Simon Lehmann, CEO & Founder of AJL Atelier, “We Need to Lift the Game!”

Episodes-Simon-04-04

By The Hospitable Team

Vacation rental industry trends, necessary tech and software, direct bookings, and lucrative investments. These are just some of the topics that Hospitable CEO Pierre-Camille and Simon Lehmann, CEO & Founder of AJL Atelier, discussed in the third episode of our Hospitable Hosts podcast. Buckle up and read on!

Post-Covid Industry Trends

While Simon’s hospitality career dates back to 2005 and includes senior positions in Interhome, HomeAway, and Vacasa, he believes the pandemic managed to shift the vacation rental industry fundamentally. An awareness boost and a massive expansion in the consumer base became the most drastic changes for as long as he has been in business.

“Even in 2019, still, not even 50% of travelers have ever rented a property. But COVID-19 has accelerated that. It doubled the category awareness within two years. Something previously unheard of. So, now, fast forward to 2022, you don’t need to talk about what rental is anymore. Every traveler gets it, right? You still have the hardcore hotel guests who will never rent. That’s fine. We don’t need them. We have plenty of guests to deal with right now.” 

Skyrocketing awareness is great but the industry’s newcomers come with very high expectations. Simon warns that the previous industry’s shortcomings are no longer acceptable if hosts want to keep the first-timers. 

“We need to lift the game. So, there are two trends. One is guest experience and quality. On the other hand, you have expectations of remote check-in and automated door locks, and maybe a virtual concierge that you can speak to as it shows you the house. This is what the hotel guest expects. That’s the same in our industry, right? So, the second piece is technology because it is becoming fundamental to sustain the business as profitable.” 

Choosing the Right Software  

Digital property management services and various software assistance solutions have become crucial components of today’s short-term vacation rental winning strategy. Simon believes it is essential to understand what software solutions fit your specific needs. 

Carefully putting together a list of tools that a host needs to successfully run the business can sometimes lead to more than six different platforms to manage the listings. That’s why software developers are constantly aiming for providing the industry with all-in-one solutions. 

“This is complex. This is difficult. You know, we are not technology people. We’re in the hospitality industry. So, we’d rather have a glass of wine with the arriving guests than work with channel managers and PMSs. And for that purpose, I believe that we will see more and more advanced all-in-one solutions. And we clearly see these ambitions by the property management software providers. Because, the crazy thing is, if a property manager has to deal with eight different technology providers, it becomes challenging and it becomes pricey as well.” 

Direct Bookings 

The diversity of tech solutions and software platforms available direct bookings more and more attractive to hosts. Similar ideas are shared by the industry experts, based also on their financial expertise. 

“What still flats me, is that there are property management companies out there who solely depend on a company in San Francisco called Airbnb. That’s ridiculous. And I don’t think that makes sense because I would never invest in a business that gets its demand from one channel. So, of course, direct bookings are important, but you need to want to make it happen.”

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Simon suggests being cautious and not letting emotional decision-making lead your business strategies when it comes to direct bookings. Have clear business goals and keep your efforts steady – this is the ultimate approach. Simon’s experience shows that it is not an easy way to go but it is worth it in the long run. 

“My argument is that this emotional component of wanting direct bookings will go away very quickly when Airbnb, Booking.com and VRBO start ramping up their Google machines again, and the demand will come through these channels. Then, a lot of property managers will forget that they had a direct booking strategy in 2022 because the demand just keeps coming in. So, I would understand such thinking but I would not underwrite that in the long term. Because for me, again, it goes back to the economic conversation: securing a returning direct booking guest or acquiring every customer for an 18% commission on Booking.com.”

STR Investment Opportunities 

While observing the industry’s changes, Simon also points out that the rise in vacation rental business awareness went beyond potential guests and property interest. Today, there is more attention to the companies surrounding the hospitality industry. And, while not many professional investors understand the game yet, the trend is definitely here to stay. 

“There’s still not a lot of investors in the world who really understand vacation rental. They understand hotels, they understand airlines, and they understand a lot of verticals in travel, but vacation rental is not widely understood in the investment world. Airbnb and others have raised a lot of interest for people to come into our world. Unfortunately, they have not yet been able to differentiate between the different business models or services. But they will understand soon because businesses like Airbnb attract every investor to the market.”

Curious to listen to the full episode? Get all the latest industry insights from renowned experts in our Hospitable Hosts podcast

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