Expedia VRBO seeks to poach discouraged Airbnb hosts

After months of efforts to downplay the anger of some Airbnb hosts, Expedia Group’s Vrbo unit has admitted opening a dedicated phone line to handle what it calls an “influx” of defectors.

Cyril Ranque, president of Expedia’s travel partner group, said short-term rentals have been a hot market for the past year after the start of the pandemic, and that “many” of guests Airbnb have sought to join the ranks of Vrbo.

When asked to quantify these alleged gains, a spokesperson simply replied that Vrbo had more than two million entire home listings at the end of 2020. She declined to cite how many Airbnb hosts it has. Vrbo signed, but added: A significant influx from March (2020). We have opened a dedicated phone line for Airbnb hosts to reach Vrbo due to this influx.

Expedia Group announced a new host recruitment program on Monday, Quick start, and the spokesperson characterized it as responding specifically to requests from Airbnb hosts joining Vrbo.

Although Expedia Group CEO Peter Kern said in May that his company was not looking to “drive a wedge” between Airbnb and disgruntled hosts, who disagreed with the reimbursement policies of Airbnb to customers at the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, the strategy apparently became more aggressive.

Explicitly, Expedia said the program would be open to “any superhost or host,” including individual owners and those who own multiple properties, who have at least a 4.5 out of 5.0 rating that Expedia selects on d ‘other travel websites, and has earned a minimum of $ 3,000 in vacation rentals over the past year.

The term “superhost” is an Airbnb designation, and its use is further indication that Vrbo is courting Airbnb hosts. Among various criteria, Airbnb superhosts must meet volume requirements, have a rating of 4.8 or higher, and then they are supposed to receive certain incentives.

The Fast Start program offers a high position in the way Vrbo displays its announcements and a “New to Vrbo” badge added for 90 days.

The program, which is currently being rolled out in the United States after a 3-month pilot with 1,600 US-based hosts that began in December, will be introduced globally in the coming months, according to Vrbo. Hosts who participated in the Fast Start pilot saw a 25% increase in average bookings, a 50% increase in nights booked, and a 140% increase in gross value of bookings compared to eligible hosts who did not. not part of the test, Expedia said.

Vrbo’s launch of Fast Start, coupled with Airbnb’s first major global marketing campaign in several years to recruit hosts, shows how the next phase of competition among short-term rental brands will be to entice hosts to relaunch the growth.

Rather than pursuing the pre-pandemic goals of starting a flight business or deepening hotel offerings like other online travel agencies, Airbnb is focusing on recruiting hosts as a growth strategy.

Another major player, Booking.com, also spoke about the need to appeal to more individual hosts, and CEO Glenn Fogel called this a positive sign that many are hiring property managers to professionalize their businesses.

Vrbo is much smaller than Airbnb

True, Vrbo is a fraction of the size of Airbnb, and with its largely American orientation, has little global reach from Airbnb. Expedia Group has other short-term rental brands, such as Stayz in Australia.

Vrbo, which focuses on whole homes in non-urban areas, is also a very different company than Airbnb, which favors apartment listings, many of which are in urban areas.

While the Expedia Group was referring to more than 2 million full home listings at the end of 2020, the impact of the pandemic on Airbnb’s guest list is far from clear.

Although Airbnb lost 5% of its listings from January to June 2020, it now has 5.4 million active listings and has increased its listing by 2.5% from pre-Covid levels, according to AirDNA, a short-term rental analysis firm.

Many hosts promote their short-term rentals on multiple sites, so just because some Airbnb hosts can sign up with Vrbo doesn’t mean they necessarily abandon Airbnb.

As AirDNA points out, Airbnb hosts who might stay away from the pandemic during closures and a travel disruption, or who might switch to more traditional long-term rentals, might relaunch their short-term rentals on Airbnb when the economy will pick up.

More balanced approach?

Ranque of Expedia Group claimed that new Vrbo hosts with a single registration in the nine months of 2020 since the pandemic took off have earned an average of over $ 6,000 per property, which is 50% more revenue than on other travel websites, including Airbnb.

Expedia compared its claim to a Airbnb report that its new hosts have earned around $ 3,900 on average in the nine months since the pandemic began in the United States in March 2020. The comparison is not a comparison between apples and apples, as Vrbo mainly offers houses whole houses, which lean towards higher rates, while Airbnb leans towards apartments, although there are also whole houses.

“We are making the claim ’50 percent more than ‘based on current data available and public to date,” said a spokesperson for Expedia Group.

When asked if Vrbo would run a marketing campaign – such as Airbnb’s multi-million dollar global digital and TV campaign in five countries – to tout Fast Start, Ranque said no. “For us, it’s not so much marketing as it is real facts,” Ranque said.

Ranque did not mention, however, that Vrbo was a major TV advertiser among online travel agencies in the United States in 2021.

“’Airbnb’ is used as a noun and verb in countries around the world, and our brand is already deeply rooted in pop culture,” said Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty. “According to Google Trends, from January 2016 to September 2020, ‘Airbnb’ was searched around the world more often than any other major travel brand.”

Nulty highlighted the marketing benefits of Airbnb, referring to the advertising personality of a sister brand of Vrbo, Hotels.com.

“You don’t have to be Captain Obvious to know that the traditional OTA (online travel agency) model is based on ad arbitrage, while Airbnb doubles organic traffic to our platform. through our global brand, which stands for short circuit. term rentals and word of mouth generated by our host and guest community, ”said Nulty.

Ranque cited Vrbo’s pandemic cancellation policy, which leaned toward vouchers for future travel rather than refunds from Airbnb guests, to say that Expedia is working more cooperatively with regulators in as factors in Vrbo’s alleged incursions.

“A lot of people noticed that we were more friendly, with more balance,” said Ranque.

On the regulatory front, Expedia ran a campaign in June to legalize short-term rentals in San Diego by reaching an agreement with city council and a local hotel union. Airbnb has finally approved the groundwork for the move, although it has advocated for an increase in the number of short-term rentals allowed.

In November 2020, Expedia signed a memorandum with Honolulu to track and regulate short-term rentals, and Airbnb also signed.

However, in recent years, Airbnb has led the way in settling with multiple jurisdictions, such as a settlement it reached with New York City after a long dispute.

Airbnb and Expedia / Vrbo have cooperated in several regulatory disputes globally, and in some jurisdictions, where Vrbo does not have a strong presence, Airbnb has taken the lead.

Devastated by the absence of travelers at the start of the pandemic, hosts may find it ironic that suddenly the world’s largest travel companies are seriously courting them.

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