Robin Clifford joins Nestor as head of expansion: Q+A

UK: London-based property management company Nestor has announced that Robin Clifford, former Airbnb supply lead for N. Europe & MEA, has joined the company as its head of expansion.

Following the announcement, ShortTermRentalz caught up with Clifford, one of Europe’s most engaging vacation rental stage speakers, and Nestor co-founder Fran Milsom to discuss the new hire and the company’s growth plans.  

STRz: Fran, so why Robin?

FM: “As a company, we’re always on the lookout for great talent. Hearing that Robin was interested in joining us was something we had to jump on, despite the current market. In all honesty, we’ve been big admirers of Robin for a while after working closely for the past few years.

“The reasons why are pretty simple; his track record of overachieving in his markets, his analytical approach and consistency in making the right decisions, while his knowledge of the industry and network is second to none. We couldn’t be more excited for the future with Robin and I think it’s another step in gearing Nestor up to make the most out of the post-Covid opportunities.” 

STRz: Robin, great to see you back and thanks for taking the time to chat. For those who may not be aware, what is Nestor’s mission?

RC: “To build, lease and manage unique-stay buildings and provide awarding-winning experiences through modern design and impeccable service.”

STRz: Why did you decide to join Nestor?

RC: “I first met co-founders Fran and Mark back in Q1 of 2017. It was the day before Airbnb announced capping in London and they were the first host management company I engaged with. Both were highly interesting, charming, intelligent, and obsessed with guest satisfaction; I liked them instantly and our relationship grew from there.

“Since then, they have expanded rapidly, and have brought on board some great investors, including Touker Suleyman and Tej Lalvani. As Airbnb’s first professionally certified management company, my team and I always considered them the darlings of Airbnb, as they always played by the rules and their values were aligned to ours. Cash positive even during Covid, it was a no-brainer to join them to advance their mission as they look to expand into new segments and markets.” 

STRz: What can you tell us about your new role?

RC: “I will be head of expansion and the plan is expansion, I’ve said too much.” 

STRz: Do you miss Airbnb?

RC: “Yes of course, it’s a great place to work and in particular I miss the people. They might read my kind words here and wonder if I’m telling the truth when I’m on a Zoom call negotiating with them in the coming weeks. For the past five months, I’ve been staying in an Airbnb back in my hometown of Kenmare, so I’m part of the guest community these days.” 

STRz: What are your thoughts on the upcoming Airbnb IPO and what it will mean for the short-term rental industry?

RC: “While the stock market may be volatile, I feel prospects are still good for tech, following on from some successful IPOs. The future framing of Airbnb is perfect for this moment, tech companies continue to thrive, while investor confidence remains extremely high. The stock split, lowering the price and offering the psychological advantage of buying a cheaper share also feels like a prudent move to help Airbnb tap into the booming retail investor segment, pre a stateside stimulus package.

“Apple and Tesla both split stocks a few months ago, and it’s becoming increasingly common in big smart tech companies, even if it hasn’t always been a traditional strategy. Retail investors are becoming particularly savvy with access to the internet, sometimes having as much information as professional investors thanks to YouTube and the modern information rich world. When we combine this with disruptors like Robin Hood, it’s becoming affordable and easy for regular people to invest.

“Airbnb should be seeking to replicate what companies like Tesla have done and leverage a community that believes in the company and propels the stock even higher. By leveraging its existing community, from hosts to stock owners, as Tesla has done turning car owners into stock owners, Airbnb will improve its stock price, brand awareness, penetration and real business revenue.

“This is the model of the future and it’s time to consign the old cliché of viewing customers and stock owners as separate people to a thing of the past. Retail investors at their current scale is a new phenomenon, so it’s a really progressive way to view an IPO versus 20 years ago. Tesla fans are the most extreme example of this. I sense that Airbnb has taken notice and their community is already in place.

“Airbnb’s valuation has been lowered and the stock market always wants to move before things are better. Travel stocks will bounce back when we can see the vaccine coming rather than when it actually arrives, as people want to get in early. Airbnb should try to catch that wave; the time to float is half way through a crisis, not at the end.

