When Jessica Larsen, broker-owner at Kismet Enterprises in Dennis, Mass., added short-term rentals to her business model in 2012, she did well, even though she juggled several listing sites and their inherent issues. Vacation rental sites didn’t offer the best in technology, despite being around for quite some time—Vrbo since 1995 and Airbnb since 2008.
“You were on Airbnb and Vrbo, and you [also] had a direct booking site. That was quite an opportunity for double bookings because there was nothing that seamlessly indicated the booking calendar, and all of the tech itself was still new. So, you had to contend with the fact that the platforms were kind of making it up as they went along,” Larsen says.
Listings management has always had its fair share of challenges. When Larsen was starting out, one issue that came up was when the owner of a vacation rental wanted to stay in that home for a week and needed to block that time period off from the listing’s calendar. Larsen would have to log into five or six different websites to make sure the time was blocked off on each in order to avoid a double booking.
The Trials of Managing Short-Term Rentals
Another issue is that Cape Cod is a popular leisure destination but seasonal in nature. Larsen’s short-term rental business increases in the spring and peaks in the summer season, followed by a dramatic drop in business in the fall and winter once everyone returns to school and temperatures drop. To keep up with the bookings during the busy seasons, Larsen was using both technology and reservations teams that required training and oversight. “You have to be prepared to staff and hold that cost even during your low season. That was a massive challenge for somebody like me.”
Larsen found that the general outlook toward the use of online travel agencies in her own profession presented a challenge as well. The traditional rental process is to have renters book and pay directly, since the most common agent approach was, Larsen says, “Do not go on those platforms. Don’t give them your money. As realtors, we never know whether technology is our friend. Are they going to take my listings, or help me? That’s the big challenge.”
As highly dedicated and hungry for work as Larsen was when she set up her business, she wasn’t yet well-funded. The question became: How do you build and direct traffic to your listings to compete with these long-established travel agency platforms?
“You don’t,” Larsen says. Instead, she leaned into using them, even though the cost was sometimes steep. “Sure, we’re paying them, and it could be as much as 15 percent. That’s a lot of money, but you’re creating a database somewhere that you can go back to and direct market to. The idea is that this gets you started, and it’s a great way to level the playing field. I knew that I wanted to take my listings and put them on multiple OTAs, and that would be how I got the ball rolling.”
Sifting Through Channel Distribution Tech Options
While this approach was helpful and did help establish Larsen in the short-term rental business, the constant upkeep became cumbersome. She decided to make a tech-savvy move that streamlined and transformed her short-term rental business: channel distribution technology. As Larsen puts it, “channel distribution technology is sort of like an MLS for short-term rentals. I go into a single database, I enter my listings there, and they go out to the internet from that database.”
From her many years in short-term rentals and co-hosting, Larsen heard and read a lot of feedback about the existing CDTs on the market and their costs and limitations. “I knew none of the CDT platforms I was familiar with had what I was looking for, even if I really didn’t know what I was looking for. Channel distribution wasn’t even in my vernacular at the time. As I recall, I Googled ‘MLS for short term rentals,’ and came upon Jetstream.” Although this CDT platform was geared toward the hotel, motel, and resort space at the time, Larsen immediately saw its potential for her real estate business.
Streamlining Business and Saving Money
A couple of factors immediately won her over to this CDT platform: no upfront cost and the ability to put her listings up with white labeling. Because Jetstream uses its own tech, this saved Larsen the cost and hassle of integrating new software into her daily operations. “Implementing and training agents is a quagmire of doom. We were able to get to work on day one, because all we had to do was bring listing agreements. The rest of the online work is basically done for us. And I would pay when I get paid. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, what?’ That really got the ball rolling in my business.”
And after years of answering guest messages at all times of the day, having the professional buffer of a white-label guest communications team “was another absolute game changer, and it gave me a tremendous amount of time back, which could be put to better use in my business.” Now, Larsen offers her clients 24-hour guest communications and response time in 11 languages. Outsourcing to Jetstream also meant there was no need for her to build an in-house reservations team, which is especially helpful due to the lack of labor in a seasonal community like Cape Cod.
Larsen worked with the company for about a year to tailor the solution for real estate partners. (Currently, there are only about a dozen or so other similar CDT platforms that exist for real estate.) Now, with her listings automatically uploaded to Vrbo, Airbnb and other vacation rental websites, Larsen spends a lot less time behind the computer and more time interacting with clients.
Using a CDT platform has allowed Larsen to not only better position her brand and listings online but resulted in the growth of her business. “We have increased our occupancy, and we are making way more money by embracing the pricing dynamics and working closely with our revenue manager. When we make more money, our owners make more money,” she says.
Larsen believes that getting comfortable with tech solutions is critical for the success of current and future real estate agents. “I am of the belief that if real estate agents do not embrace this tech, the property managers and co-hosts will swoop in—heck, the owners might even go direct. Real estate agents will fall out of relevance in this marketplace if we don’t lead the way on embracing these technologies and establishing ourselves as the listing professionals in this vertical.”