Interview with Otalo - Vacation Rentals Search Engine
One of the curious upsides to the downturn in the economy is that people are increasingly willing to look beyond the hotel chains for accommodations when traveling. A new website called Otalo is all about a better option: vacation rental. Otalo is a search engine that operates much the same way as Kayak.com does for flights -- by crawling literally hundreds of databases to return exactly the option you were looking for-- but with nearly a thousand sites devoted to vacation rental homes.
Recently, I sat down with Baer Tierkel, one of Otalo's founders and its main marketing force. He explained that Otalo was created, as most inventions are, out of the frustration of not being able to find what he was looking for. "I was looking for a house on the Cape," Baer remembered, "and each time I wanted to search a new site, I had to re-enter all my information. Then, I started to look for a site that crawled all the rental websites; there wasn't one." And, thus Otalo was born.
Otalo kicked off in January with 20,000 unique hits a month and is well on its way to 60,000 a month. The site can access 220,000 homes, cabins, cottages, and apartments around the world. Baer noted that the diversity surprised even him, "we've got houses in countries I never even heard of."
Another impressive feature of the site is the user-friendly interface. "We wanted to create something for the renter. Most rental sites are geared to the homeowner; our focus is on the user's experience." To that end, the Otalo team has included an interactive Google mapping feature which maps towns where rental units are available and an intuitive menu that lets you narrow your choices quickly and easily. In addition, they've done a great job expanding thumbnails as you mouse over them and including easy links to the sites where the property is listed, as well as additional information about the location.
On the marketing side, Baer launched an Otalo blog along with the website. Http://blog.otalo.com/ covers news and trends from vacation spots around the world as well as a few choice posts on travel-related themes from Baer himself. Recently, he has begun to devote more time to Otalo postings on Twitter. "The main thing," Baer explained, "is to help get the word out on the value of vacation home rental." For example, you can stay at a mid-range hotel near Disneyworld in Orlando with a family of four and pay almost twice as much as you would to rent a nearby house with all the same amenities, plus everyone gets their own room and you have a kitchen."
Whether searching Otalo for the perfect place for a quiet week by the beach or checking out the tidbits Baer posts throughout the day, you won't go wrong with Otalo. I know I've added the Otalo blog to my feed, I follow Otalo's posts on Twitter, and I've bookmarked the Otalo site on my browser. Go on, poke around a little, dream of that perfect spot. Let me know what you find.
For more information, please see: http://www.otalo.com
Robert Todd Felton is the Literary Travels Editor for Wandering Educators