HomeAway Co-Founder on Individual Hosts vs. Pros and Why He Doesn’t Use Airbnb or Vrbo


Skift Take

HomeAway Co-founder Carl Shepherd thinks the vacation rental industry isn’t doing enough for individual hosts.

Carl Shepherd is an investor and the co-founder of HomeAway, now part of Vrbo. He isn’t loyal to rental-booking platforms, though. It comes down to the fees and who they advantage with search.

“I’ve pretty much quit using both Vrbo and Airbnb personally,” he said. “I found it humbling. I don’t use it because I’m not going to pay that fee. I’m just going to book directly with the property manager.”

At Skift’s Short-Term Rental Summit on Wednesday, Shepherd also spoke on the challenges property managers encounter and whether booking platforms will uplift individual hosts. Here’s what Shepherd said:

Shepherd says Airbnb isn’t designed to embrace individual hosts. 

“I’ve never believed Airbnb’s PR. They’ve always been about vacation rentals. They’ve never really been about individual hosts,” said Shepherd. “It’s just who they are… They are for professionals, and they are for the Superhosts.”

At an event last week, Ellie Mertz, Airbnb’s chief financial officer, stressed the importance of individual hosts. Mertz said individual hosts tend to outshine professional hosts with ratings.

“There is a presumption that professional hosts provide better quality than individual hosts. And it’s not entirely proven out by the data.”

“What we [Airbnb] see in the inventory of others is predominantly professionally managed [listings].” The value of Airbnb is how its properties may not be as cross-listed across websites.

Shepherd said, “I’m encouraged to see, finally, after, you know, 20 years, that Airbnb has decided that, yes, it’s the individual hosts that they need to empower because it’s the individual property owner, at the end of the day, whose rights are being encroached by these regulations.”

Standardization isn’t always the way.

“People today, as we’ve professionalized the traveler, they are at a level of expectation that can only be met with standardization. Well, standardization is the enemy of true vacation rentals. It just is. We don’t want cookie-cutter stuff,” said Shepherd.

Property managers aren’t in the clear, but they have a place in the industry.

Shepherd: “If you’re going to be looking at the professional manager, you have to solve his or her problem. And his or her problem is they need direct bookings.”

“I can’t think of any property manager who has been able to continue growing after about 25,000 properties. I just haven’t seen it. And you can try to do that through acquisitions, but, if you do it through acquisitions, now you’ve got the problem of standardization across large geographies.”

For customers who “want standardization, they better stick with property managers. And, for property managers, you better fire the bad stuff. If you’ve got an owner that won’t invest in his property, you need to fire that guy.”

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