We sat down with Paul Stevens, the News Editor of leading industry publication, ShortTermRentalz, to find out what he views as the core challenges, as well as the significant opportunites, for the vacation and short-term rental industry.

This interview was originally published by Abode PR as part of the Thought Leader Spotlight series

What businesses, organizations and enterprises are you currently involved with, in the industry?

I am news editor of ShortTermRentalz, part of the portfolio of B2B hospitality and real estate websites published by International Hospitality Media. This complements our existing Boutique Hotel News and Serviced Apartment News websites. IHM launched ShortTermRentalz last September and I am now the news editor.

ShortTermRentalz reports on all facets of news across the short-term rental industry, including investment, supply, marketing and distribution, legislation, technology and property management. In addition, I am often busy attending industry events where I network with business leaders and encourage them to write guest articles and participate in short video interviews. 

We are launching a number of exciting events in 2020 that aim to challenge the status quo of the traditional hospitality industry. That is why we are proud to launch our inaugural Shortyz awards ceremony on 11 March and our new Urban Living Festival 2020 is in the pipeline for early July, among our existing events schedule. 

I’m really excited about the Shortyz which promise to highlight the achievements of individuals and companies working in short-term rentals, amongst their industry peers at a prestigious and recognised industry awards ceremony. With the global short-term rental market set to reach US$170 billion in value in 2020, we feel this is the right time to launch the awards. I am delighted to be head judge of a panel of industry experts, which will decide on a shortlist for 12 categories from the nominations we receive.

What do you consider to be the key to your success?

Effective time management and being versatile and adaptable to editorial deadlines particularly when we are organising or attending conferences. I have realised the importance of establishing a strong rapport with the thought leaders and companies we work with, whether we are meeting at industry events, coordinating interviews or being contacted by PR companies. 

Even a year into working in the short-term rental sector, I am still amazed at the pace of the industry and the level of engagement we are getting from business leaders who want to be featured on ShortTermRentalz. I believe the website is having a great impact on driving growth and awareness and I am very grateful to our loyal readership base.

In your view, what are the biggest challenges and or threats to the short-term rental industry?

Basing my opinion on the interviews I have done with other thought leaders, the buzz words that continue to be brought up time and again as challenges are regulation and fragmentation.

There are many who say regulation poses the greatest threat to the short-term rental industry as some governments and cities (such as Amsterdam, Paris and Barcelona) adopt a stricter stance towards rentals based on their perceived impact on the available housing market. It is undoubtedly a complex issue and one I expect to continue to see-saw for a number of years. 

However, I anticipate less opposition coming from hotel brands who see rentals as an opportunity to diversify their portfolio and grow their own footprints in travel accommodation. Instead, government representatives look set to start leading campaigns that target individual cities, towns and markets in which short-term accommodation is on the rise and the market will have to face.

Let’s not forget that the short-term rental industry is in its relative infancy and for that reason, the sector is still in the process of professionalisation. As rapid growth occurs, this will continue to present operational challenges as professional companies strive to deliver the highest quality service to their customers across a wider portfolio of properties. While it is exciting that new large-scale players and professional management companies are emerging and adding choice, it is only contributing to an already highly-fragmented market which requires meaningful consolidation.

On top of that, the need for differentiation to reduce the fragmentation we are seeing across the marketplace is evident. As a new crop of professional accommodation operators converge on the market, eg. the master lease companies like Sonder, Lyric and Stay Alfred, blurring of the lines is occurring between hotels and short-term rentals. More and more guests are craving immersive, localised experiences (e.g. Airbnb Experiences) and rentals will need to place more emphasis on this vertical to entice guests towards more niche, alternative accommodations.

What counter measures would you suggest to minimize these risks?

When it comes to regulations, there isn’t a simple solution to solving the threat altogether. However, hosts can focus on responsible renting by proactively working alongside local governments to craft legislation that will allow short-term rentals to co-exist in communities around the world without causing more friction with authorities and fuelling black market activities.

I would also say the convergence of the vacation rental industry with the traditional hotel industry should be embraced and we should see the opportunity to raise brand standards as a positive for the whole industry. The likes of Marriott, Four Seasons and Accor that are venturing into alternative accommodation will both bolster and legitimise our industry, while Google is also making its first steps into the space to raise our profile even more. By heightening our standards, these hotel brands will feel more enticed to distribute companies’ inventories and lessen our dependence on the OTAs as a result.

In your opinion, what are the greatest opportunities for both individual property management businesses, and the industry as a whole, both now and in the short- to medium-term future?

With the global vacation rental industry set to achieve a market value of $194 billion by 2021, there is clearly a lot of potential for growth. Skift’s recent ‘Short-Term Rental Ecosystem’ report, which highlighted the market value’s growth from $40 billion in 2010 to $107 billion in 2018, attributed this largely to the rich diversity of companies providing different consumer offerings and types of services. This ranges from independent hosts, to host service providers, traditional holiday home managers and branded home managers. 

Now, on top of the larger existing players in the space such as Airbnb, Booking Holdings, Expedia Group and Tujia, hotel brands in the form of Marriott and Four Seasons are acquiring or launching their own short-term rental brands. I see this as an opportunity to grow and diversify the industry, which is already ensuring that property managers can launch new products, adapt to evolving consumer demands for hotel-quality standards and offer unique, unforgettable guest experiences. 

As an industry, we need to be aware of the latest trends in guest behaviour (what guests are booking, where they are staying, how long they are staying for) so that we can tailor our offerings to stay ahead of the game. The entrance of more players into the market will encourage more property managers, landlords and investors to view short-term rentals as viable alternatives to long-term lets and mitigate the cost of void periods when there are peaks and troughs in the housing market. 

On top of this, organisations such as the STAA (Short-Term Accommodation Association) have launched their own accreditation scheme that help platforms work with local authorities to ensure hosts and professional property managers are operating responsibly and meeting the required standards. I am convinced this will have a positive impact on the overall sector.

If you were to start over again in the vacation rental industry, what would you do differently?

So far, I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience working in the vacation rental industry! As a recent graduate in languages, it is a continual educational process for me as I am learning from leading figures from all over the world in their respective fields and exploring how we can address the wider issues affecting the industry. 

One of my main aims on ShortTermRentalz is to present information in an engaging and accessible style that is respected as a news and information source, as reflected by the business leaders who contribute articles and comment on our website.

Now that I am starting to grow into my role as news editor, I would like to write with a more authoritative and respected ‘voice’. I recently wrote an in-depth piece on the future of the master lease model and issues surrounding its sustainability and I was really encouraged with the traction it received and the response by people to contribute their insights to the article. With this in mind, I want to create even more unique content that will propel ShortTermRentalz as one of the go-to websites that bring a valuable, objective perspective to a fragmented marketplace.

And finally….. what and where would your dream vacation rental be, and who would you invite to share it with you?

I’ve been fortunate enough to do a fair bit of travelling with my job so far – even more than I could have envisaged at the start! I will be adventurous and say that as I have always wanted to go to South America, Chile would be one of my top destinations. It would be good to visit the capital Santiago before making my way down the coast as I have always lived by the sea back home in Eastbourne on the South Coast of England. My dream rental would have to be a villa in an exotic location overlooking the beaches and close to lots of activities to keep me occupied in the meantime.

My twin brother David works behind the scenes at British Airways so I suppose it’s only right to bring him with me, especially if it means using staff travel to get there! We recently went to New York together for a few days at the end of September and we make a good team. I’d also want to bring my Mum and Dad as they have never been to South America before.

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