Agents selling hotel alternatives if they’re vetted and pay commission

Travel advisors prefer to book through companies that pay commissions and guarantee property quality, like Villas of Distinction.

Consumers' desire to stay in alternative accommodations when traveling is showing no signs of waning. In recent years, travel advisors, too, have noticed an uptick in the number of clients asking for hospitality options beyond traditional hotels. 

Advisors today are answering that call by booking alternative accommodations that are commissionable and professionally vetted, two considerations that providers such as Airbnb lack.

Phocuswright's U.S. Consumer Travel 2019 report found that in the previous year, 30% of respondents had booked a private accommodation, defined as the rental of a home, apartment or shared space. That number stood at 32% in 2015 and 26% in 2016. Younger travelers, especially Generation Z,  were more likely to book private accommodations, Phocuswright found.

Similarly, MMGY's recent Portrait of American Travelers survey found that 29% of respondents reported having used sharing economy accommodations during at least one vacation in the previous year. That number is slightly higher than in the past three years, when between 20% and 22% reported using accommodations from the likes of Airbnb, Vrbo or HomeAway. 

This year's survey also found that 34% of travelers said they are likely to use sharing economy accommodations in the future.

Chris Davidson, executive vice president of research and insight and head of MMGY Travel Intelligence, encouraged travel advisors to consider alternative accommodations for their clients, considering their current popularity.

It's a space that many advisors are no strangers to, as client demand has increased in recent years.

Becky Powell, president of Protravel International in New York, said interest in alternative accommodations has "absolutely" grown among Protravel's clients. During the festive season around the holidays, Powell said, it can be difficult for advisors to even find villas to book because of their popularity. 

"Especially people who are doing multigenerational travel," Powell said. "That's what they're doing: They're bringing their family and friends."

Melissa McKinley, owner of Travel With Melissa in Plano, Texas, agreed.

"Villas, particularly, tend to be very important, for example, just to keep everybody under one roof when you have multigen groups or groups of really close friends going to celebrate something," she said. "It just makes it more social. They enjoy the time together with each other versus being in separate rooms in a hotel."

She said Protravel advisors mainly book clients in villas that are commissionable from companies like Villas of Distinction or Cuvee. 

Steve Lassman, vice president of villa product and agency relations at Villas of Distinction, said the company offers more than 2,500 vetted accommodations in 52 countries. They range from one-bedroom apartments all the way up to 42-bedroom estates. Nightly rates range from $300 to $75,000. Commission is 10%.

"Luxury villas are one of the fastest-growing segments in travel because it is the perfect alternative for families and friends who are seeking accommodations that require more than one bedroom," he said. "And a villa is [a better] value for a guest than any comparable resort.

The vetted aspect of offerings from companies like Villas of Distinction makes a big difference to travel advisors, many of whom shy away from booking alternative accommodations on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo.

Among them is Sylvia Lebovitch, an advisor with the New York-based Ovation Travel Group.

"I wouldn't risk my reputation to book certain alternative housing vendors because I can't guarantee the quality of the accommodations that one sees online," Lebovitch said. "We work with reputable organizations that ensure the quality of the products and that they are vetted and are appropriate for our clients."

McKinley also shies away from vendors that don't vet accommodations first. Instead, she uses suppliers like Wimco Villas and Luxury Retreats. 

In addition to a villa often being the right kind of accommodation product for groups traveling together, McKinley said alternative accommodations also offer some unique opportunities to enhance a client's experience; for example, hiring a private chef to cater to the client's needs.

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