Talking Business: Gail Mandel, CEO, Wyndham Vacation Rentals

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The company has more than 25 rental brands, all providing different vacation experiences, which between them have more than 108,000 vacation rental properties in nearly 600 destinations worldwide.

• What are the opportunities and challenges posed by the sharing economy for your business?
"The increased awareness of the sharing economy has given consumers broader choices, including offering a different experience from a traditional hotel. But the interesting thing for us is that the sharing economy is not new to us and some of our brands. Hoseasons for example has been around for 70 years, so the sharing economy is part of our DNA."

"Now the sharing economy is becoming more known to the broader population, I think the challenges we face are from some of the new models that have come up. We are established, we work with the local government, we pay our taxes, and we follow the rules and regulations that are applicable to vacation rentals or rental of second homes under each jurisdiction. There are some newer models that have come up and regulation hasn't caught up with them yet. That has resulted in some negative publicity, which is a challenge right now. There is so much press at the moment about some of the newer models, consumers get drawn in and don't quite know what they're getting. With us, and with other trusted hospitality brands who have been around, we have standards, we have our Vacation rental Bill of Rights, so consumers can vacation with confidence."

"Some of the newer upstarts haven't quite caught up to having those quality standards, along with issues over safety and cleanliness. To me, that's a challenge because we want to make sure that these consumers are understand that we're out there as an option that they can have confidence in. When they vacation with us, they're going to get what they thought they were going to get. There are two models - there is a professionally managed brand where the consumer and the homeowner know there is someone available 24/7 to support them in the process, and then there are the DIY-type brands, the listings. And that's fine because some people do like to do it themselves, so the vacation rental industry overall has options for everybody."

• What was the thinking behind Wyndham's recent investment in LoveHomeSwap, and how will the brand sit alongside your other offers?
"LoveHomeSwap is an innovative entrepreneurial company. The thing about home-to-home exchange, which is what LoveHomeSwap is, is that it's complimentary to what we have with our Registry Collection and RCI brands, which offer exchange within timeshare and vacation ownership. We believe the partnership presents opportunities that will enhance the experience for our customers and our members."

• So will LoveHomeSwap inventory be opened up to Registry Collection members, for example?
"Our long-term vision is to have the options offered by LoveHomeSwap available to RCI and Registry Collection members. We're not there yet, but that is the goal."

• Have you noticed any drop off in your bookings as a result of the growth of the sharing economy?
"We haven't noticed that at all. We've just released our first quarterly results and our vacation rental business continued to perform very strongly. It performed very strongly throughout 2015. Vacation rental is an $80 billion industry globally, and it's highly fragmented, so the way that I view all the publicity and the new entrants to the market is that it's bringing more awareness - as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. It's been good for all of us, and it's giving people options that they might not previously been aware of."

• Have your guest demographics changed as the sharing economy evolves?
"We are a provider of leisure vacations, and we are servicing families, we are servicing multi-generational travel, we're servicing groups of friends - all of whom are looking for a home-away-from-home experience, whether they want a ski vacation, whether they want to be at the beach or at the lakes. That's the beauty of our diverse portfolio."

• Has the way customers book with you changed, e.g. more mobile bookings?
"There are certain brands, Hoseasons for example, where the customer demographic is very mobile-oriented, so over the last couple of years we have adjusted out technology, and we continue to do so - that's part of meeting the customer's needs. We have mobile booking available for most of our brands and we continue to stay on top of the trends."

• What's next for Wyndham Vacation Rentals?
"I'm excited about our geographic expansion and our product expansion. We are continually striving to ensure that we're offering consumers personalised experiences that meet their needs. For example, Hoseasons has within its portfolio an offer called Go Active. We know that some of our customers want to be active, they want to ride bikes and be out doing things - so we have a portfolio that's specifically aimed at them. We continue to do that throughout the portfolio, to provide specially targeted and segmented offers, and we have unique properties to suit people's individual personalities."

• What could the sector do collectively to improve awareness and reputation?
"The sector needs to deliver what it represents. We're very careful to make sure that we are clear in our communication with customers just what it is that they are going to get from us - they know they can be confident when they're dealing with us. We need the rest of the sector to do the same. Consumers need to feel confident that they are going to get what they thought they were getting when they signed up for a rental."


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