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Monthly Archives: December 2007

Farecast Logo

On these pages we often discuss new services, both for the specific vacation rental market and the larger online travel industry. Today, we’d like to highlight what’s been happening with Farecast.com.

Farecast Airfare Predictions

Similar to Kayak.com, which we wrote about several months ago, Farecast is a “meta” search engine. Farecast provides “Smart Travel Search” by searching flight and hotel information from other online travel search engines and aggregating this information for consumers. Then comes the special sauce: by analyzing historical airfare and hotel rates over the prior 90 days and future trends, Farecast provides predictions on whether airfare prices will rise or fall or whether a quoted hotel rate is a deal or not.

7 Day low fare prediction

Farecast also has a number of tools to help you plan the best times to travel, and presents the information in a clean, consumer-friendly format. Currently, predictive features for airfare is available for domestic travel between 75 airports. Hotel rate predictions, still in beta, are available for 30 US cities.

Rate key Map

Through a partnership with MSN, Farecast has an integrated flight search module on the MSN Travel homepage. Data from Compete.com indicates that in September, MSN Travel was responsible for 10% of Farecast’s estimated 630,000 unique visitors for that month. The graphic below highlights Farecast’s continued popularity and surging monthly visitors.

Farecast Compete People Count

With these predictive tools, Farecast increases consumer confidence and eliminates some of the guesswork in searching for the cheapest flight for your travel. This is incredibly valuable for converting online consumers from browsing to actual booking. And vacation rentals? Hmmm, sounds like just the industry that could benefit from an online service that increased consumer confidence!

Online video has become increasingly more prominent over the last few years, as evidenced by sites like YouTube and Hulu. As online video becomes even more popular, its role will expand into niche marketing purposes, such as the vacation rental market. According to a survey of over 2,900 people conducted by TNS research, three quarters of respondents said they watched more online video today than they did a year ago. Of that same 75%, half also said they expected to watch more online video in the coming year. Why are users watching video online?

Some of the reasons mentioned were:

  • Convenience
  • Relevance
  • Control of Content

At FlipKey we are committed to “expanding the vacation rental market”, and we are keeping an eye on the potentially significant role of online video to aide the market’s expansion. One of the problems facing the industry today is attracting people who have never stayed in a vacation rental. A short concise online video outlining the services that a property manager provides could be a dynamic tool to help instill confidence in this group of people.

The TNS survey also highlighted that nearly two-thirds (63%) of people said they have taken some action after seeing an online video advertisement. Traditional TV advertising boasts nearly 80% of people taking some action after viewing an ad, but has been around much longer.

“Some Action” was defined as the following in online video’s case:

  • Going to the companies website (44%)
  • Searching for more information about a product (33%)
  • Going to the brick and mortar store to look at a product (22%)
  • Talking to friends and family about the product (21%)

Online video can serve as a tool for property managers to help the public learn more about their hospitality services and properties. FlipKey is interested and excited to see the impact that online video can have on the industry.

Unfortunately, this post comes 29 days after the article was published on USATODAY.com, but better late than never. Over the weekend I came across a nice, comprehensive article published by Gary Stoller of USA TODAY USA Todayhighlighting the growth potential of the vacation rental industry.

Titled, ‘Staying at a real home away from home’, the article provided one of the most thorough public reviews of the vacation rental industry and its growth potential.

Article Highlights:

  • U.S. vacation rental market is estimated at $63B
  • Vacation rental management companies expect to manage 12% more rental homes this year than in 2006, according to a survey of 129 companies by the Vacation Rental Managers Association.
  • Rental inventory is growing because of a boom in vacation home sales, which have been largely unaffected by a downturn in the real estate business. Sales of vacation homes rose nearly 5% to a record 1.07 million last year, and 18% of buyers said they bought them to rent to others, according to an April survey by the National Association of Realtors.
  • According to Steve Holmes, Wyndham Worldwide’s CEO, about one of five European vacationers rent a condo or house. Holmes estimates U.S. adoption rates with match that of Europe in “about a decade”.

Click here to read the full article.

FlipKey applauds the great coverage of the vacation rental industry by USA TODAY. With all the activity and recent publicity of the vacation rental industry, FlipKey sees 2008 as a cornerstone year for vacation rentals. Bring on the New Year!

If you happened to stop by www.flipkey.com today, you may have already seen our new temporary login page for the Beta.You may have also guessed what that means – FlipKey is officially entering Beta status!

