Ex-Googlers take on former employer in vacation-rental search

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 23 May 2019

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A group of former Google employees are ramping up growth at a startup that seeks to grab a piece of the rapidly expanding vacation-rental market, just as their former employer enters the same space. 

VacationRenter, founded by ex-Google workers David Kolodny and Phil Santoro, says it expects to handle about US$600mil (RM2.51bil) in gross bookings this year, up from US$100mil (RM419.41mil) last year. The company makes money by collecting home-share listings from around the Web and taking a referral fee or share of bookings when users click through to book on other sites such as Booking Holdings Inc or Expedia Group Inc-owned HomeAway. Alphabet Inc’s Google in March said it was adding home rentals to its travel-search platform as well. 

Providing a central place to search the myriad travel-booking sites around the web has been a solid business model in online travel for years. So-called meta-search sites like Kayak.com, Skyscanner and TripAdvisor have made billions helping consumers find the cheapest hotels, cars and flights on the Web. More recently, Google has entered the space, slowly becoming a dominant force in travel search and pulling consumers away from booking directly on traditional travel sites. 

Still, despite being the biggest source of growth for the online travel-booking industry, no one has cornered the meta-search market for home sharing and vacation rentals. San Francisco-based Tripping.com foundered after raising more than US$50mil (RM209.70mil) and ended up being bought by German competitor HomeToGo in 2018. 

VacationRenter was built out of Kolodny and Santoro’s startup incubator, Wilbur Labs, which is working to use artificial intelligence to shake up various industries. Kolodny said his company’s early focus on AI and the fact that the overall market has gotten substantially bigger in recent years will help VacationRenter stay afloat among giants like Expedia, Booking and Google. 

“Vacation rentals should be bigger than hotels,” Kolodny said. The market for staying in other people’s homes is also more complex and fragmented than the hotel world, he said, making a meta-search engine all the more valuable. “We can build a massive company.” – Bloomberg

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