Thursday, October 30, 2014
Hovelstay.com: Connecting The Adventurous Traveler With Cheap, Unique Rooms
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Are you tired of booking that "luxury room" on your favorite vacation rental site, and finding it's really a dump? The founders of hovelstay.com (www.hovelstay.com) got tired of helping to list lots of "luxury properties" on vacation rental sites--which were anything but luxury--and decided to create their own marketplace which calls a spade a spade. The company has created a marketplace which focuses on "anti-luxury" vacation rentals--many of which can be called rather "unique". We caught up with co-founder Michael Womack to learn more about the service.
What's hovelstay.com, and how is it different than all the other vacation rental sites out there?
Michael Womack: We are creating a site that has the adventurous and budget traveler in mind. We want someone to go onto the site, without a specific destination in mind, and search for an adventure through the site. We want you to go for that mini kubo for seven dollars a night because it just sounds fun. We are also after the budget traveler, who already has a destination in mind, but wants to save money. Obviously, there are already sites that you can do that, but we charge a lot less when people book a room, only one percent until February 1st, and after that only three percent for hosts and travelers. It's free to list. A lot of our competitors have had to shave their prices because travelers can't afford to pay the fees for their sites.
How did you start the company?
Michael Womack: My partner and I used to work together, working for a luxury vacation rental company in Los Angeles. We were sick and tired of writing up fake descriptions of places to make them sound like they were luxury, when they were not necessarily luxury. We wanted to create something which was anti-luxury, where we could be honest about those rooms, where what-you-see-is-what-you-get. That's why we went with the anti-luxury theme with the site.
Who is your typical customer?
Michael Womack: So far we have all types of customers, from backpackers looking to find unique place to stay, to lots of baby boomer customers on a budget and who want some adventure. We also have people who are in retirement, and just want to go someplace that is both nice and affordable.
What's your background?
Michael Womack: I started in the night club industry, and have eight years of experience in the restaurant, bar, and hospitality industry. I sold that company, after I felt I needed something that was different and a little slower paced. I stumbled into the vacation rental industry. I started working for a company which was looking to expand into the United States, but didn't have anything here yet. They hired me to help with business development, which is what I did for about a year. In doing that, I fell in love with the vacation rental industry, and decided to start my own company in the vacation rental area, and own vacation rentals myself. In the meantime, I needed a solid day job because I couldn't yet support myself on vacation rentals, which is how I met Michael. Finally, we completely quite and went full time on hovelstay.
What's the biggest challenge for your company?
Michael Womack: The biggest challenge has been establishing us as different from what is out there, and showing everyone we are a unique brand. We are really trying to push that we are an anti-luxury marketplace. We are finding lots of new and interesting properties, and looking to find hosts who might not even know they have a vacation rental on their hands. For example, they can rent out their treehouse which they actually built for their kids ten years ago. We're trying to find those people, to help them make a little extra income by listing that on our site. We're looking for people who are not already seasoned vacation rental hosts, which is a challenge.
What's the most unique property you've listed so far?
Michael Womack: We have a storage bin in the middle of the Costa Rica jungle, where they can have a bed right by a waterfall. We have a cuba, which looks like a dog house, in the middle of the Phillipines. We have a traditional treehouse, and we even have a hammock--yes, just a hammock outside on someone's porch. We just had someone list a tent they put on their front porch.
Where are you finding these unique properties?
Michael Womack: A lot of this is organic, due to the press we've been getting. We even have someone who is building something specifically for us to list, in their backyard. We've also been searching for those properties ourselves online, and usually when we contact them they love the concept and the idea. We also have some people who are helping to hunt properties for us and approach people, who always love to list what they have.
What's the biggest challenge for the company right now?
Michael Womack: I think acquiring more properties it the biggest challenge, though maybe that's not necessarily a challenge. I think what we're figuring out is a faster way to do that, to get as much inventory as we possible can. We have quite a few customers signing up for our service, and we have to have the inventory to back up that demand.