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Vrbo President Jeff Hurst is blunt when it comes to the lodging realities of travel this summer: book early or have a Plan B in case things are full.
Despite an increase in listings in key markets, the full-home rental site does not aim to have enough offerings to meet all of the demand in key markets, like Breckenridge, Colo., or the South of France, said Hurst at the Skift Short-Term Rental and Outdoor Summit on Wednesday.
“You can’t solve for there’s not enough homes in the Outer Banks [of North Carolina] for all the people who want to go to the Outer Banks this summer,” he said. “Some people are going to have to not go to the Outer Banks this summer.”
This is similar the the forecasts from airlines to car rental companies. Americans are eager to get away this summer after many stayed stayed close to home for over a year. Leisure bookings are at or near 2019 levels at some of the largest U.S. carriers, including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, though concerns remain about the travel experience at airports. And car rental companies, many of whom sold some of their fleets during the depths of the crisis, are facing shortages across the country.
But these issues may have little impact on Vrbo. The company focuses on what Hurst called “complex family travel” that, in many places, can mean people who drive rather than fly to their vacation.
That focus has served Vrbo well during the pandemic. Many travelers eschewed their normal summer jaunts to Europe or Asia in favor of trips closer to home, like a New Yorker driving to the Outer Banks rather than flying to Greece. And even as international travel begins to reopen this summer — the EU confirmed plans to let in vaccinated Americans on the same day as the summit — most think that many travelers will take domestic or near international trips rather than flying across the pond.
“We’re trying to solve … [for] drive to destinations where families need us,” said Hurst, citing Vrbo’s share gain in some of those nearby vacation destinations. These destinations are also markets where the rental site is focused on adding listings, rather than in the urban areas where Airbnb excels.
And Vrbo appears to have an edge. Recent data from AirDNA showed Vrbo listings jumping 21 percent from January through April, whereas Airbnb listings rose just 1.1 percent during the same period. However, the latter remained well ahead of the former with 7.1 million global listings compared to 1.9 million, respectively.
Vrbo’s smaller size and destination focus may also be helping it avoid some of the controversies surrounding Airbnb. The latter has found itself facing increased user complaints about cleaning fees, which hosts set. It has also born the brunt of a backlash in some urban markets where opponents argue that short-term rentals take housing units away from locals, and pushes them out of city centers.
On both these controversies, Hurst said Vrbo has mostly skirted the issue. It offers travelers more transparency on cleaning fees — though not taxes — during the search process. And, its focus in holiday destinations, has allowed it to avoid much of the backlash against short-term rentals in large cities.
Vrbo aims to continue to build on the trends it has seen during the pandemic. Namely, continuing to add listings in key destinations and becoming the site for, as Hurst put it, complex family vacations.