High-end rental clients more often choosing to go with a pro

By Jeri Clausing
InsightJust as luxury travelers are increasingly returning to travel agents, new research shows that vacation home owners and renters are also looking more to professionals for villa and home rentals.

And with high-end homes back in demand, several of those rental websites are launching agent-friendly products to help them sell their no-surprises, vetted products. Recently, Villas of Distinction teamed with tour planner Excursionist to offer a customized tour-planning service with their villa rentals. 

And an expanded version of one of the original luxury villa rental sites wants to help agents find just the right, well-managed rentals for their clients. TravelKeys, which is a spinoff of Villas Caribe and now bills itself at the as the largest provider of luxury villas around the globe, is offering a nonbranded site that agents and agencies can link to from their websites. Any bookings made through their link will pay them a commission.

Jeri ClausingTravelKeys CEO Bobby Gibson said his company has always been committed to paying agent commissions, which are typically 10% but can increase based on sales volume.

Demand is booming: Gibson said his company's revenue was up 35% last year as the luxury market recovered. And with the company's expansion beyond its Caribbean roots into Europe, Asia, Africa and ski destinations, it is seeing a lot of return customers who like the fact that the houses have been vetted and are professionally managed, he said.

Indeed, a new study conducted by PhoCusWright for the Vacation Rental Managers Association shows travelers are growing weary of rental surprises. According to the survey, more than half of the vacation rental market's total rental revenue now goes to rental industry professionals, up from 43% in 2007; this translated to a more than $11.6 billion marketplace in 2012. The study also shows that while 35 percent of vacationers do not have a preference, 31% favor "going with a pro" vs. 25% who want to book direct with a homeowner.

The total U.S. vacation rental industry is expected to reach $25.8 billion by 2014.

"With vacation rental guests' word-of-mouth record, we have seen many new travelers discovering the perks of professional hospitality," Steve Trover, president of the trade association, said in a statement. "Now we see the potential for huge growth among undecided travelers."

And Gibson said his company is committed to working with and expanding its agent partnerships to make sure they take advantage of that growth.

"Certain agents and agencies are getting much better at it," he said. "I am seeing that the ones that have committed to learning the product and marketing and are committed to making this an offering are doing quite well."
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