Switzerland: ShortTermRentalz spoke to Smiling House Luxury CMO Moriya Rockman about the luxury vacation rental segment, the challenges involved with operating a global property portfolio and length of stay trends in the space.
- Please introduce yourself. Who is Smiling House and what is your role in the business?
Smiling House is a network of stylish and exclusive private properties, conceived to connect travellers with unique chalets, villas and apartments across the globe. We have built on our extensive travel knowledge to bring together an attractive and vibrant collection of properties. Each one is hand selected for its stunning location and distinctive approach. Our careful choices are sustained by unique relationships with the homeowners.
Born to international parents, Ira and I have enjoyed a truly cosmopolitan upbringing and we embarked on a career in the travel industry in 2010. In 2014, we decided to go international and expanded their property portfolio to France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Israel, and also globally since 2018 in places such as Tulum (Mexico), Thailand, Bali and Sri Lanka.
Ira is the CEO and CFO of the company and I am the CMO.
- Why have you decided to place a particular focus on the luxury vacation rental segment, including chalets, villa and apartments around the world?
It was our natural development since we started our business in Gstaad, one of the world’s most renown ski destinations for jetsetters. The homeowners were introducing us to their friends and family, and quite fast we realised we were entering a special niche combining leisure and business.
The lifestyle of most of our guests includes constant travel, and some destinations are a must in their travel plan. We learned their desires and our focus was on those destinations.
- Why have you chosen locations across Europe, Thailand and the Caribbean etc? What makes them conducive to being successful in the luxury rental market?
Our destinations are divided into two categories:
For the winter destinations, we selected luxurious chalets and are offering activities and cosiness in top locations such as Gstaad, Verbier, Zermatt, Courchevel, Megève, Lech and many more.
For the summer destinations, we selected some amazing villas in top locations. Some with private beaches and even yachts in Greece, some in buzzing cities such as Marbella, and others are private estates in Sardinia and in the Caribbean.
All year long, we are offering some classical destinations such as Tuscany and the Côte d’Azur. We decide where to go next, according to the footsteps of our guests.
- What would you say are your greatest challenges with operating a global property portfolio and how have you tried to address them?
For decades, people have been renting luxury homes in desired destinations. It has been a close and personal connection with the homeowners. These rentals are tailor-made according to the guest’s needs and include a lot of concierge services.
Thanks to technology we are able to offer a world-wide collection in 40 destinations. On the other hand, the main challenges are:
– Limited communication with our guests through chats, when a closer contact is required.
– The luxury experiences and services cannot be included and offered online.
We are now busy with creating a platform that will keep on gathering luxury partners in many destinations, and then direct contact will be possible between guests and leisure travel professionals. We will be able to offer even more fascinating holiday rentals around the globe.
- How do you envisage the coming year for the luxury vacation rental space? Do you think any specific trends are emerging, for example in terms of what people are booking, technology or length of stay?
The niche of luxury vacation rentals is growing day by day. We are part of this growth, and only this year we opened in nine new countries. The trend of luxury rentals has a strong link to real estate as well, and we are developing our special concept of rent-to-buy. It is the only time where guests that rent a place can wake up in the morning and decide to buy the property.
Such a decision involves millions of dollars. The fact that they can rent the property, feel it, listen to nature around it, get to know the neighbourhood and the vibes around it, is something that no real estate agent can offer. We already sold a few properties this way and our portfolio of rent-to-buy is growing daily.
The traditional travel agencies lost parts of their business because of online travel agents such as Airbnb and Booking.com. Luxury homes are still priceless and not easily found online. We are approached by more and more professionals in the industry, and we organise tailor-made travels for them upon request.
We are noticing new kind of guests coming more from the Far and Middle East. We see it positively since the vacation rental world of 2019 made it possible for more travellers to feel at home anywhere. There are no longer obstacles of language or culture. People who can afford it are taking the chance to enjoy a real authentic home for their vacation instead of a luxury hotel.
The luxury segment offers iconic traditional homes. When you are staying in a ski-in ski-out chalet in the Swiss Alps and invite your friends for an Après-ski Champagne, you feel like the king of the mountain. It is all about unique experiences and people are willing to pay a lot for these. These experiences cannot be replaced by a Presidential Suite in the next door hotel.
We found that there is a direct connection between luxury vacation homes with local experiences.
We offer both, as well as transport such as cars, yachts, choppers, jets and tailor-made ski lessons. These are just some of the facilities that the guests of Smiling House can choose from for their guest experience.
- How, if at all, has your business been affected by the current regulatory environments where your properties are based?
Luxury homes for rent have been around for centuries as part of cultural travelling. The regulations affecting city centres are appearing because city dwellers are competing with vacation rentals. This is not the case with leisure and holiday homes.
- What are your ambitions for the future growth of Smiling House?
In 2019, we are aiming to grow even more and to be an umbrella for local partners in worldwide luxury, giving a hand to local businesses.
Smiling House is aiming to create an alliance of knowledge and sharing for professionals in luxury rentals. This will give everybody the tools to get better. At the end of the day, we are all working with the same clients who can have it all.
For more information, visit the Smiling House website here.