If you had to pick any place in America to own a condo, you could do much worse than Breckenridge, Colo.
The ski resort town at the base of the Rockies has a population under 5,000 and a median income of around $86,500. A four-bedroom condo in this snowy aerie recently listed for $2.4 million. Twenty-five years ago, a gentleman by the name of David Clouse was lucky to own a condo here. But Clouse had a problem. When he wasn’t in the residence, the place was simply an expense.
Clouse could have rented his condo by doing what everyone else did in 1995: listing it in the classified section of the newspaper. But, instead, he turned to what people were calling the World Wide Web.
As it turned out, listing vacation rentals online worked very well—so well that Clouse began accepting other people’s listings. Before long, he had a startup venture: Vrbo, which stood for Vacation Rentals by Owner.
Today, of course, there are no shortage of sites that offer short-term leisure rentals, including Tripadvisor, Booking.com and, of course, Airbnb.
Like much of the travel industry, online rental marketplaces were hit hard by pandemic lockdowns. Unlike much of the industry, however, these platforms have a bit more reason to be sanguine about the months ahead.
“Last year was incredibly hard on many levels,” Vrbo’s vp of global brand marketing Lish Kennedy told Adweek. “[But] I’m optimistic for 2021.” Assuming enough Americans who want the Covid-19 vaccine can get it, Kennedy believes that travelers stuck at home during 2020 will “make up for lost time” by booking with her platform.
In many ways, the lodging industry has suffered the pandemic’s cruelest cut. “Hotel industry remains on brink of collapse,” read an August report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association. Yet according to data from research firm STR, while the pandemic drove hotel occupancy down by more than 77%, the impact on home rental platforms was far less—about 45%.
Airbnb’s declines didn’t stop its IPO late last year. And though Vrbo did take a publicity hit in the spring when Airbnb offered full refunds for pandemic-related cancellations and Vrbo did not, instead leaving it up to homeowners, its market position remains intact.
HOW DO YOU SAY THAT?
In 2019, Vrbo did what many a maturing brand must: It updated its logo.
Replacing the blocky capital letters rendered in a sans-serif forest green were characters rendered in flowing bands like icing on a cake. According to the company, the new typeface was meant to evoke the stripes we see on vacation.
“From board shorts to ski clothes to the classic French Breton … from umbrellas on the beach to log cabins in the mountains … from geological striations to the crest of a breaking wave,” the company said in a statement.
But the overhaul had another purpose. It also shifted the brand name from an initialism to an acronym: Vrbo was meant to be pronounced.
While Airbnb accounted for 44% of vacation rental listings in Q4 2020, according to data from AirDNA, Vrbo held a consequential 34%. And according to a survey Vrbo commissioned in August, not only do 82% of Americans already have 2021 vacation plans, but the popularity of “outdoorsy” destinations like the sort Vrbo lists has risen sharply.
And it’s not hard to see why. Travelers perceive private homes as more intimate, more isolated and safer, an impression not discouraged by Vrbo’s recent “Your Together Awaits” ad campaign. Vrbo’s other advantage is its size of 2 million listings, helped along by its 2015 acquisition by Expedia.
And, finally, there’s the brand differentiation. Vrbo only lists private accommodations, a pretty attractive policy in times like these. “We’ve never been about sharing a New York City apartment with a host just to save a buck,” Kennedy said.