Alex Yankelevich is the CEO of VacAgent, a b2b vacation rental distribution system for travel agents, property managers, and online portals.
We sat down with Alex, who shared key insights into the evolution of online travel. Here's how VacAgent combines the speed of new technology with the service of traditional travel services to help provide travelers with top-notch vacation rentals.
Can you tell us the story behind VacAgent? When and why did you start your business?
VacAgent was founded almost three years ago, starting as a platform for the traditional hospitality industry before quickly switching to the vacation rental segment. We create, maintain and operate a distribution system for professionally managed vacation rentals accessible only to travel agents.
VacAgent is at an intersection right now between the sharing economy and more traditional services.
Sharing economy services, such as Uber or Lyft, appeal to consumers by offering value and a more authentic local experience. At the same time, more traditional options - such as travel agents in the vacation rental industry - often provide better overall experiences, high-quality products and customer support when things go wrong.
Nonetheless, as sharing economy services become more familiar, they become more trusted. VacAgent helps travelers to enjoy the benefits of both, offering the value associated with the sharing economy and the quality provided by travel agents. While travel professionals are excited about helping clients book vacation rentals, the segment is still pretty new to them compared with using traditional products, like hotels or clubs.
At this point, not all travel agents can make an offer and book vacation rentals for their clients. This is not only because this lodging segment is new and fast-growing, but also because it doesn't keep the standard that travel agents are used to. There is also a lack of information. So the main issue that tourism industry professionals face is dissatisfaction with the current players in the vacation rentals marketplace - both the product quality and the distribution model.
That's why we identified this niche - vacation rentals for travel agencies are pretty empty.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
We strive to include only professionally managed properties so travel agents have an easy-to-use interface with a white label they can customize, plus competitive commission rates. That's why we work almost exclusively with vacation home inventory from property management companies and not with individual owner/operators (someone deciding to make extra money with their own property.)
We work with companies like Kigo to provide instant availability, which is really important. Travel agents don't have time to be emailing back and forth with property managers; they want to have a system to check availability and to book properties as fast as possible.
With the consolidation of OTA's and listing sites, how does VacAgent compete?
Most listing sites are dedicated to end-consumers, and the quality of vacation rentals and services are not always guaranteed. Some of them combine different types of services like booking hotels along with a full range of travel products - like car rentals, flights and transfers.
We deal only with professionally managed vacation rentals and only travel agents - putting ourselves in very specific position with a very specific product.
What trends do you see coming in the vacation rental industry? Where is the industry going?
There is constant growth in the online travel market, however in 2015 close to two in every three travel dollars were still spent offline. This demonstrates that travelers continue to pay travel agents for their services offline.
Also, don't forget that the threat of terrorism globally has made travelers more cautious when making travel arrangements. Based on our user's feedback, we've observed an increase in inquiries after years of people booking holidays online and put this down to people wanting to deal with a bonded travel agency for security reasons.
It means that the travel agent industry is alive and kicking, and for many years ahead, it's still important to dedicate ourselves to this market share. It's important to us to bring them the best product.
It's getting to the point where most of the vacation rentals inventory is consolidated by professionals - real estate agencies or property management companies. Competition is tough. It's also going to an instant confirmation process. Nowadays, users have no patience for availability requests and back and forth emails. You go to the site, check availability and if it's not available instantly, you choose the next site.
At this point it's very important to use a reliable tool like Kigo that provides a very reliable software platform to proceed with instant booking reservations.
What are some trendy destinations that you've seen vacation rentals growing in popularity?
VacAgent is a global distribution system and we've found it really depends on the market. If it's a travel agency in Russia - the popular destinations are Germany, Greece or Thailand. Travel agencies in Israel book properties in the U.S. or Spain - especially Barcelona. Travel markets in the Ukraine ask for suppliers in Poland or Greece. Big and capital cities, like New York, London, Paris, Rome or Amsterdam are always very popular.
What should be included in a perfect VacAgent listing?
The listing should include a detailed description of the property with all the facilities and amenities and high-quality images to make a good impression on potential guests. We also use tools to show points of interest relative to the property's location. Location is one of the important parameters for travelers.
Another important consideration for travelers is the cancellation policy. VacAgent users prefer to be on the safe side and to book property with favorable cancellation terms.
In many countries, tourism businesses are encouraged to comply with consumer protection regulations which cover refunds and cancellations. While VacAgent.net still allows suppliers to apply their own policy, we recommend using VacAgent's policy. The advantage to property managers is compliance with laws and guidelines, and exposing properties to a broader range of our users.
Also, a cancellation policy is essential to VacAgent users. In many countries, tourism businesses are encouraged to comply with consumer protection act, which covers key aspects, such as refunds and cancellations. So VacAgent users prefer to be on the safe side and book properties with favorable cancellation terms.
While we still allow suppliers to apply their own policy, we recommend they utilize the VacAgent policy, which is designed to comply with legal guidelines and expose inventory to a broader range of our users.
What are the most important things every professional vacation rental manager needs to know to provide the best customer service, get maximum occupation and attract new guests?
Be more flexible with prices and specials and provide an instant booking confirmation if possible. Providing good customer support is also important. When clients check in at the property, make sure to ask if there is anything they need assistance with. In this aspect, your business should be managed like a hotel; clients should know that there is someone they can call for assistance, and the property should be well-maintained and clean.
What types of amenities do you believe are important to offer in a vacation rental property?
Free WiFi, (which most of the suppliers provide), the availability of late check-ins with no additional fees, and toiletries - anything that will upgrade the guest experience. Property management companies are quite aware that guests come in with high expectations.
That's why they try to please them with amenities and services - many understand that in order to be competitive, they need to provide the best services possible because everything comes back to guest feedback.
How can vacation property managers get constructive feedback from guests?
First and foremost, provide high-quality service. Then, use customer feedback software that will allow guests to easily share their opinion and rate specific services the property manager is interested in getting feedback about.
I think that guest feedback is crucial for vacation rentals management, and it will help managers to learn what must be improved.
Where can property managers meet VacAgent?
In order to promote the inventory that property managers share with us, we go the extra mile in terms of distribution by conducting sales meetings with the travel agent community and participating in the travel industry professional events.
Meet VacAgent.net at These Events:
- UiTM Kiev in October
- World Travel Market in London in November
- ITB Convention in Berlin in March 2017
Kigo Vacation Listing Distribution Partners Drive Your Bookings
VacAgent.net is only one of the many vacation rental property listing partners you can access and manage easily with Kigo Channel Management Software.