Brian Schwimmer is the CEO and co-owner of Travel Rental Network, a fast- growing travel agent resource for vacation rentals. Brian has worked in the travel industry and in international real estate for the past 10 years, experience that he brings to the vacation rental industry. Travel Rental Network places travel agents in direct contact with property owners, each of whom pay commissions on their vacation rental properties.
TRO: Tell me about Travel Rental Network. How does it differ from other companies offering vacation rental properties?
Brian Schwimmer: When Travel Rental Network began, we knew we didn’t want to be just another “vacation rental by owner” site, since there were already way too many sites out there trying to be the next HomeAway or VRBO. We realized that we had to focus on a niche market that was attractive to owners, and whose needs weren’t being met by the current market leaders. My experience in international real estate and vacation rentals made me think of travel agents right away, since I realized that there was tremendous opportunity for a homeowner to develop a relationship with a travel agent and have their home constantly recommended. After all, there are many travelers out there who are not internet savvy and who appreciate the value in having an expert travel agent plan their vacations, who will not surf the web to find a vacation rental.
From the travel agent’s perspective, the vacation rental industry is booming and more and more travelers are asking for vacation rentals since they realize all the advantages to renting a property instead of staying in a hotel. The challenge for the agent is that not all homeowners are willing to pay a commission, so the agent can waste a lot of time not only looking for the right property for their client, but also one that pays a commission. The first thing we wanted to do, then, was make sure that our network was going to be the most agent-friendly online, since we recognized that a free, comprehensive and detailed listing site with properties that wanted to work with agents on commission was really lacking in the industry.
We knew that our listings had to meet travel agent’s needs, so in addition to making sure the homeowners and property managers wanted to work with agents, we made sure to only recommend rentals that were going to offer great value and great customer service, which we ensure by having personal relationships with homeowners and property management companies (PMCs) that have a positive rental history. We also make sure that all the properties on the site abide by their homeowner’s association and condo board rules. And with 24 photos being standard on each listing, we lastly made sure that our listings are as detailed as possible, so agents know exactly where they are sending their guests. Because we offer our listings for free to travel agents, we are also able to attract independent travelers, and as it turns out, regular travelers have come to appreciate these aspects of our listings as well. For both the traveler and the agent, our goal is to eliminate the skepticism and uncertainty about vacation rentals by offering them qualified properties with service that will exceed their expectations, which is why we’re so judicious about the properties we allow on the site.
TRO: How many total properties are listed with Travel Rental Network and are there some geographic specialties that Travel Rental Network offers?
Brian Schwimmer: We have over 1500 handpicked properties around the world, with the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and Central America being especially strong areas for us. Of course, we’re looking to amass a world wide selection, but it is time-consuming to not only qualify these properties, but to also ensure that they work with travel agents. Nonetheless, our listings continue to grow at an amazing pace, since we are constantly adding new properties on a daily basis. We sort them based on the newest added, so agents should keep checking back to find new properties they can work with.
TRO: Essentially, you place the travel agent directly in touch with the owner of the property. How are commission arrangements handled?
Brian Schwimmer: Every owner on our site is aware that we market to travel agents and is prepared to pay a commission, which is usually 10%. Ultimately, the arrangements are negotiated between the owner and travel agent, however typically the travel agent collects the full payment from the traveler and then pays the homeowner the rental fee minus the 10% commission.
TRO: What are the strongest selling points for a Vacation Rental property?
Brian Schwimmer: There are too many to list! For one, rentals offer unparalleled value, especially when you divide the fee by the number of guests staying at the rental. For example, two families could book a huge, luxury villa together, and by splitting the rental fee, it could actually end up being cheaper than a hotel. This value is especially pertinent when one considers how much more room vacation rentals offer. The old adage in the industry is “why rent a room when you can rent a house,” and this is exactly right. With a rental, every member of the travelling party can have a bedroom, rather than having to split a bedroom (which is essentially what sharing a hotel room entails). Plus, a rental offers comfortable living and dining room for everyone to eat and relax together, which definitely beats the normal chair and desk found in most hotels.
By the same token, rentals are filled with all the comforts of home, which is especially important for families. For example, in places like Mexico, families want to have full control of the water and food so that they don’t get sick, which is why they love staying in rentals with kitchens and water filtration systems.
Rentals are also often uniquely decorated and furnished, and each rental has its own charm and character, which is especially striking when one compares them to hotel rooms. Good homeowners take pride in their homes, and can therefore offer you something you simply won’t see at a hotel.
Also, if you don’t want to stay in a touristy part of town and want to truly experience how locals live, rentals are the only way to go. After all, hotels are geared towards tourists, and it can be hard to experience local culture when you’re sitting at a hotel buffet eating hamburgers with other tourists. Rentals allow guests to meet their neighbors and cook local foods, and they’re often located in areas that are off-the-beaten-track, allowing you to discover your own, personal slice of paradise.
Lastly, rentals offer unparalleled privacy, which allows guests to entertain or relax however they wish. Private pools, private beaches and private dining rooms are the order of the day with rentals, and travelers have consistently told us that once you experience the privacy of a villa, you never want to go back to a hotel ever again. �
TRO: How about internationally, how should a travel agent position the opportunity?
Brian Schwimmer: In terms of international travel, travel agents should be promoting the fact that a rental is the only way to truly get a feel for an area and live as the locals do. But, if you’ve never been to an area, it’s hard to know where to rent (and doubly hard if you don’t speak the language), so travel agents should be promoting their expertise about given regions and emphasizing the fact that they can help clients book the most unforgettable villa vacations of their lives in a way that they could otherwise not do on their own or with anyone else.
TRO: What are your criteria for a property? How does the agent know that the property is one they can recommend?
Brian Schwimmer: To begin, we handpick the properties we work with. We judge, based on the photos, amenities, and location, if the rental is a good value. We research to make sure that the homeowner does not have any negative reviews, and we do not recommend properties that do not have a rental history. From there, we speak to the homeowner and develop personal relationships with them. If, at this time, the homeowner expresses that they do not work with agents, we don’t allow them to list. Similarly, if they express that they are usually too busy to offer good customer service, or if they appear rude or abrasive, we also do not allow them to list with us. Finally, if they are fully booked for the year and only have a few weeks open, we do not allow them to list, as we want homeowners with availability on our site.
TRO: Who are the principals behind Travel Rental Network, and how did you get started in the business?
Brian Schwimmer: In addition to myself, our COO and co-owner of Travel Rental Network, Daniel Bakerman, previously held the title of COO at a major online marketing firm. Daniel brings to the table more than 10 years of experience and expertise in operations management, web development and online marketing, which are a perfect complement to my knowledge of the industry.
TRO: What should agents understand to properly represent your offerings?
Brian Schwimmer: Agents should know that they can work with all the properties on our site, and that our homeowners and PMCs are all friendly, helpful, and looking to go the extra mile for their guests. They should know that rentals offer their clients unparalleled luxury, privacy, and value, and that a rental is the perfect way to make someone’s dream vacation come true. Lastly, they should know that the days of uncertainty in the vacation rental industry are over, because Travel Rental Network is finally offering them and their clients the kind of qualified rentals they need.
Travel agents can visit the Travel Rental Network site and register to use their booking engine and receive periodic updates at www.travelrentalnetwork.com.