The Times They Are A Changin' : The Rise of Instant Bookings
Updated: Mar 26, 2019
All of us at JANIIS are fairly young. We're all in our late twenties to mid thirties. Having lived life from the 1980s on, our idea of convenience, accessibility, and flexibility is smack dab in the middle. We're between the worlds where TVs weighed 50 pounds and where you can watch HBO on your phone. The change that's taken place over the past few years, and the pace in which it has come, has been profound
The Warm Up
We remember the days where you would have to print out directions to go somewhere. While driving, you'd read each line like a hawk and pray that you didn't miss a turn or you'd have to whip out the ole map. Now, if you get lost you pull up an app and tell it where to take you from your current location. People are able to look up what restaurants are within 2 miles while they're walking. You can check the weather in Palm Springs while you're flying there. You can find a place to stay in a city you don't know while on a road trip...we may or may not be speaking from personal experience.
In the same way there's been a massive shift in access to information, there's also been a massive shift within the short term rental industry. In the past, people would book vacation rentals months, even up to a year in advance. It was okay for properties to be at 30-40% occupancy during other parts of the year because the money for the holidays was already literally in the bank. But that's not a thing anymore...suddenly everything seems unstable; there's uncertainty as to whether the holidays will book because guests aren't booking until up to the day before. Why? What prompted this shift?
Many would say the younger generations. Millennials are often the scapegoat for annoying behavior- and it's understandable. They have a different worldview, their whole lives have been supplemented with accessibility and instantaneous gratification in the palm of their hands. We've sat in on countless marketing meetings spinning over and over how to deal with millennials, however this expectation of immediate convenience isn't just a millennial thing. No one can ignore easy access, and limiting the shift in the industry to just one demographic is not reality; the need for flexible availability isn't just a trend. It's simply the way it is now.
Mind the Gap
As the necessity of waiting wanes, "gaps" are becoming less and less tolerable. The gap in our industry: the time between the request to book, and approval by the host. People don't want to wait. We get impatient when it takes more than 10 seconds for a web page to load- let alone 24 hours for approval as to whether or not you can stay at a particular property. In answer to this, in June 2014 TripAdvisor launched their Instant Booking Platform, Marriott joined in August 2015, and by September almost the entirety of TripAdvisor's international inventory could be booked with a click of a button on your cell phone.
Boom. No gap.
In October 2015 The Priceline Group jumped on board (bringing Booking.com with them). HomeAway initially kicked back, but post acquisition by Expedia in November their tune changed. At first Airbnb was a little slow to get on the train, however in September 2016 through a different catalyst than most, they too accelerated towards instant bookings, making the public goal to have more than a million available by January 2017... and reaching it.
Not only did these companies implement instant booking, but they also began favoring it. Listings began being ranked in searches based on whether or not they had the option. If Property Managers didn't have it (or currently don't), no matter how amazing the content and pictures- the listing was (and is) superseded by those with that capability. Airbnb, HomeAway, and a few others even added a filter so that travelers can only view listings that allow you to book instantly. So, again, no matter how amazing the listing, if it doesn't have instant booking as an option, it will be passed over- and not just by twenty somethings.
Instant booking is something that appeals to almost every aspect of the Vacation Rental Industry; from the travelers being able to have easy access to a property while they're on the go, to huge companies that are eager to push the vacation rental market by adding in viable hotel characteristics.
But just because many favor it, doesn't mean that it's easy. At this point in time, it might not be possible for the vacation rentals and those managing them. We get it. It's frustrating, bordering on demoralizing. Your jobs are stressful enough without the added pressure of instant and last minute bookings. A property manager's time is already close to nil with managing bookings with a little bit of a gap, let alone without one.
The current demand exceeds the current resources of the industry. In order for you as property managers to be able to navigate last minute bookings the industry needs to grow with you. We need to provide you with equally agile integrations, ways for you to manage your content, systems that support the quick reactions needed for a last minute booking. The industry can't just sit back and expect individual vacation rentals to be able to navigate massive change without the correct resources. We all need to progress together if we're going to go anywhere.
Luckily, we as an industry don't have to flounder as far as what direction we need to progress in- the world has already shown us: technology & automation. Nothing has proven to make lives easier, more organized, more straightforward to manage, than technology. Specifically, in our industry: software.
Many companies have come up to bat in this regard, and many have made it from base to base. But in an industry that is evolving at an unprecedented rate, technological resources are needed which get property managers all the way around the diamond. We all need a home run.
Bringing It In
Instant booking isn't going anywhere. Airbnb, Home Away, Booking.com, and many more all have jumped on board- and if you want to stay competitive as a property manager, so do you. The current day to day in vacation rental offices will need to adjust to last minute bookings. Rigid software, long data entry, and the inability to combine various channels' booking information so you can see at a glance whether something is occupied, is too slow. You can't lug a 50 pound TV with you everywhere to watch Daenerys Targaryen.