HomeAway Woos Hotel Haters, Debuts iPhone App

HomeAway, the Austin based provider of short-term rental property listings, services for vacation rentals by owner, and search and review tools for travelers debuted its first mobile app today.

An iPhone app, it was developed by Mobiata, the Ann Arbor based creators of FlightTrack and TripDeck (popular travel apps for iPhone, also available on iPad, RIM, Android and Palm devices).

HomeAway chief executive and co-founder Brian Sharples remarked that until recently, he was skeptical that mobile could appeal as a medium to travelers using HomeAway’s image-rich travel sites:

“Accessing web from mobile devices, you can’t ignore it now. We had mobile optimized some sites before. But it was only when the iPad came out that I started to get the religion,” he said.

The HomeAway iPhone app offers portrait and horizon views of photos of listed rental properties. (A video demo follows at the end of this post.)

The app also includes: a “near me” button that generates listings in the immediate area; a search-by-amenities filter; and a “share” button that allows users to Tweet, e-mail or post a HomeAway listing to their social media profiles, ostensibly for feedback from travel companions before they book their stay.

Since it started in 2005, the company has marketed HomeAway vacation rentals to families, college friends and couples. Yet its service has been lauded by entrepreneurs doing business travel with their teams, and sometimes anemic startup budgets.

“Travelers of every kind get frustrated with hotels for a few reasons. A lack of privacy is a huge one. And then a lack of space. They are also frustrated with the cost of rooms, and hidden charges. With hotels, they have to pay to eat out or do room service, and pay again for internet access and other nickel-and dime things that add up,” Sharples noted.

HomeAway users can expect more mobile apps from his company soon, the CEO confirmed. “We’ll begin to develop rapidly for Android devices and the iPad,” he said, expecting those versions to be ready by the end of 2010.

The next app the company plans to release within a few months will be “to help our other customers, who are the property owners,” said Sharples. Owners of rental properties pay to get listed on HomeAway’s 11 travel sites. About half of the properties on the company’s HomeAway.com site are located in the U.S. and half international locations. As of the end of 2010’s second quarter, HomeAway.com had 230,000 properties listed.

HomeAway.com’s most frequent inquiries this year have been about rentals in Orlando and New York City in the U.S. and Paris internationally. Travelers do not pay HomeAway transactional fees to get in touch with a HomeAway listed property owner, or to download and use the HomeAway mobile app.