The Surprising Findings of a Rule Breaking Travel Experiment

Thanks to Fool co-founder David Gardner, I've known my Motley Fool Rule Breakers teammates Karl Thiel and Rick Munarriz for years now. But having stayed in the same house with my rebel friends for two days during last month's Superior Investment Ideas conference -- a stay made possible by HomeAway (NAS: AWAY) -- I can now say I know them better than ever.

And yes, that's a good thing. In fact, it was the very best thing about using HomeAway for business accommodations.

Sharing is still caring
Some explanation is required before we move on. See, at Rule Breakers we believe in experimenting in almost everything we do. We try, fail, and move on quickly, adopting only those tweaks we find to deliver big returns on our time in serving members. The Risk Rating we now attach to all new stocks was the product of just such an experiment.

How this culture manifests itself changes by the month. That's the beauty of it. You never really know what we'll try in the pursuit of superior stock ideas. Using HomeAway to book a business stay for three guys in a two-bedroom cottage was in that spirit -- an opportunity to stress-test a service we all generally liked and believed in.

We do this sort of thing all the time. Rick rented from Zipcar (NAS: ZIP) before recommending the stock. Karl visited Pacific Biosciences of California (NAS: PACB) to firm up his thesis for the stock. David is a regular customer of several of the businesses on our scorecard. Firsthand product experience gives us perspective that numbers-driven investors often lack and, speaking for myself, makes the whole experience of investing a lot more fun.

Benefits beyond the house
But in this case, I had doubts. I'd even included a caveat in the email I sent suggesting we try HomeAway for our three-day trip. "This might be crazy," I wrote to my teammates, and I meant it.

Rick, on the other hand, didn't hesitate. He picked up on the theme and ran with it like a running back headed for the end zone. Within a week we had found and booked a cottage not far from Fool headquarters. All that remained was to arrive and argue over bunk space.

The house itself was quaint, a perfectly old but well maintained cottage for aptly named Old Town Alexandria. Karl arrived first, taking the primary bedroom. Rick got in second, and he graciously took the basement with its low ceilings. And me, the latecomer, got the baby's room -- complete with crib nestled in the left corner of a small space positioned off the dining room.

We shared the shower and facilities -- there was only one bathroom -- and spent most of our time away from HQ in the main living room, where there was no TV and dim light. We walked everywhere, including a 30-minute hike in the rain to a dinner with David and the rest of our teammates. The entire experience would have been perfectly miserable, had it not been so incredibly awesome.

Huh?
See, HomeAway and our host made us rethink traveling as a group. We didn't just meet up for meals and talk around the water cooler. We made ourselves at home in the living room each evening and spent hours talking about stocks, life, family, and more. Everything that makes us a good team came forth during those days because we spent time together -- time we wouldn't have spent had we been quarantined into pristine little boxes we call hotel rooms.

Therein lies the Rule Breaking opportunity created when a home -- a cottage, in this case -- becomes a shared asset. Hotel operators such as Marriott International (NYS: MAR) , Starwood Hotels & Resorts (NYS: HOT) , and Hyatt Hotels (NYS: H) offer patrons peaceful isolation and the financial flexibility to book a short stay. Timeshare condos offer camaraderie and a "homey" neighborhood atmosphere yet demand a bigger financial commitment in return. HomeAway breaks these conventions by combining the neighborhood feel of a timeshare with the financial flexibility of a short stay.

And there were other benefits. While several more of our out-of-town colleagues paid a full hotel rate, we three got more space and more room for about 50% less money per person.

More time together. More fun. More learning. Less money. No matter how you analyze it, HomeAway is creating a disruptive mix that, more than ever, I believe will create huge value for shareholders.

Do you agree? Disagree? Please weigh in using the comments box below. You can also keep tabs on the changing nature of the hospitality industry by adding any of these stocks to your Foolish watchlist:

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Google+ or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.The Motley Fool owns shares of Zipcar. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Zipcar, Pacific Biosciences of California, and HomeAway. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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