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Ahead of the upcoming first live edition of the Vacation Rental World Summit, which is being held in Barcelona on 29th-30th October 2016, we were lucky enough to chat to its host and keynote speaker, Antonio Bortolotti. In this Q&A, Bortolotti reveals insider information about the event, what attendees can expect and his own predictions for the future of the vacation rental industry.

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Tell us a bit about the Vacation Rental World Summit, how did the idea come about?

I used to speak at major industry events in Europe for a number of years and often noticed how the hosts focus was not mainly on real, actionable advice owners and managers could take away and implement to improve their business. And I was not alone.

One day, during a seminar, an owner stood up in the middle of the room and addressed the Regional Manager of a big listing site saying: “We don’t care how big you are. We don’t care how much you are growing your inventory. We want real, actionable tips that can truly help us getting better at what we do. Why don’t you get more guys like Antonio to do more valuable events? That’s what we want!” And the room went crazy. That’s when I understood the time had come for me to venture on a crazy mission and deliver on that request. As a result, VRWS was born in 2014 to answer the growing demand from our industry base for effective education on how to get more bookings, streamline workflows and maximize rental income.

The first two editions were online to gain the widest possible reach and build the foundations for this year’s first ever in-person independent event, gathering top performing industry experts and acknowledged professionals to share their combined knowledge with fellow peers worldwide.

What has made the Vacation Rental World Summit become so successful over the past few years?

I think there is a pretty simple answer to that: VRWS has been conceived as an independent event made by property owners, property managers and industry professionals with a proven track record of success, whose mission is to truly help fellow peers worldwide, focusing on real, actionable tips to get more bookings, delivering proven strategies to increase occupancy rates and educating on cutting edge tools to streamline workflows and get higher ROI.

The uniqueness of VRWS laid also on the fact that it has been an online event, hence a conference that comes to you. As such, it brings all related costs of attendance down, makes it convenient for everyone to follow at your own pace and review all the recordings over and over again, until you’ve mastered that specific topic, as a real training should allow you to do.

This is the first year it’s taking place in person rather than online, what were your reasons behind choosing to host the event in Barcelona?

As a natural evolution of its online success, Vacation Rental World Summit gets one step further by allowing attendees to meet face to face, rub shoulders with fellow peers from around the world and get a chance to ask their #1 question directly to their speakers of choice.

Barcelona is a natural hub in Europe for a conference like this, since many VR startups and successful companies have offices, if not headquarters, there. And it’s also centrally located, making it very affordable to reach from virtually anywhere in Europe. It’s a beautiful city, with a very high quality of life, great food and makes for an awesome escape to add some extra days of fun.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s VRWS?

We want everyone in the room to walk away with the tangible feeling that it was worth it. We want attendees to feel they’re part of a very progressive, forward-thinking and positive group of fellow peers willing to help one another, share their best practices and grow all together in a win-win environment.

What can attendees (especially vacation rental owners) expect to gain from VRWS?

A lot! First of all, no session will be concurrent. We believe attendees have the right to participate in every presentation, every workshop and every activity without having to decide between one or the other.

Secondly, VRWS will be a balanced mix of presentations on topics like boosting bookings, panel discussions on industry data, statistics and what the big companies don’t tell you, with a number of industry professionals sharing their take and advice, hands-on workshops on key aspects of running VRs successfully, then networking with peers from around the world, meeting speakers face-to-face, and shaking hands with a few service providers that can help streamline your business.

Thirdly, each attendee coming to Barcelona will enter a fantastic prize draw, where everyone in the room will have the chance to win a free stay in a five-star luxury property, a website revamp, a free 20-minute consultation with a speaker of choice and a few other surprise bonuses that will be announced in the room, so nobody leaves the room empty handed.

Lastly, we’ve managed for attendees to stay in a rental property rather than a hotel room during the event, as we made available a selection of over 250 Barcelona apartments to choose from! After all, it’s the Vacation Rental World Summit, so makes sense to stay in a VR, doesn’t it?

In what ways do you feel the vacation rental industry has evolved?

The industry has evolved in many ways, some good and some less attractive. Our industry is so dynamic that we all struggle to keep up with the latest changes. Yet we need to stand on the shoulders of the giants, so to speak, if we want to keep thriving. There is a clear move from most major OTAs to dominate, influence and limit the range of independence on several key aspects of VR owners and PMs business/asset management – for example the direct communication with prospective guests in various stages of the booking process – which contrasts with the freedom that owners and PMs correctly claim, and these contrasting forces may shift the market in directions that are not very desirable.

What upcoming trends can we expect for vacation rentals in 2017? What are your predictions for the industry in general?

The attempt to commoditize the VR industry from major OTAs that we’ve been seeing lately is completely in contrast with the very own nature of the VR industry itself, whose players (owners, PMs and agents) base their success on the uniqueness and authenticity of the service they provide. So it’s going to be a very tough battle, whose outcome is uncertain. Those who won’t adapt to the changes fast and won’t come up with innovative ways to differentiate themselves from the crowd and keep their brand strong will probably perish, or they will see their margins decrease to the point where they’ll go bust or have to rethink their entire strategy if they want to survive.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

This year we’re going to have execs from Airbnb and Booking.com taking part in the summit, both as attendees and panelists in Richard Vaughton’s very interesting session on the future of our industry. It’s going to be an interesting opportunity for attendees to pose their questions, doubts, concerns and proposals directly to some of the biggest players in our industry, in the hope that a collaborative approach can really lead to a win-win situation for everyone involved.

You can catch Lodgify‘s Dennis Klett at the 2016 Vacation Rental World Summit, taking place 29th-30th October.

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