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XLIVE Interview Series
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XLIVE Interview Series: HomeAway

In October 2016, Jeff Hurst, was promoted to chief commercial officer at HomeAway, the world leader in vacation rentals with sites representing more than 1.2 million paid listings of vacation rental homes in 190 countries.

He oversees the global growth of the companys vacation rental marketplace where owners and property managers offer an extensive selection of vacation homes that provide travelers with more room to relax and added privacy, for less than the cost of traditional hotel accommodations. This expansive access to unique, whole vacation rental homes provides festival goers around the world a better way to enjoy festivals than hotels.

As modern consumers embrace an expanded view of their families to include their friends and social networks, HomeAway enables more travelers to experience traveling for events and festivals with their extended tribes. While many solo travelers or couples are okay with a hotel room or sharing an extra bedroom, families and tribes enjoy the opportunity to share special memories with each other, deepening life-long relationships while creating new ones.

Depending on which local community you serve, vacation rentals may already be a big part of your festival as it is with Coachella and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival (one of Jeffs favorites). In this interview, we ask Jeff about his thoughts on festivals and the traveler experience.

Q: XLIVE is an event where the festival community comes together and builds lasting relationships. Can you share a little bit of your background and your experience with festivals?

As a music fan, Im particularly excited about the growing number of festivals around the world that showcase great music. I only wish I could get to more of them. Im lucky to live in Austin, Texas where HomeAway is headquartered because I not only go to the Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival every year, which we sponsor, but I also go to as many tapings of PBS Austin City Limits as I can. One of my favorite festival memories was from a totally random summer snow storm at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival during Mumford  Sons. Coming in as a close second was a stellar performance from My Morning Jacket a couple of years ago at ACL.

Q: With over 800 dedicated music festivals taking place throughout North America this year, consumers have never had more options to choose from when it comes time to plan a festival vacation. How have you seen the hospitality marketplace for festival attendees become more sophisticated as the festival community continues to expand and evolve both domestically and internationally? 

Ive witnessed firsthand as a festival attendee and as a sponsor that social media and mobile technology have made it easier to plan trips with friends (and find them before during/after/ shows). However, once at the destination, hotels simply dont provide a great way for festival goers to spend time with their tribes outside the festival. HomeAways whole home offerings help people get the most out of their festival experience. As an example, I stay at a different vacation rental property in Telluride for the Bluegrass festival every year “ this year, a group of us are celebrating a friends 40th birthday, and we are almost as excited about the home as the festival. We will have plenty of space to come together and relax and catch up while preparing a great meal together or by lounging in the living room with a great view.

As too many of us have experienced, hotels during festivals are often sold out, or are not close to the festivals location.  At HomeAway, we offer homes located all over the country, especially in popular vacation and tourist destinations where hotel inventory is often lower. And the value we bring to travelers is they often get twice the space for half the price per person compared to a hotel. We realize the festival travel experience is much more than a place to stay and a space to share with your friends and families. Since we are now part of Expedia which bundles housing, airfare, car rental and more, we are working to make it even easier for travelers to select and purchase all aspects of their festival vacation, while helping them discover more great things to do after the festival ends. 

Im really excited about the future, not only because my job lets me pursue my personal passion, but because I am working to help it evolve to meet the needs of people like us.

Q: Sponsorship activations are increasingly being used by companies that sponsor festivals to convey a sense of ahome and community for attendees to make new friends and spend time in a unique setting away from the hustle and bustle of the festival stages. How has HomeAway used its expertise in building memorable hospitality experiences to create festival sponsorship activations that connect with attendees and create lasting memories that they will think about long after the festival ends?

We chose to sponsor Austin City Limits Music Festival because we are proud to be a ahomegrown in Austin business and we wanted to support a festival that shows off our hometown in such a lively way. I love that HomeAway gets to help contribute to the success of this festival to show off the cool Austin culture, which is more than weird, its also friendly and welcoming. It also satisfies my personal desire to help more people experience Austin, which I also do by renting out my local lake property that is listed on HomeAway.

