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Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal: HomeAway’s Trademark Infringement Suit Against AirBnB

Homeaway sues AirBnB for trademark infringement

News of HomeAway’s trademark-infringement lawsuit against AirBnB has left many customers of both companies wondering what to think about the whole thing.

“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal.” This famous saying, most often attributed to Pablo Picasso, pretty much summarizes how the creative process works in any media. And Silicon Valley is no different.

If you’re good enough at making high-quality copies, people will admire you for your skillset. You will earn some respect and even a decent amount of money. Still in all, it doesn’t matter how good the replica is. It will be overshadowed by the original creation.

A creative genius, Picasso was never interested in copying things. His creative process began with ideas from others, which once absorbed, took on a new life in his own image, and on a different scale.

Oftentimes, these ideas came to him via the great masters, and sometimes from his fellow artists. Throughout his career, he mastered his “art of stealing” like no one else.

While a teenager, Picasso became fascinated by the work of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. This resulted in a series of works that made the originals look pretty outdated. One of Picasso’s greatest contributions to the art world, Cubism, was also influenced by Ingres.

Turkish Bath Picasso vs IngresTurkish Bath by Ingres (1862) – left and by Pablo Picasso (1907) – right

This is how things get done in the realm of genius. Ideas inspire great artists to create a new art form that didn’t exist before, and is often regarded as revolutionary.

Whether you borrow or steal in the world of business, the consequences are vastly different.

On December 16, 2013, AirBnB launched a new advertisement campaign, “Home to You.” The Home to You ad campaign centers around a video showing artisans recreating 50 Airbnb vacation rental listings in the form of miniature birdhouses.

Yes, birdhouses. This is what all the fuss is about.

Here’s how AirBnB describes the idea behind the movie on their YouTube channel:

No creatures on earth travel quite like birds do. They soar the skies, then land in new places. They see the world from a different perspective, one to which all real travelers aspire. This film is a celebration of our passion for travel and the kind of hospitality that makes people feel at home anywhere.

How could a story like that not touch the soul of an aspiring traveler?

But, apparently, it can also touch a copyrighted image: the “Birdhouse Mark” which happened to be a protected trademark of AirBnB’s biggest competitor, HomeAway, Inc. HomeAway’s logo prominently features a birdhouse, and the company uses birdhouses as its sort of “mascot.”

According to HomeAway’s argument, Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of AirBnB, paid multiple visits to HomeAway’s headquarters in Austin, Texas. This said, it’s probably safe to assume that the giant birdhouse replica in the middle of their headquarters didn’t pass unnoticed.

Birdhouse by HomeAway in their headquarter

We will leave it up to history to determine whether AirBnB’s national campaign is a complete steal or just borrowing. It certainly visualizes an especially poetic perspective on travel.

One thing, though, is crystal clear to Brian Sharples, CEO and Chairman of HomeAway.

“We do believe it is a fairly deliberate attempt to confuse the marketplace,” Sharples has said. Chesky “has been to our downtown offices several times. He has stepped into our giant birdhouse. I don’t think that anyone could argue that this was a mistake on their part.”

So, what now?

Should we consider it as a formal announcement of the war between two competitors? Was HomeAway fed up with AirBnB breaking more and more into the market for traditional vacation rental homes?

Although they are clashing over the same market niche, HomeAway and AirBnB are very different animals when it come to their respective cultures, founders, and backers, and the demographics of their hosts, guests, founders, and even haters.

It’s even safe to say that AirBnB and HomeAway are completely opposites any way you look at them. This is what makes this clash so fascinating.

Let’s look back at the history of two companies and try to understand what may arise from this.

HomeAway, Inc, nowadays a publicly traded company under the AWAY ticker, was founded in 2005 by Brian Sharples and Carl Shepherd. Within six years,  they managed to bring the company to its IPO, generating a sixfold return on investment (based on the post-IPO figures).

Their runaway success was mainly attributable to a clever way of cherrypicking and acquiring market leaders in the vacation rental industry around the globe, and monetizing their existing customer bases.

Some of HomeAway’s most notable acquisitions included VRBO.com and VacationRentals in the US, Arbitel.fr in France, and about twenty additional websites in different time zones, languages and hemispheres, the most recent being the Australia-based Stayz, for $198M. HomeAway often called themselves a startup, but it’s pretty unusual for a startup to begin operations with $49M on hand, with another $500M deposited by VCs within the first couple of years of operation.

