The demands of operating an ecommerce model is driving a technology and data focus at the Expedia-owned holiday rentals brand, vice president and EMEA chief operating officer Christophe Pingard tells Lee Hayhurst
Having transitioned from a classified listings site to a pure ecommerce model, Expedia-owned holiday rentals brand HomeAway’s has its sights firmly set on future growth.
Christophe Pingard, who became EMEA chief operating officer in January, told Travolution HomeAway wants to become “omni-present” in key markets in a sector with huge growth potential.
The brand will work more closely with its parent Expedia, taking advantage of the OTA’s global platform and allowing customers to shop for hotel and rental inventory in one place.
However, unlike OTA rival booking.com, which has closed down its specialist villas site, Pingard sees HomeAway as providing an essential specialist service for people looking for a holiday rental.
“The first thing you notice when you join this company is there is so much opportunity in this market,” he said. “The opportunity is very, very broad and we have the chance to become omni-present in some countries.”
Currently HomeAway draws inventory from across the globe and has 12 points of sale in Europe and 50 sites globally.
Pingard said core to its ecommerce strategy is developing in-house technology not just to make searching and booking for rentals easier for its customers but to make life easier on the supply side.
Developing affiliate partnerships with third parties like airlines and travel agents and building presence on metasearch requires properties to be online, and preferably, instantly bookable.
“When you operate in an ecommerce way you have this opportunity to promote your inventory, not just on your own platform, but on many other sites,” said Pingard.
“We have transformed into a technology-based company which enables us to promote this inventory to many sources of demand. To be present on this type of distribution you need to be online bookable and we need to have the ability to have instant booking.
“This is the direction we are moving in, but we know that to completely enable this ability we need to have full trust between owner and travellers.
“That’s the solution we are developing, to enable that trust between both. That’s why it’s important for us to continue investing in technology to create a connection between owners and customers.
“We are building more and more technology on the owner side. That’s where it’s key to change our model.”
Pingard said HomeAway considers having a strong relationship with suppliers – either single owners or property managers – is a part of its DNA and what helps it stand out from competitors.
Today HomeAway offers two million properties, less than the five million both Airbnb and Booking Home declares.
But Pingard believes it has the most comprehensive selection for holidaymakers, either groups or families, looking to rent a property.
The site will increasingly focus on the core HomeAway brand in its direct marketing activities and has been consolidating brands, particularly in Europe, where acquired competitors down the years.
In the UK the well-known Owners Direct brand, which was bought in 2007, has been closed and all traffic diverted to the HomeAway site.
“We have to consolidate to be more efficient,” said Pingard. “It’s easier when you are working on technology under one brand.
“When you are trying to improve the experience for travellers and owners, having a dedicated solution mean you can leverage our group presence.”
Pingard accepts most owners, particularly professional property managers, do not list their rentals exclusively with one partner or channel.
So he says HomeAway must compete by developing an efficient platform and by finding the right demand for those properties so suppliers come to see it as their most valuable route to market.
“Globally day after day, month after month, the ability to rent property is becoming more professional and the quality delivered by the owner is improving,” he said.
“That means value for money is better. When people are under pressure in terms of their budgets that means vacation rentals and becoming more and more competitive.”
Pingard acknowledges that the process of researching and booking a holiday rental is much more involved than a hotel stay.
No one property is the same, so there are no universal standards and yet the customer has a potentially infinite number of specific requirements.
“More and more we are investing in data,” said Pingard. “We are trying to personalise the search but it’s not so easy.
“By definition you are not booking a holiday rental every two or three weeks so it’s more difficult to have repeat activity on your site.
“We want to capture all the information we can capture within the regulations. We want to use data to create a different search experience. That’s something we are investing in.
“We have a team of data scientists working on our ability to personalise. It’s got to go further than just filters.”
Having access to richer and more professional content is vital, and HomeAway will be working with owners to educate them about the impact this can have on their listing.
Pingard said the question is how this can be done at scale and HomeAway is currently running tests in this area to assess the impact on bookings and conversions.
“We are working on other types of rich content. We are capturing as much for our owners as we can and we want to ensure this content is really exclusive on our platform.
“We are doing tests. If these tests have positive results in terms of conversion we will expand them out. We want to ensure booking is made really easy. This is part of our value; a scientific mindset.”
Although he sees room for improvement, Pingard said he is proud of the quality of service HomeAway delivers to customers today, pointing to a Net Promoter Score of over 80.
“What we show is we are able to deliver on the promise we promote to our travellers – that’s absolutely key,” he said.
“Our business is all about an important moment in life for our customers when they are going to spend valuable time with their families so delivering this quality is a major objective.”