STRz talks to the founders of digital guidebook platform Hostfully.
• What is your background?
“Our team comes from Apple, and we have also held senior roles in operations, product, and marketing at successful startups in consumer, enterprise, and health care. We are also all property managers who love to travel. David Jacoby, our co-founder, is a prolific and active property manager, who has hosted hundreds of guests in his property in San Francisco over the past four years.”
• When and why did you start Hostfully?
“We started Hostfully in 2015. David and his wife took a one year sabbatical traveling the world, visiting 27 countries and staying in 38 homes. He realised the incredible influence the host has on the guests’ stay. Any recommendation from a host went to the top of the priority list. A few years later, David became a host himself, and realized an important fact: with great guest communications and content come 5-star reviews. With a professional and thoughtful communications strategy, he was able to get better ratings and raise prices for his properties. We noticed the gap in the market in this area, and we built Hostfully. Our mission is to help property managers provide a top-notch guest experience, through a communications platform and other services.”
• What’s the business model and has it changed at all since launch?
“Our business model is subscriptions, based on the number of guidebooks we provide for the business. We also have a freemium option for managers with a single property. When we first launched, we offered only the single-property option for free. In June 2017 we launched our fully-fledged enterprise platform with advanced admin features that supports managers with hundreds or thousands of properties.”
• What challenges and successes has Hostfully experienced since launch?
“Our biggest challenge has been raising awareness about the criticality of guest experience and guest communications. Many companies are using outdated services that are embedded within their property management software. While these may work to send basic information in an email, they don’t carry the level of professionalism or usability that guests experience when using Hostfully guidebooks.”
• What’s your client base, and how do you engage with potential new clients?
“Our client base are property managers, who manage anywhere from 1 to 500 listings. Clients who want one guidebook can create one for free at Hostfully.com. Clients who manage more than one property and who want access to our advanced admin features can see our other options or request a demo at hostfully.com/pricing”
• Hostfully recently launched a vacation rental report, can you tell us more about the findings?
“We gathered information from more than 50 vacation rental management companies managing 4,000+ properties. We also consulted industry experts for their unique take on trends. The biggest takeaway was this: vacation rental companies want to provide more and better hospitality services, but they don’t always have a practical way to do it. A sizeable gap exists in which 84 per cent of vacation rental and property management companies want to offer services that are unavailable within their current property management software suite. Examples of services include offering ground transportation, mid-stay cleaning, early check-in or late check-out, groceries pre-arrival, personal chef, and other concierge services. To view the report, visit www.hostfully.com/study”
• Where have you experienced the most growth?
“Property managers in over 80 countries have used Hostfully to make guidebooks. We have seen many interesting use cases for our product, including individual Airbnb hosts, traditional bed and breakfasts, hotels, corporate rentals, conferences, weddings, offices, and more. Our most growth has been with mid-sized professional vacation rental management companies managing from 20 to 200 properties.”
• What are your plans for expansion?
“We are excited to help our clients completely manage the post-reservation process. A digital guidebook is the backbone to ensuring a five-star hospitality experience for the guest. We will help streamline operations from tip-to-tail, including ground transportation, seamless check-in (eg: smart lock integration), in-home amenities (eg: groceries pre-arrival, personal chef, rental of baby equipment), in-destination tours, activities, restaurants, and other attractions. We have also seen early signs that our platform is needed in other verticals such as corporate rentals and boutique hotels, and we plan to expand into these markets.”
• What challenges do you foresee for vacation rental and serviced apartments in the future?
“One big challenge has especially been highlighted in 2017 because of Expedia’s control of HomeAway: the ongoing tension between vacation rental companies themselves and the listing platforms / OTAs. HomeAway, Airbnb, and other listing sites are trying to keep the traveller on their platform, so they can have more control of the traveller’s experience and increase repeat business. In 2017 alone, HomeAway has removed direct contact info, removed the VRMC’s branding of their guest app in the Google and Apple app stores, and just recently announced a controversial “match-back” program where HomeAway will take a fee for “off-platform” bookings they suspect may have originated at HomeAway.”
“On the other hand, the vacation rental companies are getting reservations from many sources and need to have their own processes in place no matter where the reservation came from. They need to get the guest off the OTA platform and into their own post-reservation management workflow. For example, they don’t want to have to send emails to HomeAway’s reservations on that platform, to Airbnb’s reservation on that platform, and direct bookings from their own email system. That is too confusing. There is a unique opportunity for platform-agnostic softwares to help vacation rental and serviced apartments manage their operations and enhance brand awareness, so the guest will think ‘I booked a <name of VRMC> rental’ instead of ‘I booked an Airbnb’.”