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Gilt Introduces Vacation Home Rentals

September 12, 2011
New York Times
by Claire Cain Miller

Updated 4:00 p.m.: Added comments from Airbnb and HomeAway and clarified that Richard Branson’s home is also available on HomeAway.

Want to rent Richard Branson’s private 14-bedroom Necker Island estate? You can do it online at the discount rate of $54,000 a night at Gilt’s new vacation home rental service, Jetset Homes.

And, Gilt is eager to point out, Mr. Branson does not list his home on Airbnb, the popular new service for renting rooms in your home, though it is available on HomeAway,  the vacation home rental service that went public in June.

Jetset Homes considers itself as the upscale version of those services — but not so upscale that you must be able to pay $54,000 a night. A villa in St. Johns runs $5,000 a night, a maison in the Loire Valley is $1,430 a night, and a villa in Crete, the least expensive property on the site, is a virtual steal at $310.

Gilt introduced Jetsetter in 2009 for flash sales on hotels and resorts. Vacation homes are an obvious next step, said Drew Patterson, Jetsetter’s chief executive.

“HomeAway and Airbnb have done a good job of aggregating inventory, but it’s a little bit like using Craigslist or the Yellow Pages,” he said.

In addition to the prices and luxury quotient, which appeal to the audience Gilt is trying to capture, Mr. Patterson said Jetset Homes was different from its rivals in a few other ways.

Airbnb was at the center of a controversy this summer when homeowners reported that guests had trashed their houses, and that they had little recourse. And on VRBO, a HomeAway site, transactions take place directly between the homeowner and the guest, which can present a problem if a homeowner fails to respond in a timely manner or misrepresents the home, or a guest’s check gets lost in the mail on its way to the south of France.

Jetset Homes addresses each of these problems, Mr. Patterson said. It sends employees to look at the properties and, in most cases, takes its own photos of the homes and hires professional travel writers to describe them.

Seventy-five percent of the homes show availability in real time, which eventually all the properties will do, so guests do not have to wait to hear back from homeowners about whether a property is available. Jetsetter handles the financial transaction and all other logistical details.

It mostly works with agencies that manage the vacation properties for homeowners, and these agencies take care of problems with the plumbing or ensure the house is stocked with Dom Perignon and orchids before the guest’s arrival.

As for Airbnb’s problems, Jetset Homes properties are less likely to have personal valuables because they are vacation homes, Mr. Patterson said, and “the price point and kind of customer base we have makes it unlikely folks will encounter the same kind of experience that Airbnb has.”

Airbnb also offers luxury vacation rentals — which cost an average of $350 a night and up to $5,000 — and said that its high-end business has been growing rapidly for two years and attracting new users.

“We have properties ranging from villas to entire islands that offer a premium, luxury experience, and with a presence in over 18,000 cities worldwide, we have the widest breadth of luxury properties that you can book online with a credit card,” an Airbnb spokeswoman, Emily Joffrion, said in a statement.

HomeAway said that while Jetset Homes is starting with 200 properties, it has 625,000 options, 14,000 of which are luxury rentals at rates more than $5,000 a week. Some HomeAway properties also have online booking, said Eileen Buesing, a HomeAway spokeswoman, but many home owners prefer to interact directly with renters because they want to feel comfortable with the people who will be occupying their homes.

“Developments from companies like Jetsetter are positive for the vacation rental industry, which, before HomeAway entered the scene, was a fragmented industry with no single source that consumers could turn to when looking for an alternative to traditional hotels,” Ms. Buesing said in a statement.

Gilt Introduces Vacation Home Rentals

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