Here is how the private Beta works. If you have already signed up for the FlipKey Badge Program, we have been hard at work preparing your Front Desk for you. Over the course of the next few weeks we will be sending out Beta login information to Rental Managers as soon as your Front Desks are ready. We received a tremendous number of sign-ups for the FlipKey Badge Program, so if you don’t hear from us right away, please know that we are working through the list and we will be in contact with you very soon. We will accommodate everybody who signs up. If you have not signed up, and you are a Vacation Rental Manager, please head over to the sign-up form. If you would like more information, please feel free to contact us at info@flipkey.com.

For those of you who are not Rental Managers and are itching to try out FlipKey, we will be opening up the site to the public in January. For now, if you haven’t already, please add your e-mail address to our notification list.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for cool websites. I recently came across TripIt.com and it definitely met my requirements for COOL.

In short, TripIt helps you organize your travel plans.

How it works:

  • You set up a free account (takes two minutes)
  • As you receive itinerary confirmations from airlines, hotels, car rental companies, etc. you simply forward them to TripIt (takes two seconds)
  • TripIt then identifies your email, parses your itinerary and then automatically saves it in an easy to read format. As you send your various travel plans it intelligently blends your trip into one integrated itinerary.

Here is a view of my Colorado trip I just forwarded from my Gmail account.

TripIt Travel Plans

Why I won’t use it

Although the service is cool and ported my itinerary with 100% accuracy, I just don’t know why I need this service. I, like so many others, get a little stressed before trips. I like having the original itineraries to PROVE to the airline/hotel that I have a reservation. We have all checked into the Marriott at some point in our lives when the dreaded, “I’m sorry sir, I don’t seem to have a record of your reservation in the computer” conversation is initiated.

In addition, there is a sense of craftsmanship in taking notes, stapling multiple itineraries together, printing out to and from maps and placing all needed documentation into a Trip Folder. I understand that this process is so “pre-internet”, but some things were simply never meant to be automated.

Like so many others, TripIt forgot about vacation rentals
Like 99% of the travel sites on the market, TripIt doesn’t really address the vacation rental market. To be fair, it would be near impossible for them to do so. TripIt can only parse standard emails, thus its system works for the standard confirmations generated by major airlines and hotels. However, TripIt does allow a user to manually enter additional details of their trip, but unfortunately doesn’t even recognize the existence of vacation rentals. Notice how “Hotels” is the only option provided to me as I try to add my ski house rental.

TripIt Add Plans

I think TripIt has done a great job with a limited idea. I will likely not use it, but if they were to include a link for Vacation Rentals in their next release I could be won over.

We can all agree that Search is important in the vacation rental industry. Ask a property manager how they attract visitors to their site and ‘Search’ is likely the first word you’ll hear. As a result property managers are beginning to explore more creative ways to climb the Google rankings.

Earlier this week we were contacted by Best Coast Rentals of Port Aransas, Texas. In the interest of improving their search ranking, Best Coast Rentals wants to link to complimentary vacation rental sites – with the agreement that these same sites will link to Best Coast Rentals. This arrangement is referred to as a “link exchange”. Link exchanges are popular ways to boost “back links” – a key ingredient to Google’s Page Rank algorithm – however, link exchanges have their pitfalls.

Be Aware of BlackHats!!

As the market began to understand the importance of back links, Black Hatso did the number of people attempting to “game” search engines by including all kinds of irrelevant links from other sites. Soon Google began to identify “link farms” – irrelevant sites linking to thousands of unrelated sites. This helped inflate the perceived popularity of participating sites within search engine rankings, but did not improve the relevance of Google’s search results. People attempting this strategy were label “black hats”.

Through the maturation of the Search industry, these techniques have been exposed and Search leaders, such as Google and Yahoo, developed techniques to effectively identify link farms and now ding participating websites effectively lowering their search ranking.

Why Best Coast Rentals is Legitimate

Best Coast Rentals link exchange program is not a black hat offer. Best Coast Rentals is only interested in linking to complimentary vacation rental sites and its Travel Links page not only links to participating websites, but also includes a blurb about the site. By including this additional content Best Coast Rentals maintains ‘relevancy’ – the golden word at Google.

Travel Links Bestcoastrentals

FlipKey encourages Search collaboration within the vacation rental industry, but we advise participating companies to be careful to avoid Black Hat status. Focus on relevant and quality sites and you should be ok. If a participating site appears as a link farm, you will want to request that your website be removed from the site.