short term
Airbnb's Jay Carney in conversation with Skift CEO Rafat Ali

A new era for STRs: Skift Short Term Rental Summit 2024

US: STRz attended the annual Skift Short Term Rental Summit in New York City, gathering high-profile and compelling leaders from across the industry to discuss the pressing topics for the future of the sector.

But what were the key themes that were discussed? And what questions were addressed and which ones remain? Find out below in this insights article:

The day began with Skift head of research Seth Borko highlighting the principal issues and challenges in the short-term rental sector and whether we are seeing an overall shift in consumer sentiment one way or another. Based on the company’s research, it was revealed that junk fees represented the dominant determining factor on booking decisions, followed by pricing inconsistencies, rules and regulations, cleaning fees and noise disturbances.

In contrast, the factors most influencing the ‘wow’ experience ranged from pricing to destination, amenities, the uniqueness of the accommodation, personalisation, and finally the interactions with a host.

  • Carl Shepherd on pricing, OTAs, VRMA

 

After that introduction, Carl Shepherd, renowned for his outspoken and honest opinions on the state of the short-term rental industry, was the first executive to be grilled in a fireside chat. The co-founder of HomeAway and former board member of Edge Retreats and TurnKey Vacation Rentals [pre-Vacasa] was quizzed on a number of those issues and challenges as well as his own booking choices.

Shepherd began by exploring how pricing had been influenced by the end of the pandemic and the return of travel, with destinations themselves having an impact on pricing and price parity in urban locations with hotels being an important factor in travellers’ decisions to book short-term rentals.

Comparing to when he started at HomeAway, he explained that the range of different payments and prices, as well as the “radically different” mix of inventory, had left to a shift in the industry away from solely individual hosts and owners to more professional property managers. In particular, he cited Airbnb – and its PR – as catering to professional property managers and ‘Superhosts’ rather than individual hosts – a factor which had led to him quitting using online travel agencies [OTAs] for future bookings and instead booking direct.

Following recent layoffs at a number of branded professional property management companies including Evolve, Sonder and Vacasa, Shepherd called “scale” the enemy of most property managers, having significantly increased their team sizes and portfolios during Covid to grow their revenues and fulfil high demand.

The Vacation Rental Management Association [VRMA] in the United States also came in for criticism from the HomeAway co-founder, who claimed that the organisation had “failed miserably” to influence regulations”, before adding that the sector needed more vocal lobbying to drive forward and push for fairer regulations.

  • ‘Navigating regulatory environments’ with Matt Curtis [Smart City Policy Group] and The Honourable Daniel J. Rickenmann [Mayor, Columbia, South Carolina, USA]

 

In an ever-changing regulatory landscape, not just in the United States but across the world, Matt Curtis and the Honourable Daniel J. Rickenmann dispelled some of the “myths” around short-term rentals and explained how city regulators and the industry can collaborate to create more affordable housing solutions.

Both speakers agreed that communities had been fed false narratives around property managers and large investment firms taking swathes of listings off the market, which had instilled a sense of fear, anxiety and tension and led to neighbourhood disputes as a result. Instead, they agreed that the greater issue in play was around creating more building density – building more housing and different types of affordable housing within walkable distances – and communities were “wasting time arguing when they should be creating more affordable solutions”.

Curtis quoted Local Law 18 in New York City as a regulatory example that had not worked, due to the “significant” cost in enforcing regulations and “spending to control a black market that they created themselves”, as well as the creation of a “terrible” experience for guests, all of which would ensure that the city misses out on economic activity [e.g. through taxes]. Rickenmann concurred, adding that people would simply choose to go and live in other cities that are only a short drive away, and only the market enforcing heavily restrictive legislation would suffer.

Moving forward, Rickenmann urged regulators to “use data not emotion” when deciding on proportionate regulation, in order to dispel the “falsehoods” of widespread party houses and neighbourhood attacks. Continuing along the same lines of thinking, Curtis indicated that the conversation and dynamic around regulations would change but “level out”, thus leading eventually to more productive conversations around creating affordable housing solutions.

  • Jennifer Hsieh on loyalty, generative AI and new categories at Homes & Villas by Marriott Bonvoy [HVMB]

 

Since launching its initial pilot five to six years ago, Homes & Villas by Marriott Bonvoy has been on an upward trajectory according to vice president Jennifer Hsieh, who said that its growth had been fuelled in a significant uptick in international business [38 per cent of its business is Americans travelling abroad for their HVMB stays]. In the space of one year, Hsieh also revealed that HVMB had seen “double digit growth” in the number of listings, from 115,000 in 2023 to almost 160,000 in 2024 – something which she attributed to “providing a great set of standards, a great guest experience, and thinking strategically about Bonvoy members and seeing where they want to go”.

