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How HomeAway Uses Real-Time Data To Stay ‘Locally Relevant’

Consumers in China prefer mobile payments; Germans would rather use debit cards — and that’s just the beginning. HomeAway’s GM of Commerce Mike Sutter tells PYMNTS that staying competitive means giving consumers payment options that they want to use, not just what HomeAway accepts. In the latest Payments Powering Platforms Tracker, Sutter explains how the vacation-rental marketplace is using real-time analytics to formulate its hyper-local payments secret sauce.

For airlines and hotels, catering to customers from around the world means dealing with a long list of complications, including accepting payments in a host of local currencies, complying with national and international regulations, and finding ways to afford or offset the high price of processing fees. Online travel booking platforms, which promise to provide travelers with a simpler way to book and pay for reservations, aren’t immune to these pain points.

In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Mike Sutter, senior director and general manager of commerce at HomeAway, offered an inside look at how the company is working to solve those challenges and simplify the payment process.

Navigating Around Travel Payment Roadblocks

HomeAway, which was acquired by industry giant Expedia for nearly $4 billion in 2015, owns and operates travel booking platforms, including VacationRentals.com, VRBO and several others. It currently does business via a total of 50 websites and platforms around the world, operating in 23 languages and offering rentals in 190 countries.

Accepting payments from a global customer base poses challenges for companies like HomeAway. Consumers expect to be able to pay in their preferred currency and with payment methods common to their area, but offering those options can be costly and complicated. To prioritize certain payment methods, HomeAway finds out which methods are highest in demand by utilizing consumer data and analytics.

“We use real-time data to understand how customers’ needs evolve and we’re always looking for opportunities to improve the experience,” Sutter said, noting that the company currently accepts major credit cards and seven different currencies. Going forward, HomeAway plans to explore emerging payment technologies, including cryptocurrencies.

“Payments is an exciting space; new opportunities are surfacing on a regular basis,” he said. “Our current strategy is to prioritize the most preferred payment methods in each market, while keeping a close eye on consumer trends in areas such as financing large purchases, group payments, wallets and even blockchain.”

Building An Intuitive And Secure Experience

While HomeAway aims to offer convenience to its customers, it cannot come at the cost of security — cybercrime is projected to cost travel companies more than $20 billion a year through 2020. However, if a simplified experience is sacrificed for tougher, more complex authentication measures, consumers are likely to move to a platform that won’t make them jump through as many hoops.

“Fraud and compliance are challenges facing all eCommerce marketplaces,” he said. “But, like everyone else, we want the experience of using our sites to be simple and intuitive.”

HomeAway has been working with the Expedia Group to tackle security challenges. The pair has leveraged insights from its customer data and analytics tools, which have helped the company offer stronger security during the payment experience, without making it cumbersome.

These tools can operate in the background of a transaction, and do not require consumers to validate their identities, allowing HomeAway to provide a more secure environment. As such, customers can spend their time browsing the platform and planning their vacations without being forced to authenticate themselves. 

The Future Of Travel Payments

Despite data security concerns, platforms like HomeAway will likely become more popular as consumers continue to turn to the internet in search of greater convenience. The digital travel sales industry is predicted to bring in more than $800 billion in revenue by the start of the next decade. Emerging payment technologies, such as cyrptocurrencies and mobile payments, could help the space push its influence even further.

“I expect platform companies to remain focused on better serving global audiences and eliminating the barriers to a great customer experience in emerging markets,” Sutter said. “Mobile payments will continue to reach audiences that were previously unable to participate in global commerce. Virtual currencies offer the possibility of serving every consumer with a cell phone.”

HomeAway is currently working to give customers more choices when booking travel arrangements. That includes finding new ways to use real-time data and analytics to better understand consumers’ demands and expectations in a range of global markets.

“We plan on going where our customers are,” he noted. “Our goal is to be locally relevant across the globe. … Moving forward, you’ll see us provide even more options for our global customer base.”

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