technical and commercial challenges.
RedAwning will connect Leavetown’s users to its distribution channels in the next two months. Any owner of a multi-unit property using TravelClick, for example, to manage which channels their rooms are distributed in via Leavetown will soon be able to appear as part of RedAwning’s network.
The next phase will go other the way. RedAwning has a few multi-unit inventory players and will enable them to take advantage of Leavetown’s connectivity for distributing multi-unit content on Airbnb.
RedAwning is not interested in also marketing and distributing classic hotel rooms, such as the generic rooms at a center city Marriott or Accor.
However, the definition of multi-unit will increasingly blur for the entire industry. For instance, what will happen when the owner of corporate housing who usually sold his or her room by month-long contracts wants to also sell by the night and by specific unit?
RedAwning has been in the news a lot since its $40 million Series A funding round in early 2017.
Last spring Vacation Rentals by Choice Hotels entered a partnership with RedAwning, as we reported. Choice Hotels’s website is becoming a place where which property managers who use RedAwning can advertise their rentals to consumers, who can use points or cash in the Choice Privileges loyalty program to book RedAwning-branded properties.
Early next year, Google’s project with RedAwning will make it easier for managers of vacation rentals to buy AdWords. Managers can use the ads to drive more traffic to their own websites.