AirBnB was founded in 2008, by two designers,Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, and an engineer, Nathan Blecharczyk. For a few months they tested out the idea of renting an airbed in their San Francisco loft to conferencegoers. Packaged with a small meal, the accommodation was dubbed  Airbed and Breakfast (later shortened to AirBnB). They made a few attempts to replicate this model in other cities, but that didn’t help with their flat revenue graph.

Forced to think outside of the box as their fledgling company struggled to become profitable, the founders began to offset their losses by selling repackaged cereal as “Obama O’s” and “Captain McCain’s.” The cereal story, a hit during the 2008 election, later became a trigger point for Paul Graham to take these guys seriously. In the winter 2009, the founders were invited to participate in YCombinator, one of Silicon Valley’s first and most respected startup accelerators. From this very moment, AirBnB’s growth was phenomenal. The amount of funding they attracted over the course of couple of years reflects their rapid market expansion. Starting from the $20K coming from the YCombinator fund, they quickly accumulated $326M in funding from their first tier investors and celebrities. Being pioneers of the shared economy, they inspired a lot of controversy, viral press, and tidal waves of support from all around the globe. It’s fair to mention that over time the website became for some a reliable source of income—and for others, some sort of a travel religion. People started referring to AirBnB’s brand as a foundation of a new phenomena: the shared economy. Inspired by their success, dozens of other startups adopted their business model to different markets: AirBnB for CarsAirBnB for Dogs, you name it! Finally, the AirBnB founders came up with their own new version of AirBNB … for birds.

BirdBnB.com became their first national ad campaign calling for bird houses. Notably, the campaign cost AirBnB no less than $2M.

“We promise you’ll never look at birdhouses the same way — and if you stay in one of these remarkable homes around the world, you may never look at travel the same way again too,” the website states. (At the time of this article, BirdBnB.com is redirecting to the main website AirBnB.com)

This is where their march has been stalled by a lawsuit from HomeAway.

Homeaway Birdhouse logo

“Defendant and HomeAway target and provide services to an overlapping class of Travelers for their respective services, through overlapping channels of trade,” the HomeAway suit states. “On information and belief, Defendant, has long targeted the tenants in landlord owned apartments in major cities (such as New York, Paris, San Francisco, Berlin, etc.) as its major supplier of listings.”

“However, Defendant [Airbnb] has recently increased its efforts to attract business in traditional vacation rental markets (such as the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountains, Provence and Tuscany), in which HomeAway has long been well-established.”

Embedded in the culture of HomeAway, Sharples said, is the birdhouse logo, designed by downtown Austin advertising firm McGarrah Jessee and chosen “because it symbolizes what we do.”

AirBnB’s creative genius has served them pretty well on many occasions. It will be interesting to see how things will unfold this time.

Shall we expect an open-field battle between competitors, a massive settlement or M&A talk?

What are your thoughts on this?

Capitalize Off Your Reviews and Testimonials

You asked, and we listened!

At Rentini, we develop and improve our product based on feedback from homeowners and travelers who make up our customer base. One refrain we’ve heard again and again from homeowners new to Rentini has been about how to show their reviews from past guests on their new Rentini powered website or listing. Travelers, they remind us, like to see social proof before proceeding to book a vacation home. Namely, travelers want to see positive reviews highlighting what a good time they had at the vacation home and some of the perks of staying there.

Introducing Testimonials

Our homeowners have a point: studies have shown that properties with reviews are far more likely to generate more bookings. On Rentini guests leave reviews after having paid for a reservation via Rentini. This enables us to verify the review by associating it with a paid reservation. But what about all those reviews from previous guests?

That’s where testimonials come into play. Rentini has developed a feature that lets homeowners invite previous guests and friends to write testimonials [read: personal recommendations, or, reviews of the rental]. Testimonials are a good start to getting some of those glowing reviews and established history from previous guests and friends visible on your listing.

On Your Listings page are features including Request Testimonials. Click on Request Testimonials and in the boxes enter emails of friends and previous guests and click send to invite them to write a testimonial for you and your property.

In the future we will develop something more comprehensive –something that will propagate your reviews automatically from the biggest vacation rental sites where you already have most of your reviews. This, we hope, would be the necessary step to show your property in the best light while maintaining Rentini’s verified review system.

What do you think? Share your thoughts below!

Introducing Last Minute Deals on Vacation Rentals by Homeowners

Don’t give up on upcoming vacancies, we’ve got a solution!

It’s never too late to make some memories, or money when it comes to being a vacation rental owner. That’s why we have created a last minute deals program that allows our homeowners to offer travelers last minute discounts on vacancies for their vacation rentals.