In a similar vein to Airbnb’s launch of new categories, HVMB has unveiled a series of collections [e.g. for Tranquil Stays, for the Kiddos, for the Glamorous], complete with “compelling and inspirational” homes that provide everything from security, cleanliness and hygiene consistency. As opposed to standardisation, the brand is clearly seeking to differentiate itself with unique accommodations, as reflected by Marriott’s upcoming venture into the tiny homes experiences market in Australia.

As was also discussed at the Skift Data & AI Summit the day before, Marriott sees its Homes & Villas product as the perfect way to “test and learn” and create the perfect matches for guests and properties respectively. Given that more than 95 per cent of bookings are through Bonvoy members, according to Hsieh, the increasing use of generative AI will drive renewed loyalty for the Marriott brand by taking the work out of the complexity of searching for rentals, e.g. by describing how shallow a pool is or how much space there is between a door and a bed.

  • Futurestay’s Phil Kennard and RHOAR’s Margenett Moore-Roberts call for more visibility and representation for individual hosts and ‘rentalpreneurs’ in the industry and on stage

 

The session on ‘What obstacles are hosts facing‘ with Phil Kennard [Futurestay] and Margenett Moore-Roberts [RHOAR – Restore Homeowners’ Autonomy and Rights – member] was supposedly the first time that an individual host / owner had been featured on the Skift stage at a short-term rental conference – an important milestone when 95 per cent of short-term rentals are said to be owned by people with one to five properties.

The panellists broached the subject of how they perceive OTAs such as Airbnb and Vrbo to be treating individual hosts – after the platforms had earlier received backlash from HomeAway co-founder Carl Shepherd on the same stage. As an Airbnb Superhost, Moore-Roberts insisted that she had always felt “supported” by the platform as both a traveller and host, and she had never had an issue with a guest – although she pointed out that the situation could have been different if she had been a full-time landlord. Kennard also spoke pragmatically about how the OTAs would “have your back” the larger that a property manager grows at scale, although it was natural to understand that the platforms would focus on supply where they can drive most revenue.

On the topic of industry associations and representations, Kennard referred pointedly to Bill Faeth [the founder of Build Short Term Rental Wealth and who helped launch the STR Wealth Conference] as an example of a leader that is creating their own associations and events for the individual hosts and owners who can feel as if they are forgotten in wider industry circles. Kennard suggested that there would be more people to follow in Faeth’s footsteps that build their own tools and shape themselves as influencers to open up hosts’ access to greater wealth through short-term renting.

  • A one-to-one with Airbnb’s Jay Carney on global policy and communications

 

In a rare public interview since joining the company a year and a half ago, Jay Carney, global head of policy and communications at Airbnb, covered everything from the Paris Olympics to Taylor Swift, Airbnb’s relationship with individual hosts, and how the launch of ‘Icons’ is part of a wider strategy to expand beyond its core business.

Carney, who previously served in the Obama administration in the White House and held a similar corporate role at Amazon, addressed how his new company was trying to work with local and state governments to avoid “unintended and negative” consequences” as have resulted from the Local Law 18 in New York City. The comms chief suggested that the laws [effectively banning short-term rentals in the city] had had “a hugely consequential negative impact on hosts” and reduced the “vitality of communities which previously relied on rentals. He also referred to a quote from Vijay Dandapani, the president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City, who said in a Crain’s piece: “Low-budget tourists used to stay in hostels, and then they stayed in Airbnbs, but where will they go now? They may go elsewhere or not come here at all.”

For New York specifically, Carney said that Airbnb had “not given up hope” of collaborating on proportionate regulations but insisted that the company is not reliant on one single city [NYC is reportedly one per cent of Airbnb’s overall global business].

Events such as the upcoming Paris Olympics and Paralympics [for which Airbnb is a global partner], Taylor Swift’s ‘Eras’ concert tour, and the recent eclipse seen from the USA were cited as integral parts of the company’s ongoing strategy to work with individual hosts and capitalise on unprecedented traveller demand, as well as provide sustainable solutions in existing housing, as opposed to having to build more hotels to cater for such events and phenomena.

  1. On being “hands on with hosts”: Carney said that Airbnb had got much better at giving hosts the tools to be successful e.g. pricing transparency
  2. Has the party house issue been solved? Carney said that the issue hadn’t been completely resolved but there had been a “significant improvement in reducing disruption” and the incident rate is now “very low”
  3. What does the launch of ‘Icons’ mean? Carney said that Icons would not replace Airbnb Experiences but it would be the first step into “magical” Experiences and a window into future Experiences, allowing Airbnb to expand beyond its core
  4. On the dynamic around the 2024 US Presidential Election: Carney said that the election would have “little impact at federal level” on the short-term rental industry, and that Airbnb was constantly talking to senators and federal lawmakers on state regulations
  5. On AI: Carney said that it was good to be “humble” around AI predictions, saying that although it would be “transformational”, Airbnb was still focused on people in the “real world” and providing personal experiences

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