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Booking.com on Tuesday unveiled new tools to enable professional vacation rental managers to vet instant-booking guests and to set policies across all of their listings. It’s the latest signal that the Amsterdam-based lodging site, as well as competitors Airbnb and Expedia’s HomeAway, all are take steps to address their market weaknesses.
In addition to announcing the availability of new tools to improve the professional management of vacation rentals, Olivier Grémillon, vice president of Booking.com’s recently formed Booking Home division, said the company is investing a lot in its short-term rental capabilities in the U.S., and intends to “double down” on its advertising, including on TV, in 2019.
For one such U.S. national TV advertisement, Watersports, which touts Booking.com as a platform for booking any type of lodging, the company has spent more than $42 million since January 30, according to an estimate from TV advertising analytics firm iSpot.tv.
Until this year, and for the prior five, Grémillon managed global strategy and headed Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Airbnb.
Booking.com’s announcement about a new set of tools for professional vacation rental managers highlights how each of the main competitors is tackling the market from different angles, which will eventually lead to a ton of convergence.
For example, Booking.com had its beginnings in the hotel business, added apartment-like properties and inventory from professional vacation rental managers about a decade ago, and now is repurposing tools intended for the hotel industry and developing new ones in-house for vacation rentals. While Booking.com started partnering with professional managers years ago, today it is also making a big drive to add individual property owners, who are a force in the sector.
Meanwhile, rival Airbnb, which in the past few days announced minor tweaks to its own set of offerings for professionally hosted vacation rentals, grew up on urban apartment rentals, and is making a push to add professionally managed properties, including those in resort locations. And HomeAway, which has long partnered with professional managers in resort locations, and has strong traction with individual vacation rental owners, has a goal to get more although it is currently focused on adding its inventory to parent company Expedia Group’s brands.
Among Booking.com’s new tools is a guest management feature that enables professional hosts to establish guest requirements, including verified phone numbers, providing details of their address, and the number of times they stayed with Booking.com partners. “Through this new functionality, partners will now also be able to instantly report guest misconduct and block them from making future bookings in the unlikely event that something goes wrong during a guest’s stay,” the company said.
Grémillon said vacation rental managers on the Booking.com platform want this type of functionality and control because all of the properties on Booking.com are instantly bookable. So there is no time to ponder who will be arriving.
Asked whether these type of controls might be used by unscrupulous hosts for the purposes of racial or gender bias, which is a considerable problem in the vacation rental sector, Grémillon argued that the tools can’t be used that way because Booking.com establishes what the choices are and hosts either add them or don’t.
“That’s a big step in the right direction,” said T.J. Clark, co-founder and CEO of TurnKey Vacation Rentals, a professional vacation rental host, referring to Booking.com’s new guest management tool. “It will be friendly for homeowners whose top concern when they rent is peace of mind about the guests who are coming in and making sure that they aren’t fraudsters.”
Clark noted that Airbnb was “out in front” in guest management when it required guests to provide verified identification, including a driver’s license, for a stay.
Among other tools that Booking.com rolled out is one enabling hosts to take bulk actions, such as establishing cancellation policies or promotions across their listings; standard guest messaging and automated scheduling features; and a tweaked profile feature enabling hosts to indicate why their property is an appealing choice.
Grémillon said all of these tools will be available to vacation rental managers regardless of whether they connect to Booking.com though its extranet, the mobile app Pulse, or third-party technology.
An offline Advantage?
It is interesting that while Booking.com touts its online capabilities such as instant booking, Grémillon views the company’s offline assets, namely its nearly 200 offices around the world, as a competitive advantage in the vacation rental arena. Both Airbnb and HomeAway have far fewer offices, he said.
Grémillon said that vacation rentals in Florida are different from those in New York, and U.S. short-term rentals are different from those in Europe, for example. So channel managers or professional hosts “can pick up the phone to say this doesn’t work for me,” Grémillon said.
Grémillon will soon be able to hand out those phone numbers to partners, if he wants to, because he’s taking the new tools on a roadshow of sorts and plans to conduct events for professional managers in the United States, Spain, Italy, France, and Australia in the next few months.