Convergence and connectivity: James Burrows, Rentals United

STRz talks to James Burrows, COO and co-founder of Rentals United, about converging distribution channels for serviced apartments and vacation rental units.

• What is Rentals United and what can it bring to the serviced apartment world?

“Rentals United is a cloud-based service for short-term rental professionals to manage and expand their connectivity effectively across many listing sites. At its heart, Rentals United is a channel manager with a simple and straightforward user-interface, offering connections to leading yield managers, payment providers and operational tools. Our worldwide clients range from small property owners, to medium-size and large ‘hotel 2.0’ property managers.”

“We’ve developed our platform to also include serviced apartments enabling us to distribute this inventory across both hotel channels and vacation rental channels. Our two way connections allows us to connect and put your units live on Airbnb and HomeAway giving you access to a new type of clientele. We have over 70 channels that we connect to with a mix of hotel and vacation rental sites. We can now distribute your product across all of them which is something that hotel channel managers are not able to do today. We also hold and push static content so no more manual uploading to either OTAs or Vr sites.”

• Why are VR channels good for multi-units?

“The clients of these channels are looking for apartment-type product so you don’t get the traveller who thinks they’re booking a hotel when they’re booking your apartment. So it’s qualified traffic. Longer period and higher value bookings that are pre-paid. And as a result of being pre-paid, you get fewer cancellations.”

• Who do you work with today?

“We work with StayAlfred, Miami Design Suites, a very large serviced apartment provider in the UK that I can’t mention, and some smaller suppliers in both North America and Europe. It’s a growth area for us so we’re adding new functionalities to the platform with the feedback of those providers. We’re also connecting to more PMS systems that focus on serviced apartments. We already have connections with Elina, Res-Harmonics and Guestline. Our focus is to help serviced apartment providers upload and distribute easily across a whole host of channels in a similar way to how we’ve been helping vacation rental professionals for a number of years.”

• What do you think will be your biggest challenges in the future?

“Our challenge has been, from day one, to educate not only property managers about best distribution practices but also OTAs on accepting vacation rental products. While the work we put in on both sides is showing good results, we still see that a lot of education has to be done. Now that the vacation rental channels are opening themselves out to bring in serviced apartments, we’ve already started to work closely with these channels to ensure serviced apartments are best represented as a product range. It will be a real pleasure to work with professionals from the serviced apartment and hotel industry as they understand the complexities of distribution much better.”

• What’s the outlook for vacation rentals and serviced apartments?

“I think the outlook is very positive for both markets. Consumer attitudes for both sectors are changing rapidly. Whilst regulation has rightly been implemented in many urban locations, the vacation rental sector is still growing faster than predicted. Regulations are viewed as a good thing and will only serve to increase product quality and in the end improving the overall consumer experience. Whilst the serviced apartment sector is still dominated by corporate travel, we’re seeing strong growth in demand from the leisure sector. Channels who traditionally focused on other types of product are now looking at the serviced apartment industry with great interest. We believe there will be a big shift in consumer demand over the following 12 months for both types of product.”

• We’ve seen convergence in vacation rentals and serviced apartments, and Airbnb moving into the OTA distribution space recently – broadly, what do you think will be the next ‘game changer’?

• We believe the next big thing will be automation and how property managers can automate the whole customer journey from before they book to when they leave the property. There are so many additional services and products available now that the market is craving for a more streamlined method of using these services. It will start with closer collaboration through connectivity from different types of accommodation and service companies out there. We are already seeing partnerships between hotel companies and vacation rental companies already but we believe this will get deeper as we look to share skills and resources.”