A Jackson entrepreneur is restoring the human touch to the online vacation rental business with a listing and booking site called Vacayrx.
Founder and CEO Jesse Martinek said one reason Vacayrx stands out from competitors is that property owners and managers can communicate with customers before and after the booking by phone, email, messaging and web links.
That means an owner or manager can screen prospective renters, perhaps to weed out frat parties, for example. Customers can ask questions to make sure the property is a good fit for them and to get details that will create a more “customized experience,” Martinek said.
“None of those things are possible on any of the other major platforms,” he said.
Launched in April, Vacayrx lists more than 2,000 properties in 30 states, including 100 in Jackson, Martinek said. A few properties in Canada are coming online, and he is working to add U.S. listings and other foreign properties.
“We can make a significant impact on the industry at 10,000 properties,” he said. “Ten thousand is really a key number.
“There are more than a million listings on competitors’ sites, so there’s plenty of room to grow.”
Vacayrx charges renters $25 a booking. That flat fee contrasts with variable charges elsewhere in the industry that are calculated as a percentage of the rental price, Martinek said.
A $25 fee is “much cheaper than 4 percent to 15 percent,” he said.
For an individual home or condo owner it costs $500 per property each year to be on Vacayrx. An owner could recoup that in one booking, Martinek said. The fee “scales to size with property managers,” he said.
Martinez was born and raised here, graduating from Jackson Hole High School in 2004. At the University of Colorado, Boulder, he majored in business management and entrepreneurship.
Last month he was among six entrepreneurs who presented their business plans at the Center for the Arts for Silicon Couloir’s annual Pitch Day.
“My dad was always a strong proponent of owning your own business and encouraged me to become my own boss,” Martinek said. Once in college he found entrepreneurship “to be the closest thing to my personality.”
The idea for Vacayrx grew out of his years of working on the vacation rental end for large property management companies in California.
“Observing changes in the industry, it became evident to me that things weren’t being done in the best interest of the consumer,” he said.
In particular he noticed that, after acquiring VRBO, Expedia altered the business model to “internalize” bookings and remove the ability for owners and customers to communicate directly.
What about the potential that Vacayrx customers might want to work out a deal with a homeowner or property manager and cut out the website?
Martinek said that’s a risk, but most homeowners prefer to be able to screen prospective guests and and keep a personal touch in the transaction.