With ACL this past year, HomeAway hosted a Backstage Lounge for people who were staying in one of our vacation rentals during the festival. Our customers who attended the festival were given branded Backstage Lounge bracelets, making us a much richer part of their overall experience and giving us a chance to interact with them directly. We even had care packages delivered to their HomeAway rentals featuring local products and a festival essentials pack.

Backstage, we worked with several partners to make it as homey as possible so everyone could relax, cool off and enjoy the VIP hospitality. We set up some TVs for those UT Austin fans who had to catch a bit of the Longhorns or Dallas Cowboys. We had tattoo and hair braiding stations and we even built and furnished a tiny house, which was auctioned off to raise money for a local arts charity. This year we also launched a pilot program to produce more digital media through our http://festivals.homeaway.com/ blog where we can expand the audience for festival partners to reach more of our travelers and property owners. 

Based on our experience with the ACL sponsorship, we realized there are many other innovative experiences we could produce that would help people discover and create more memorable vacations. Given the whole home accommodations we provide festival goers, and the size of our inventory, we feel strongly that what we offer is superior to hotels for many travelers, especially those who are traveling with their families and their extended tribes. 

Recently, we released results from a first-of-its-kind study to help travelers engineer a more memorable vacation. Taking a more scientific approach, the foundation of memories is built on how distinct a given experience is and how engaged an individual is with it. Festivals, whether for music, film, food or even historical celebrations provide a terrific platform upon which great travel memories can be formed. But dont take my word for it, listen to the findings in this video featuring our partner in the HomeAway Science of Memories Study, Professor Art Markman, from the University of Texas at Austin. Personally, I love that the results revealed that mountains create more memorable vacation memories¦Telluride, here I come again! 

Q: In a modern world where we are more interconnected than ever through technology, there is real value in shared experiences through live events and hospitality since they allow human beings to enjoy the company of friends and family from beyond the confines of a mobile device. What is HomeAways approach to utilizing technology as an opportunity to bring people and communities together?

Our primary goal as a company is to make booking and finding a vacation rental property easy “ because they are the best accommodations on the planet to share memorable experiences. We feature properties that are equipped with full kitchens, family rooms, outdoor spaces and such “ we obsess with showing the world that vacation rentals let you spend more time with the ones you love¦ Its all about maximizing the value of the human experience by sharing it together, not being alone behind a computer screen. 

We start by making it easy to find and book the right property for your needs¦but we are increasingly investing in mobile and other innovations to help travelers get the most out of time spent together. Weve made it easier to collaborate with others during the trip planning process, improved access to all relevant information about the house, and streamlined communications with the owner. All in service of facilitating a more personal connection. Its a careful balance between the personal touch of our property owners/managers and the technology that makes it simple to access great experiences they wouldnt have discovered otherwise.

We are now working to enable travelers to discover new experiences based on their personal interests and preferences. While we are still in the early stages of this transformation, technology is the force multiplier in supporting our true mission “ enabling families and friends to experience whole, more memorable vacations together.

Jeff Hurst and his team from HomeAway are hosting an interactive session on Tuesday December 6 at 10:00am entitled Re-imagining the travel experience.

In business as in life, its the relationships which make us stronger. Most especially when those relationships are formed based on the alignment of common purpose, objectives and interests. This is why we are using our session at the XLive conference not just to give a PowerPoint presentation from a podium, but instead to use a different kind of technology to co-create and reimagine innovative new travel experiences for festivals like yours. At XLive, we will be hosting a modified version of what is known as a World Cafa so that we can jointly explore ways in which HomeAway might work more closely with festival producers such as yourself beyond the traditional payment for logo placement sponsorship.

We are working on several innovative new approaches for collaborating with partners, everything from Blogger Houses to even more fantastical embedded experiences as we did with the UEFA EURO 2016 Fan Zone and the promotion to let a few lucky guests stay in an apartment inside the Eiffel Tower. Weve got lots of ideas, but we believe that each needs to be custom fitted to the unique experiences of different festivals. We think it best to co-create them with the people who understand their audiences, communities and experiences best. Thats why we are participating in XLive and looking forward to engaging in conversations with the festival producers who attend.

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