Fill vacant dates on your calendar
Each week on Tuesday at noon EST, registration for our last minute deals page will open. There you can let us know your desired last minute dates and rates. We will then publish the new rates for travelers the following day (Wednesday) along with spreading the word about your great deal across as much of the internet as can.

Blog about your last minute deal

If you want to take your deal (and overall listing) one step further, we are accepting blog posts from our homeowners regarding their vacation destinations. Take a look at these posts to get some ideas. Notice how we talk about the culture, activities and overall lifestyle of the destinations. By attracting travelers to the destination itself, your property will be featured as the perfect accommodation for travelers to go and experience everything for themselves. This is done through linking keywords and photos to your listing, as well as simply culminating your post with a “Where to stay” sort of ending.

So feel free to submit your own to blogger@rentini.com and we will review it for publication.

High Quality Photos Make a Difference in Booking Your Vacation Rental

As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Here at Rentini, we believe,

“a quality photo could be worth a thousand bookings”…

A better picture brings more bookings

A better picture means more bookings: Waipouli Beach Resort & Spa

We are always exploring new ways to help market properties in an effort to bring homeowners more bookings. That’s why we conducted a survey of travelers regarding how they search out the right vacation rental. We found that 8 out of 10 vacation rental bookings are influenced more by images of the property versus the description of the property. People want to see what they are spending their hard earned money on. Makes sense right? Anyone can try to sell you a “Stunning 2 bedroom, 2 bath home with all the necessary commodities”, but only so many homeowners can actually show you high quality photos of how stunning each room actually is.
For example, between these two properties, where would you rather stay?

Property images
Here? or Here?

Believe it or not, those are photos of the same living room. While the first photo may make you think your looking at a small loft in Brooklyn, the latter photo clearly shows the elegance of this beautiful vacation home in the Hamptons.

Furthermore, according to research done by Trip Advisor; properties with more than 20 photos get 150% more engagement. This should be reason enough to spend the $200 (on average) for a professional photography session for your vacation rental. After all, photos last forever so you should see that cost returned to you within the first booking, and then the next, and so on.

These are reasons why we have created a contest on Pinterest to give 5 lucky homeowners a professional photography session for their homes. Pinterest is currently the fastest growing social network in the world, read more about its benefits in our social media property marketing series here.
Contest instructions and details can be found here for both homeowners and travelers.

Using Pinterest to Market Your Vacation Rental

Pinterest  is one of the newest and most hard hitting players in the social media world. Below we have listed some statistics to get you excited about the platform and why vacation rental owners should be taking advantage of our “Pin-it to win it” contest we just launched.

  • Pinterest is now the 3rd most popular social network (Experian)since it took the internet by storm in February 2012 when it reached 10.4 million users (AppData).
  • Despite it not yet getting as much traffic as Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest is retaining and engaging users as much as 2-3 times as efficiently as Twitter was at a similar time in their history (RJMetrics).
  • Daily Pinterest users have increased by more than 145% since the beginning of 2012. (Mashable)
  • As of January 2012, American users spent an average of 97.8 minutes on Pinterest. (eMarketer)
  • Over 1/5 of Facebook-connected users are on Pinterest daily (which represents more than 2 million members). (AppData)

Pretty impressive right? Now here is how you, as a vacation home owner can take advantage. Pinterest is all about simply sharing nice photos, or pinning, as it’s known on the site. By creating separate boards based on category, location etc. users organize their pins onto designated boards that can be found when users search for specific topics.

In this case we will use travel as the category. When the any user types in “travel” in the search bar, they are presented with any pin that has been labeled with “travel” or “#travel” (hashtags seem to work interchangeably on Pinterests platform). You can adjust your results to focus on specific boards that are labeled as travel, or people with travel in their name.

Pinterest travel boards

Pinterest travel boards

Travel is obviously a popular search term, as are specific vacation destinations, exotic countries and home decoration on Pinterest. Therefore, just by adding these words to a pin of your property, you can be thrown into this mix of users that are searching for their dream getaway. Not only do they just see the picture of your beautiful vacation home, but when they click it they are taken directly to your page. Pinterest acts as a bookmarklet for users so they can come back and find these places again.

This is where we got the idea for our “Pin it to win it perfect getaway” campaign. As homeowners, you simply need to pin your property once with the hashtags #Travel and #PerfectGetaway. By doing so, we have set up the traveler side of the contest to push your pins even further by having them pin your properties with similar hashtags and by creating boards that will keep them in their history forever (as long as they don’t delete them, but who would get rid of such beautiful places?).