“When stocks catch momentum, it can be a very powerful thing. Perception, where Airbnb scores well, is also important, not just the business fundamentals. While I’m no expert in this field, I’ll throw in my two cents on timing as people tend to want to buy before the stock price goes up. The stock market in the travel sector will recover before travel itself does.” 

STRz: How has Covid affected you and its impact on travel as you see it?

RC: “I’m healthy and those I love are healthy, nothing else matters to me so on a personal level I’m fine. People constantly try to simplify the impact of Covid and make sweeping statements about a vaccine being a silver bullet which I don’t believe to be accurate. It’s not prudent to decouple medical science from the impact on travel. Surveys suggest 55 per cent of people would take a vaccine, which is a big number versus the sentiment toward previous vaccines. 

“There are people eminently more qualified than me to speak on this topic. I do sense that one problem is actually that the first to market vaccines will be accepted by regulators with as low as 30 per cent to 50 per cent effectiveness and therefore won’t always work for everyone or even fully avoid infection. They will require two injections, weeks apart and take another couple of weeks to start working in the body. They will be massively supply constrained and take months to manufacture and roll out in meaningful numbers, meaning we’ll need over a year to vaccinate everyone. Even in the best case scenario, they most probably will need to be repeated and we will likely need second generation vaccines that are more effective.

“I’d expect no meaningful impacts for broader society until late in Q2 2021. I’d estimate the best case for healthcare workers and some vulnerable people is late Q1. Earlier vaccines also have a lower chance of effectiveness for older people, partly due to trial design and partly due to the biological problem of dosing them strongly enough while avoiding side effects. For these reasons, travel for older people will be damaged, which is a blow for the travel industry given their spending power. 

“Like in life, travel will need to learn to live with Covid. Come next summer, countries will be eager to do business, given the economic damage we will see between now and then. This will be the case for places like Spain and Italy in particular, where their economies were in trouble pre-Covid.

“The cruise ship segment is at a low point and aviation will change radically, with the number of routes being reduced. Domestic travel will continue to the be the key segment as it has been in 2020. Governments will continue to lockdown and then ease restrictions and it’s important for us to understand the release phases and maximise yields in what will be peak periods of demand. Direct business, whilst achievable, may be costly to service due to a significant uptick in guests wanting to call to check the status of their booking as regulations shift.

“It’s clear the vacation rental sector is going to grow its market share as it aligns with what travellers need more than ever going forward. Medium- and long-term stays will increase as the work from home landscape evolves. Here at Nestor we see some really interesting opportunities to help the rebound.” 

STRz: What have you been up to over the last four months?

RC: “Golfing by day and fly fishing for wild salmon in the evenings. Day in day out with limited success, 72 outings and just one fish. Every evening at about 8pm, I’d sit on the river bank with my flask of tea and read the short-term rental news. On a rainy evening, cows would stand behind me and lick the rain off my jacket. I felt so far removed from the travel world sitting there, but it was my way to stay connected, which I’m very grateful for. I’ve also been walking a friend’s dog, her name is Emmy Lou [the dog, not my mate] and she’s tops, animals are great! I really focused on my personal wellbeing as I knew when I came back to travel that I’d need to be ready to get stuck in, I’m ready.” 

STRz: Can we expect to see you back on stage, even if it may be virtual for now?

RC: “Yes, I spoke at HOST last week on “the return of the staycation” and I’ll be on stage multiple times over the coming months. Expect some fly fishing stories with a side of how the new look short-term rental market is set to shape up.”

STRz: Any closing thoughts?

RC: “Shout out to Mark Tobin for all his support and I’d like to thank all the people who reached out to me over the summer to offer me employment. I had my heart set on Nestor but it was nice to feel valued. I’d also like to thank Simona Z, James T and Pat H, Velma C, Antonio and Carlos from Airbnb for their support, I miss them greatly.

“Thanks for the chat Paul, it’s great to be back, travel is a tight-knit industry and there is a responsibility on us all to shape the new look landscape in a safe and sustainable way. We here at Nestor are excited to be a part of it and I’m looking forward to engaging everyone on the circuit over the coming weeks. I’m so excited to join the Nestor family, this is not my first donkey derby and so time to get stuck in again.”

For more information, visit the link to the Nestor website