Scotland: ShortTermRentalz spoke to Rebecca Moore, VP of Operations at short-term holiday rental marketing platform TravelNest, about how her company is improving the visibility of holiday lets on booking channels, its funding plans and challenges it is facing in the short-term rental industry.
- Please introduce yourself, the TravelNest brand and what services you provide in the short-term rental industry.
“My name’s Rebecca Moore and I am the VP of Operations at TravelNest. I work very closely with our CEO, Doug Stephenson, helping to run the business, and with VP of marketing Cameron Boal. Previously, I worked at Skyscanner where I ran growth in the EMEA region and America with a team of about 95 people spanning three continents and around 45 markets.
“When it comes to the TravelNest brand, in a nutshell, we’re aiming to help the property owner maximise their property return and minimise admin. Really simply, that means we get you more bookings, we get you seen by millions and we reduce the admin and headaches of working across various channels. We like to call that ‘logistical zen’ because it’s actually quite a hard task! We certainly get a lot of feedback about how much of an admin burden running holiday lets can be.
“From the 15 million holiday lets in the world, what we find when we’ve been researching on the online market that we know about is that 54 per cent of nights for those holiday rentals are going unsold. That’s a huge amount. That isn’t necessarily because there aren’t travellers looking to take up those dates; there is a disconnect between supply of holiday lets and putting that supply in front of travellers. That’s what we’re trying to solve to get more exposure for holiday lets.”
- You were appointed VP of Operations back in May – since then what has your job entailed and how are you applying your previous experience with Skyscanner?
“I started at Skyscanner actually working directly for the COO in business strategy and operations roles. I drove a lot of business change there before I went out and ran the business in Asia for a while, and latterly I was in EMEA and the Americas. My role is to ensure we’re running a really effective business today and that we are strategically rebuilding the business here that we need for our future growth. Ultimately what we are trying to do is democratise the growth of the holiday rentals category in favour of hosts and to service those people in particular.
“I tend to spend my time working with Doug and the tech team on business strategy to make sure we can deliver our business plan and provide an amazing service for our customers, as well as create a wonderful place to work.
“We’re an Edinburgh-based startup with a fantastic team and lots of travel tech knowledge – in fact when we counted it up, we realised we had over 100 years’ worth of travel tech experience! In Doug, it’s very much something that has been founded by someone who’s been very close to this industry and understands first-hand the pain points we are trying to solve. Doug and I both have family members running small holiday let businesses so both have a huge amount of empathy for holiday let owners.”
- By improving the visibility of holiday lets, what gap do you think you are filling in the market that other competitors might not?
“It’s more than just about visibility but how do we solve that problem of occupancy. For me, there are three key things that help to improve the occupancy of a holiday let: improving desirability and visibility, as well as ease of booking.
“We’ve analysed this in depth through a lot of data and a lot of people think they can’t change the desirability because the property location and type is set and therefore it is what it is. That isn’t actually the case. There’s a huge amount you can do, just with how you list that property, for example in terms of the flexibility of the check-in and check-out, minimum stay, cancellation policy, whether you allow pets, groups, children and there’s a lot within your control to affect the desirability and help the property surface in a search.
“The third thing is making it easy to book – always ensuring enquiries are dealt with quickly and having calendars synced to ensure no double booking. Therefore, by increasing the visibility to get the let on more channels, that makes it more desirable on those channels and ensures ease of booking a property will perform significantly better. All these things are rather inter-dependent in the virtual cycle of a property.
“We help to simplify a lot of the admin and we really try to unburden everyone with busy day jobs. We also have a really deep relationship with our channel partners because we’re solving a problem for them too. They’re not geared up to work with hosts with one or two properties but rather big hotel chains.
“We also help people who are already on channels but who are noticing they are starting to slip with their listings. We can really help them dramatically increase their exposure and quite often, they are aware there are other places they should be exposing their properties but they don’t have the time or they don’t know which ones to go for. We also help them to optimise the channel they’re already on with their holiday let to increase visibility.”
- As another stage in the company’s development, Scottish Enterprise awarded you a £2.3m grant to accelerate your growth – how is this funding being utilised for the future?
“We were actually in The Scotsman yesterday [7 October] as one of the ‘Scottish tech companies to watch’ and I guess that shows technology as a solution is really important here and that’s what the funding will predominantly be going towards. It becomes really obvious as you go through this category that it is really undeveloped from a software perspective. Flights have been a category for 50+ years, whereas I think for holiday rentals, it’s still on that journey. Therefore, no one has really decided to focus on this market as yet.
“We’re very focused on solving occupancy issues for our hosts and all of our grant money is focused on bringing in the very best talent and data, engineering and product skills to be a category-leading product that will change the lives of our hosts for the better.”
- Since the company was founded in 2014, what do you think are the most prominent changes you have seen across the holiday lettings industry?
“I’ve been in the travel sector for some time and watched the holiday rentals sector with interest. It’s very clear from the time when I was at Skyscanner that in terms of an accommodation product, the holiday rentals category is the largest growing sector in travel globally. With that in mind, that brings a lot of opportunities in achieving visibility.
“One of the things with having a large growth category is that everyone wants a piece of it from the perspective of online travel agents [OTAs]. We’ve seen the number of channels trying to break into this market really increase and we can play a strong role in making supply of holiday rental listings easy for them. That in turn gets them visible in more places but because there’s been so much growth in quite little time, there’s still relatively little best practice guidance out there.
“We’ve noticed that some of the well-known channels are becoming very heavily used and for that reason, it’s getting increasingly harder to get your property to stand out on those very well known channels and we’ve heard from hosts that, at times, bookings are starting to reduce. There’s huge opportunity as I’ve mentioned for us and hosts to do more to get those properties visible and higher up the rankings, especially if you’ve got the right knowledge and expertise to do that.
“Doug and I are also seeing a huge trend in diversification across the farming industry and quite a lot of people looking to make more money out of land. That’s quite interesting for us and for us with our product, we’re not really geographically restricted – anyone can use us and we’ve got coverage all over Europe and beyond. We’ve got properties in about 33 different markets so that problem of occupancy is not restricted to high density urban areas. We very much support the rural industries that are interested in this sector too.
“The other one is regulation, perhaps more in urban areas, but we don’t really see that as much of a challenge because a lot of our properties are in rural areas where authorities are doing a lot to promote local tourism.”
- What are the most common challenges you are facing within the space at this current moment in time?
“The thing that we are always obsessed with at TravelNest is helping and solving problems for our customers, as well as developing a great product and experience for them. Part of the reason why no one else has done this is that the industry is incredibly complex, the technology is fairly low on the maturity level, there’s very little standardisation, and no two channels go about holiday rentals in the same way.
“Obsessing about how we decode that for hosts in a way that dramatically simplifies things for them, while improving the performance of the properties, increasing visibility and reducing the admin burden, is not an easy problem to solve but one that we are absolutely focused on nailing and ultimately we’re looking to help our customers increase their bookings. This is what gets me and the team out of bed in the morning and we’re always looking for tricky problems to solve.”
For more information on achieving visibility for holiday lets, visit the TravelNest website here.