I-PRAC: Is it time we embraced uncertainty in the STR industry?

[SPONSORED CONTENT] Global verification and membership platform, I-PRAC, states the case for embracing uncertainty in the short-term rental industry and discusses the launch of its first STR Fraud Awareness Week next month.

While the latest trends in tech, marketing and guest communication inhabit large corners of the internet, there is a severe decline in the number of short-term rental hosts who understand that the industry is still largely untrusted.

The team at I-PRAC are once again unmasking this growing concern, and this time, with a groundbreaking, industry-first awareness week.

A recently updated article from Hotel Tech Report states that a whopping 79 per cent of people prefer traditional hotels over short-term rental accommodation. The same article continues to quote that: “More than 50 per cent of people do not use Airbnb due to safety, privacy, or legality. From shifting local laws to hidden cameras and uneven safety features, Airbnbs are not all created equally.”

Lack of trust continues to be the biggest reason for travellers who choose to book with hotels, over rental accommodation. More often than not, even budget hotel brands offer a level of consistency that the short-term rental industry fails to deliver on. This indeed poses the question – is it high time we remove our rose-tinted glasses?

The answer? Well, that would be a confident yes.

And although some argue that this seems counter-intuitive, the first step in eliminating uncertainty in the short-term rental industry is embracing the fact that it exists.

When the fear of fraud is greater than the desire to book with a short-term rental host

There’s a rising increase in the volume of support and resources available for STR businesses that wish to generate more direct bookings.

However, many of these book direct strategies skip the first [and most crucial] part of the guest experience. That being earning the guests’ trust. Because, whether we admit it or not, the short-term rental landscape is still rife with fraudulent activity.

In the UK alone, almost 280,000 rental properties – with a combined market value of £82.7 billion – are thought to be occupied by fraudsters, according to research analysis from Ocasa.

Source: Ocasa

To paint an even clearer picture, reports from Travel Weekly state that around one million travellers per year are expected to fall victim to Airbnb scams – where fraudsters can easily list non-existent properties and lure innocent people out of thousands of pounds.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t just end with the larger OTAs [online travel agencies] such as Airbnb and Vrbo. Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their scams, often investing the time and money to create dishonest websites with stolen images of properties – and even going as far as sending a seemingly ‘trustworthy’ string of direct emails, until an unsuspecting traveller has parted with their money.

The growing accessibility of AI tools such as ChatGPT don’t help with this either – enabling more and more con-artists to create convincing copy and content – that may even be crammed with the right keywords, so the algorithms support their crime.

It’s vital to point out that today’s travellers are no longer ignorant to this issue – as a quick Google search will expose the short-term rental industry’s vulnerability to fraud, lack of consistent regulation[s], and trust. Simply type the words ‘short-term rental fraud’ into your online search engine and a plethora of frightening stories will populate your mobile phone screen.

So, with all the above in mind, do we still believe that the industry is doing enough to educate hosts and travellers about the dangers of fraud, as well as how to eliminate the problem entirely?

Will a prolonged failure to do this ultimately decimate the credibility of our thriving landscape? It certainly seems more than likely.

Introducing Short-Term Rental Fraud Awareness Week – an I-PRAC Initiative

While fraud remains a growing concern in the short-term rental industry, there are an immense number of legitimate operators that offer remarkable experiences and hospitality for guests worldwide.

Short-term rentals have the potential to override the traditional hotel scene – particularly now as they’re more suited to WFH [working from home], hybrid working and travelling nomad culture [as favoured by many millennial and Gen Z travellers]. However, in order for this industry to truly thrive, it’s vital that the damage caused by fraudsters is reversed, and this is very much a ‘long game’.

The only global verification and accreditation platform that certifies legitimate short-term rental agencies and property owners, I-PRAC has been educating guests [and the industry] about STR fraud since its inception in 2016.

The company was founded by Chris Maughan, who was approached for help by a family of four in Cannes after they had been left stranded and conned out of £15,000 for a short-term rental property that didn’t exist.

Over the years, I-PRAC has led many initiatives to support the industry, including the globally successful Covid support scheme in 2021, when Maughan invested £1 million back into the STR industry in a bid to help more legitimate operators.

Now, with yet another goal to revive trust and certainty in the global short-term rental landscape, I-PRAC is launching a groundbreaking week, dedicated to education around STR fraud, and how to best protect the industry and innocent travellers.

This never-been-done-before initiative will include a week’s worth of webinars featuring short-term rental leaders, podcast interviews, community discussions and thoughtfully curated content, packed with value and tangible advice.

Industry leaders and the biggest brand names will be invited to take part in I-PRAC’s Short-Term Rental Fraud Awareness Week to create a real sense of support and camaraderie that will have a positive, long-term ripple affect.

Maughan, who is a keen ambassador of the STR industry and trust marketing, said: “This is a collaborative and genuinely helpful initiative that’ll protect the short-term rental industry from fraudsters, and ultimately enable its long-term growth. There’s an enormous amount of potential when it comes to STRs, as I’ve proved first-hand with my own successful short-term rental agency in Cannes [AES Events and Accommodation].

“However, authentic education is a must. STR Fraud Awareness Week will bring together the industry’s best leaders in a series of engaging and sophisticated ways and be of immense value to legitimate operators, as well as travellers who deserve peace of mind and certainty every time they book rental accommodation. It’s high time that we grant our industry the long-term credibility that it so desperately needs,” he added.

The wheels have already been put in motion for I-PRAC’s Short Term Rental Fraud Awareness Week, which is set to officially launch in September 2024. The team are busy pulling in world-class industry leaders into this initiative in a bid to ensure that the content and education offered is second-to-none.

If you’re interested in getting involved in the STR landscape’s first Rental Fraud Awareness Week with I-PRAC and would like to help drive the credible growth of this industry, you are invited to contact founder Chris Maughan at chris@i-prac.com.