As travel bounces back, demand for vacation rentals is on the rise, fueled in part by a pandemic-era preference for private, socially distanced accommodations. As a result, high-end vacation rental brand Onefinestay, which is part of the Accor portfolio, is seeing booking activity start to pick back up across many key destinations. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently chatted with Onefinestay CEO Bobby Gibson to get an update on recent booking trends, footprint expansion and why travel advisors are accounting for a growing share of business.
Q: As travel starts to rebound in earnest, what are some of the most encouraging signs of recovery you're seeing?
A: Obviously, the last year has been really challenging, but we are starting to see strong green shoots now. And I would say some of these green shoots have really only become predominantly visible in the past 30 to 45 days. Among our villa bookings, our length of stay, for example, has increased 15%, which is material. And we have 70% of our bookings being made in the Caribbean, which is a high concentration and more than we would normally have there. The major markets that have been most in demand have been Turks and Caicos, St. John and St. Barts. We've also recently seen more of an uptick in bookings for Hawaii, specifically Maui. A lot of our client base is from North America, so we're kind of seeing demand in places that people can most easily travel to or feel comfortable traveling to.
I also think one of the most interesting things that has happened is that our average booking value for villa bookings, or the amount people are spending on average, is up by more than 150%. In fact, on the villas and chalets part of the business, in March, we had [one of our best performances in terms of] booking value performance, or the gross transaction value. So, it's very encouraging on that side.
Q: What's happening in terms of expansion?
A: We're in the midst of rolling out a fairly large expansion plan to enter 14 new destinations globally. We're planning to add about 500 homes as part of that plan, domestically here in the U.S., particularly in U.S. mountain locations, and also in some of the premier areas where we don't have coverage in Europe.
Q: Obviously having a strong domestic presence has become increasingly important amid the pandemic, but why the focus on U.S. mountain destinations?
A: We've needed more coverage in domestic ski areas. We have not been able to keep up with that demand, which is why we have such an aggressive expansion plan around places like Vail and Breckenridge, Colo.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and Park City and Deer Valley, Utah. And the interesting thing about mountain product is that oftentimes people see that as important only for the winter season, but there's actually a really strong summer season traditionally. We saw that get even more exaggerated last year, but there's generally a very strong demand for mountain product in the summer, as well.
Q: Last summer, Onefinestay reported an uptick in the number of bookings being made via the travel advisor channel. Has that trend continued into 2021?
A: The travel advisor channel is an extremely valuable channel for Onefinestay, and we've always been very involved in the travel advisor community. We're continuing to see that many people during this challenging time have really relied on the services and expertise from and relationship with their travel advisor. And as a result, we've certainly seen that occupy a higher percentage of our overall channel base.
We understand advisors are taking a leap of faith in that if they recommend our service, they're ultimately going to be held accountable. So, [it helps that] our team is highly specialized and educated on each home and each location. At the end of the day, it's about quality. And I think that's really one of the challenges [of the vacation rental market] and one of the things that Onefinestay looks to address, particularly at the high end. People don't want any surprises.