Moving beyond Airbnb to hotel-quality home rentals

Just ten years after it was founded in 2008, Airbnb’s annual revenues broke the $2-billion mark. The explosive growth of the home-sharing market has made short-term rentals seem commonplace, yet the sector is still in its infancy. PwC predicts that by 2025 the home accommodation industry will be worth $330 billion in Europe alone, five times its current size.

However, this growth will only be achieved if the industry can overcome “Airbnb anxiety”, the questions guests ask themselves when booking: “Will the home be clean? Will it be safe? Will it even be there?”

Merilee Karr, chief executive and founder of UnderTheDoormat, a London-based luxury short-term rental company, sees this as the next big challenge for the industry to crack.

“The holiday homes industry has been around for many years, but the emergence of short-term rentals in cities is a new phenomenon. Many hosts are still learning how to do things properly. It’s very rare to have a serious negative issue, but the publicity they receive can undermine a market with a lot of potential growth,” she says.

Ms Karr, who chairs UKSTAA (UK Short-Term Accommodation Association) and has led the creation of the world’s first accreditation scheme for the industry, is a believer in practising what UKSTAA is preaching.

UnderTheDoormat was created five years ago with the vision of providing the quality of a hotel in the comfort of homes. This meant verifying everything from the quality standards of each home, to cleanliness, health and safety, and accurate online listings.

“It’s striving for consistency all round. It’s not just customers wanting a quality stay, but it’s homeowners wanting to know customers have been suitably vetted too,” says Ms Karr.

“Where we are succeeding is by being the intersection of property service and tech; having a SaaS [software-as-a-service] platform, but with a service layer around it that ensures quality in a sector that hasn’t always reached those expectations.”

Alternative to peer-to-peer

The idea for UnderTheDoormat came from Ms Karr’s personal experience, having organised many holidays and trips, but often finding it difficult to find suitable luxury accommodation, a quality home from home.

“The people with the nicest homes need assurance and they are often second-home owners or retirees, frequent business travellers or families with international roots, but they will only consider renting them out if there is a way to do it properly. They want the assurance and capability of a professional company to fully manage their home for them,” she says.

Five years on and now one of the first companies in London to work with Homes & Villas by Marriott International, UnderTheDoormat is enjoying a snowball effect of uptake on both the homeowner and guest sides, which not only validates Ms Karr’s analysis of the sector, but reflects the continuing growth in short-term rentals in the UK.

“Despite the visibility the sector has already achieved, the big wave of growth is yet to come,” she says. “High-end homeowners and corporate property companies are just starting to realise the potential for short-term rentals with companies like UnderTheDoormat providing the assurance and brand quality they need.

“They can earn effortless income, knowing a responsible, accredited company is looking after their most important asset when it would otherwise be empty.”

Scaling quality for property managers

UnderTheDoormat is a leading provider in this sector in London, and now beyond, as it offers its technology and routes to market to smaller high-end property management companies across the UK.

“Within the next couple of years, we’ll operate more than 1,000 homes in London and at the same time we’re going to grow geographically by offering partner companies across the UK and Europe the ability to distribute via our technology,” says Ms Karr.

“We already have our first partner companies in London, the Cotswolds and Luxembourg, which is only the beginning. For those who have found the whole proptech proposition scary or too time consuming in the past, there is now an insured, luxury, managed proposition out there for them to enter the space.”

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