Three years ago, Leah Jampel returned to the Island to set up shop for Vacasa, the largest vacation rental management company in the U.S. She looked at the move as a way to get back to her roots, a way to create jobs for Islanders, and as a different way to spin the summer rental market. Last week The Times spoke to Jampel, and she took us through the Vacasa business model and what it means to her to return to the Island.
First of all, Leah, tell us a little about Vacasa.
Vacasa is the largest U.S. vacation rental management company. We operate in 22 U.S. states and in 15 countries around the world. Vacasa is a full-service property management company; we’re not just a listing service, and that’s what really distinguishes us from sites like HomeAway, VRBO, and Expedia. We manage the full vacation rental process for homeowners, from marketing and reservations and guest services to housekeeping and maintenance — we take care of everything.
How do you get your listings out to renters?
We have our own website where people can see our listings, but we’re listed on other sites like HomeAway, VRBO, and Expedia as well. We’re one of the largest customers for these listing sites.
So how do you coordinate listings with the other sites?
All of the calendars and rates are synched to work simultaneously with all the different sites.
What other values are added that would persuade a homeowner to go through Vacasa rather than go directly to say, HomeAway?
First of all, we offer the whole package, including housekeeping and maintenance. But there are a couple of other things.as well. Because we’re one of these other listing sites’ biggest customers, from a search engine optimization standpoint, our listings will generally come up sooner, if not on the first page. We also have a dynamic pricing platform.
Does that mean that prices will actually fluctuate?
Yes, it’s very much like the airline model. We have an algorithm that works with these sites, and the more interest there is in a listing, the more people are clicking on a listing, then the price will automatically go up. And once again, the different sites are all synced so they present the same price to renters. The rates can change based on local data, local events, times, or seasons of the year — even the weather. But it’s not like we just hand over everything to a computer. We have rate analysts who make adjustments. I like to say that our rates are run by a system, but managed by a professional. I believe we’re unique on the Island; I don’t think anyone else has the automatic software that adjusts price.
How many listings do you have on the Island?
We have around a hundred listings here on the Island, and that includes 51 listings at the Island Inn — the Island Inn is unique because each of the units is individually owned, and as a result each one is as unique as its owner. Before Vacasa, guests could only book a unit based on basic criteria such as the number bedrooms and bathrooms. Now our guests have the ability to to view each unit on the website in detail, with high-quality photos and a 3D tour. Plus we take care of the inn’s grounds, and handle all of their day-to-day operations.
When did Vacasa first come to the Island?
I was the first Vacasa employee on Martha’s Vineyard, and was hired to help build Vacasa’s
team and presence on the Island in 2015. I signed the first 40 homes on the Island, and assisted in growing the Vacasa team to what it is today, which includes six year-round salaried employees and about 15 seasonal employees.
How important is it for you to create jobs on the Island?
Creating employment on the Island is my driver. It’s what really makes me happy, and especially the year-round jobs. The company is great to work for, we have health insurance and a lot of opportunities to grow. I’ve been in three jobs since I’ve been here; I started out in sales, quickly moved into operations, then became one of two general managers in New England.
It must feel great to get back to the Island, right?
It’s a gift, an absolute gift. I was born and raised on the Island, a 14th generation Islander on my mother, Nancy Nevin’s, side. Living on the Island, I am a better person; this is my ground zero.