Partner spotlight: Vrbo focuses on flexibility as travel rebounds

This blog post is the second in a series that looks at how major travel brands adapted during the pandemic and what insights are moving their businesses forward. 

Vacation home rentals have rebounded in a major way this year. While this travel category saw steep losses early in the pandemic, bookings came back faster than many other sectors and show no signs of slowing down.

Vrbo, a leading brand in vacation home rentals, is having a phenomenal year, and we learned more about it from two leaders at the company: Glenda Garcia, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, and Kelly Lynn, Principal Product Manager. Our edited discussion is below.

Sage Garner: First, I have to ask about the name of your brand, which transformed from an acronym (VRBO) to a proper noun (Vrbo). What’s the story behind this change?

Kelly Lynn: We discovered that dedicated travel customers and our property owners would refer to us as Vrbo, and it was starting to catch on. And as we grew as a global brand, we wanted a name that was easy to say everywhere in the world. The other thing I'll say is that it gives us the ability to refer to Vrbos as nouns. Like, “I'm going to rent a Vrbo.” It's a little bit easier and more versatile.

As vacation rentals were exploding during the last year, how did you flex your marketing tactics to respond to the surge in demand, while still being sensitive to the pandemic?

Glenda Garcia: Rentals started recovering earlier than the rest of the travel industry because people realized they could take a road trip to a new place and stay together—as a family or group of friends—while still managing to safely social distance and avoid crowds. We also coined a new term, flexcation, to describe a new travel trend that emerged during the pandemic. Families were taking advantage of working and attending school remotely and blending it with their vacation time. We used the term in some of our ad creative and this trend helped inform new features we’ve introduced in our product experience.

What are some of the product innovations that Vrbo made as a result of the pandemic?

KL: We know flexibility is important for families, so we really leaned into this theme during the pandemic, and flexcations are a perfect example.

We created a flexible cancellation search filter for our site and highlighted listings with the most relaxed cancellation policies. More than half a million properties on our site already offer flexible policies, so we just made it easier for families to find them. With the growth of remote work and school, fixed dates weren’t necessarily the biggest driver for families’ travel planning. The function allows you to search for popular destinations but not lock in specific dates, so you can make it work with the property you really want. 

We also have Trip Boards, which really help families to collaborate over where they want to stay. Members of a family or travel group are able to do things like add their favorite properties, make comments, and vote on properties they might want to look at.

Quote and headshot of Glenda Garcia from Vrbo

Now that travel is rebounding, how do you plan to sustain the momentum that you're seeing, and how will you differentiate yourself within the vacation rental market?

GG: We’re in a unique position to differentiate ourselves, as we established the online vacation rental category 25 years ago. A key feature that differentiates us from other vacation rental platforms is that we only list whole, private homes. There are no shared spaces when you book on Vrbo, which means guests will never have to share a home with the host. The target audience we serve is families, and they really enjoy having the space and privacy of an entire home to themselves during a vacation.

And we're part of Expedia Group, so travelers who come to us searching for vacation rentals also have an abundance of options for all parts of the trip. Hosts who list on Vrbo also have access to travelers who book on Expedia and Hotels.com and benefit from the over 750 million visits to Expedia Group sites every month.

Why do you think it's important to offer a pay-over-time solution like Affirm to your customers?

KL: Right now, families are eagerly planning their vacations after being apart for a full year. And it's a very important investment for them at this point. What I have always felt is that having this option to allow travelers to book now and then pay later really gives them a lot more flexibility and an ability to nab that property before it gets booked up. It really does help—if you're going to take a trip that's six months out—to know all of your funding for that trip isn’t tied up so far in advance. It gives travelers a lot more flexibility to really invest in their family and this moment of making memories. 

GG: Another benefit of our partnership with Affirm is the traffic coming from placements on Affirm’s website and app. The data shows it’s been highly qualified traffic from existing Affirm customers. That tells us they've had a positive experience with Affirm and they're looking for other ways to leverage this flexible payment option on other purchases. 

During our launch campaign with Affirm, we saw that 59% of the bookings made with Affirm were new customers to Vrbo. It’s very promising to see that kind of interest from customers who may not have considered booking with us in the past.

What is Vrbo’s outlook for the second half of 2021?

GG: With travel restrictions beginning to ease around the world, we’re optimistic about the second half of the year and are very encouraged by the consumer trends we’ve seen lately. During the pandemic, many families had to cancel trips and didn't have a chance to see their loved ones. So as the world opens back up, we’re starting to see families staying longer and larger groups of people spending more on vacation. We have recent data that families are much more likely to book a stay of at least 7 nights this summer, which is a meaningfully longer stay duration than what we saw before the pandemic. 

And in our 2021 Trend Report, we found that 65% of travelers planned on traveling more than they did before the pandemic, and more than half said they’d like to take their “bucket-list trip” in 2021. For us at Vrbo, it’s exciting to be a part of those long-anticipated family reunions and those trips our customers have always wanted to take.

Quote with headshot from Kelly Lynn

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