The villas.com website unveiled on Tuesday was tipped by parent company Booking.com to spark a revitalisation of the self-catering sector which has been beset by falling demand, poor online customer experience and scams.
Darren Huston, chief executive of the hotel accommodation giant, claimed there is pent up demand for quality holiday rental properties and a booking platform that provides good service and reassurance.
He said as well as meeting customer demand Booking.com’s entry into the market could persuade people to acquire accommodation to rent knowing there is a reputable and reliable company to sell it.
“If you know it’s being done well and someone solid is standing behind it, it makes the concept of owning something a lot more positive for people. Generally villas are an upgrade but it’s been an area that’s painful to book. If it’s made easier it can literally open up the industry,” he said.
In the UK holiday market self catering has been in decline as all-inclusive came to the fore during the recession, but Booking.com believes it can make its mark in the sector initially with a focus on Europe before other international markets.
The site, the first brand outside of Booking.com’s core hotel accommodation website, was soft launched at 9am (Amsterdam time) yesterday morning with 140,000 properties, mainly in Europe, contracted from property management companies.
Megan Anderson, Booking.com’s head of villas, said the new site was based on an entirely new platform designed to address the specific needs of customers looking for holiday rentals.
The move from the Amsterdam-based company, which claims to be a world leader in the hotels sector, will be seen as a response to the strides made by specialists like Airbnb and Homeaway.
Anderson said all the properties listed will come with instant confirmation and guaranteed availability and will be checked by Booking.com staff to ensure they exist and are not a scam.
“Our customers want an easy process where if they see a property that’s available, they know it is. If you look for dates that are sold out we will offer suggestions of alternatives around that time frame,” said Anderson.
Villas.com also offers the functionality to search around popular destinations for the ideal villas in sub-regions.
It also features a set of property filters to enable customers to find properties which are pet friendly, or which have outdoor barbecues, for instance.
Anderson said Villas.com would grow like Booking.com has from its base in Europe to embrace more destinations and eventually properties which are privately owned and not managed by a third party.
“We feel we can serve the customer better with a dedicated platform,” added Anderson. “We are experimenting. We are working alongside our customers to understand what their needs are – we do not have all the answers right now.”
The commercial model is the same as on Booking.com, with properties paid per booking and no fees to either the owners or the customer to use the site.
Many properties in peak times are restricted to offering Saturday to Saturday rentals only and less flexible cancellations policies than on Booking.com due to the nature of the sector, but Anderson said the company was working with owners to offer more short-term stays, particularly in off-peak months based on demand the site is seeing from customers searching.