With each post, comes a tweet with similar hashtags that are being searched for constantly. More so, they will be shared on travelers facebook pages, expanding the reach of your property infinitely (or at least to as many friends each user has; it adds up!). These are just some basics of utilizing Pinterest as a very simple way to reach more travelers. Stay tuned for more posts about similar ways to utilize Twitter, Facebook and more!

Rentini Pin-it to win it contest

Why Social Media Marketing for Vacation Rentals is Important

Major Social Networks

Social media has become an enormous part of today’s society. It’s nearly impossible to have a conversation without there being mention of a story that happened on a major site like Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter. This is because of these astonishing statistics found by online travel studies done by The Social Skinny as well as Google:

  • 62% of adults are now active on some social media websites.
  • Not only are they active, but these websites account for over 22% of the time that they spend online.
  • More specifically, 85% of travelers rely on the internet to get travel information.
  • About 40% of those users were influenced to actually book their trip because of online sources, making the internet the leading source followed by word of mouth.
  • 50% of travelers who came across some travel ad, article or video started dreaming of a vacation.
  • Of those, about 70% ended up actually choosing a destination and making the trip.

Utilizing these communities that travelers are scouring everyday makes sense. Let’s be real here, who isn’t browsing the web in search of everything they want and dreaming of getaways they hope to have? That makes every one of these users a potential traveler. Everyone is captivated by the beautiful, high quality images being posted all over Pinterest, Facebook etc. Of course you can list all your great amenities on your rental page, but these visuals are what really make your property stand out against the rest. Having a properly managed social presence can act as both a marketing billboard for your vacation rental, as well as a customer service center where you can connect with travelers.

This all sounds great but you don’t have time, right? Don’t worry, no need to hire an intern! There is a reason these websites are so popular, and that is because of how simple they are to use. After setting up your pages, which should take no more than 10 minutes, posting and sharing content can be done anytime, anywhere (if you have a smartphone) and within a matter of minutes. Simple posts and photos with the proper tagging/hashtags can bring you the traffic you need to fill your rental calendar.

Follow our social marketing series to find out more on how you can promote your vacation rental through each major social network. Also get involved in our Pinterest contest where you can win a spa package or professional photo sessions for your property just for getting started with social media marketing!

Your Property Heading…Means More or Less Clicks.

Tommy Taylor's large luxury cabin

A luxurious getaway in Colorado

I do not want to take total credit for all of the following information.  I have combined a couple of suggestions from other property owners along with my own opinions about the true importance of your property heading.

Property headlines are the most valuable real estate you have on any listing site.  If your listing’s heading is not compelling enough to draw someone in to click on it, your headline is your weakest link.  It won’t matter if you have great photos, copy and fantastic rates if no one clicks through.

Do not use the headline for the property name because those characters could be used for something far more important to the traveler.  You need to think like potential guests–they want features and benefits that match their needs/wants.  If you put “TreeHouse Hideaway” in my headline/title, you have used up 18 characters that could have said something much more valuable to the traveler:  “WiFi – Hot Tub – Jacuz…” would fit in the same space.

I feel that you should not need to put number of beds/baths in your headline, unless you have 3 bedrooms and all have a king bed.  I would definitely say “3 King BRs” in title.  Three couples traveling together would be thrilled to know that they don’t have to flip a coin to see who gets the 1 King BR and the others get the Queen BRs, or even the room like mine that is bunk beds.

The most visually distinct part of your headline is the last few words.  When you scan down the listings, it’s the tail end of each listing that sticks out because there’s white space (negative space) at the end.  So the last thing in your headline should actually be one of the most important aspects of your listing.  It could be “April $135/night” or “Pets OK” or “WiFi”, mine, (http://rentini.com/en/properties/luxury-log-cabin-on-golf-course),  starts with the word “Luxury”, and ends with the words  “On The Golf Course.”   Whatever you choose to put at the end gets extra visibility by virtue of its location, so think twice about what might be most interesting to potential guests.

Finally, if you can and have the space…put a call to action or urgency in your headline. Phrases like “Booking Fast” or “New Photos!” or “July 7-17 Now Open” may encourage a click thru.

Good luck and remember to review your headline/listing title every month to make sure it’s not out of date and look for opportunities to freshen it up when needed (new season, announce improvements, specials, cancellations, etc.)  Make your headline work for you!

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