Avon-based TripsIn going back to basics in the online rental businessOriginally Posted in the Vail Daily, Editor Scott Miller - March 3, 2018
AVON — In business, especially online business, there's generally only one direction: forward. But a pair of Avon-based entrepreneurs think they can succeed by going back to basics.
Jay Gould, David Jaffee, Lois Mueller and Michelle Parenti is the team behind TripsIn.com, a new company that's competing in the already-crowded field of online rentals. The partners believe that cutting back on a lot of new-ish business practices can fuel their company's growth.
The impetus for the launch came from Gould's experience with his existing company, Vail Valley Getaway. That property-management company lists units with the most popular online firms. But, Gould said, he — and a number of other management companies — have grown frustrated with the big firms' business methods.
Those companies started out as lead-generation sites. The companies charged unit owners and managers a listing fee but left the transactions up to renters and owners.
Over time, those companies have become booking sites that handle the entire transaction. That change has brought new fees — particularly booking fees — and, Gould said, a decline in customer service.
People in a call center don't necessarily know if a property has ski-in, ski-out access, Parenti added.
If a traveler makes a direct link with a property representative, the renter is far more likely to get an accurate description of a unit, Gould said.
Fighting the fees
Gould said changes in the online rental industry have irritated many people in the property-management business, which consists of roughly 20,000 companies around the nation.
TripsIn has brought back the idea of simply being an intermediary between travelers and owners or managers.
Property owners and managers pay a flat fee for a listing — it's $250 per year, per unit. As in the early days of online rentals, the transaction is left between travelers and property managers.
"Our goal is to unite people through the website, plus a good user experience," Parenti said. "We make sure the user experience is excellent."
To do that, TripsIn has started slowly, rolling out websites on a state-by-state basis. Gould said it's essential to have enough units on the site so people will shop, stay and then do a transaction.
As you'd expect, the company started in Colorado. But it's grown quickly.
After taking the Colorado page of the website live in mid-December of 2017, TripsIn now has roughly 2,250 units on the site. Those units are in Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties.
The original idea was to build a base in Colorado and then expand to other areas. It turns out the partners were too conservative in their estimates.
The Colorado page was quickly joined by a page with roughly 500 units in resort areas of Mexico. South Carolina is live, as well. Utah and Southern California are coming online soon.
Growing the base
"The reason we brought this out wasn't to be the fastest-growing," Gould said. "But we've kept hearing how booking sites were making people mad."
Much of that aggravation comes from fees charged by the big companies. One company recently announced it was going to take 10 percent of any lead that comes from its site — something that's difficult to track, since a lot of properties are on multiple sites.
Mike Connolly, general manager of Avon-based Triumph Mountain Properties, said he was glad to see TripsIn come on the scene, and not just because it isn't charging fees beyond the one-time annual listing charge — although that's a big deal.
Connolly said people who book homes and condos in ski resorts make up a different kind of customer base. In Triumph's case, those customers, on average, spend several thousands of dollars on lodging for one trip.
"Those people want to talk to somebody," Connolly said. "They want to make sure there's a real person or entity behind what they're seeing."
As the big companies take over the booking part of the business, it becomes harder for clients to make those connections, he said.
TripsIn puts that level of contact back into the business, Connolly said.
While the big booking sites have expanded what they do, Gould and Parenti said they intend to keep TripsIn's mission simple.
One way they've done that is by not taking on outside investors. Those groups generally demand quick and significant returns on their investments, Gould said.
For now, the big sites don't really have anything to fear from TripsIn. Property representatives are still posting their units across multiple sites.
Still, "our goal is to be the preferred choice," Parenti said.
Connolly said it may take some time for the TripsIn model to catch on. But, he added, "It's a great idea. I'm glad (Gould) put forward the effort, the energy and investment to do it."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.