Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk#9 – Sobering leadership, buildings in the backyard, the importance of CX, and what’s in a name?

The role of leadership is to look towards the horizon, to see what others may not yet be able to see and help guide a team, company, country — or even whole industry — over the terrain successfully. Sometimes, what’s on the horizon is the good stuff. Buoyant markets, growth opportunities, new customer segments opening up, and fresh customer pain points to solve. Sometimes, it’s a little more bleak. Challenging economics, geopolitical issues, and new corporate threats.

The role of leadership

At an event this past Autumn, I heard Henrik Kjellberg, Group CEO of Awaze, give a sobering summary of the challenges that lie ahead in the short to medium term for short-term rentals and hospitality. His candor was refreshing.

When we’re surrounded by predictions for the coming year, it’s important to remind ourselves that 2024 will also likely see a continuation of two devastating wars, increased international tensions, a deepening climate crisis, more economic uncertainty and the inevitable political upheaval that will result when 40 countries, representing 41% of the global population, vote in new leaders next year.

As my stepfather used to say, “The only things that’re certain in life are death and taxes.” Everything else is, at best, just a guess and, at worst, wishful thinking. However, with solid leadership, the inevitable uncertainty can be mitigated and well-navigated. With that in mind, I enjoyed moderating the annual Hostaway predictions webinar last week, with industry leaders debating the hot topics for next year.

Are pre-fabs the (a) answer?

I remember reading about the launch of Airbnb’s trial into prefabricated housing a few years ago. It seemed like a neat idea to me. Buy a cheapish and smallish building online, which requires low skill to install, and presto, you have an investment asset at the bottom of your garden.

Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia has a new venture, Samara, which has raised $41M. He and former Flex CEO Mike McNamara have spent years perfecting the design of prefabricated houses.

“Families across California that need space are looking for these solutions,” Gebbia tells Fortune, citing multigenerational living, the work-from-home revolution, and homeowners’ interest in rental income as among the trends driving the need. “We’re taking the same playbook that Airbnb brought to the travel space of make it simple, make it easy for the consumer,” says Gebbia.

It’s another example of a convergence. Something that may have seemed obvious for a traveler market — also makes sense for a residential market.

How close are we to a frictionless experience for the customer?

This is a question that is fascinating to me. How close is technology to achieving a seamless journey for a resident or guest that moves smoothly through all the pain and touch points from attracting and engaging, decision making, booking/leasing, living and staying, and then departing?

On an OPTECH panel I attended recently, the consensus was we’re still 3-5 years away in the multifamily sector. I suspect the same applies to hotels, STR, and living. Give or take a bit. I heard that the typical resident journey includes 41 steps and 21 days before they’ve even turned the key into a new home.

The 2023 Customer Experience (CX) Technology Survey recently published by Real Foundations and the NMHC delves into the ‘Great App Explosion’ that is transforming the multifamily family digital landscape. Navigating this explosion is both challenging and full of opportunities. The report shows that 43% of multifamily operators are using more than 21 applications in their customer journey and 20% more than 31. That’s a lot of friction.

What’s in a name?

In the vacation slash short-term rental industry, we regularly find ourselves (hotly) discussing and debating our ‘name.’ Are we short-term rentals, vacation rentals, or maybe we could be something like lodging now? Or slide in alongside hospitality?

Does it matter what we are called?

The answer is ‘yes, it really does matter’. Naming is fundamental. Naming is a way of placing order on our world by helping us differentiate between things. It also helps others know what we are referring to when having a conversation. During this period of time with legislation looming, it’s vital the sector agrees here.

This is my understanding of what we call the sector. The term’ short-term rentals’ is used as an umbrella term and applies to any ‘short stay’ lodging that is not a hotel. So includes urban, leisure, corporate housing, apart-hotels, serviced apartments, master lease, flex rentals, ‘tech-enabled’, hosts, and ‘homespun hospitality’. It covers all types of trips and guests — so business, leisure, and the ‘bleisure’ hybrid.

On the other hand, vacation rentals are a specific segment of STR and refer predominantly to second homes in leisure destinations supplied to paying guests going on ‘vacation’.

That’s it. Simple really.

Merry Christmas to you all and best wishes for 2024.

About me – I’m the CEO, and founder of Abode Worldwide, a public relations agency focused on raising the profile of technology solutions and operators, transforming the global lodging, hospitality and living sectors. We work across STR, hotels, multifamily, coliving, senior living and PBSA.

Pillow Talk is my ‘newsletter’ sharing musings, learnings, and insights about the pioneering lodging technology brands and operators transforming how we work, rest, and play. I hope you find this interesting. If not, there’s an unsubscribe button at the bottom.

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