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Known for its impressive portfolio of carefully-selected properties and concierge-curated authentic travel experiences, Luxury Retreats may not have the mainstream notoriety of its peer-to-peer-focused competitors, but it’s by no means a small player in the sharing economy game.
“There’s a big difference between businesses like Airbnb and HomeAway, where anyone can list anything,” Amr Younes, vice-president, revenue optimization for the company says, “and the properties you find with us.”
Originally founded in 1999, Luxury Retreats has grown from a Caribbean rental brand to a global venture boasting more than 3,000 properties throughout 90 destinations, enjoys 50,000 bookings annually, and has a 40 per cent customer repeat rate.
Each privately-owned villa offers a range of staffing options, unique amenities, and customizable itineraries, making them ideal for family groups looking for a home away from home, and travellers who prefer to “live like locals.”
The idea is not a new or unusual one, but with a full-service customer experience model as well as a focus on product predictability and consistency, the organization strives to rise far above its DIY-style competitors.
Luxury Retreats also employs a rigorously discerning inspections process, whereby a multi-phased, collaborative and in-person assessment typically results in a less than five per cent acceptance rate for prospective properties.
After welcoming a villa into the collection, the next step is ensuring customer satisfaction, which is where their Villa Specialst and 24-7 Concierge Team – making up a portion of their 250-person worldwide team – come in.
“Our business is a mix of the Four Seasons – it offers high-end product and service - and FedEx,” Nick Guezen, vice-president of portfolio development tells me, “because everything we do has so many moving pieces.”
For Younes, the company is not only the member of a travel industry trend worth an estimated $100 billion dollars worldwide, it also has the benefit of having been around for more than a decade since the sharing economy – brought into the mainstream mindset by organizations like Uber and Airbnb – became “cool.”
“[The sharing economy] is taking over the industry in a big way,” he says.
“It’s only getting bigger, and it’s time for agents to start wondering how they can be a part of that.”
Luxury Retreats' Montreal headquarters
Younes shares that his intention for Luxury Retreats is to enhance its already-healthy relationship with the agent community, and meet a growing consumer demand for a different kind of travel.
“We make it easy for our agents,” he explains. “We have a structure where they can participate in the sharing economy, be recognized for their effort and be very well compensated. We also pay commission so they don’t have to charge service fees.”
The only trick, he shares, is convincing more agents to embrace a form of travel that is less regulated, fundamentally unrepeatable, and carries a misconception for increased liability.
“The shared economy is based on a peer-to-peer concept,” he says. “That’s how it started, and so the challenge for agents is to find a way to exist within that dynamic, without jeopardizing their client relationships.”
To help address this, Younes plans to engage the agent community in the coming months with the help of a new business development department, designed specifically for B2B collaboration through webinars, product training and agent feedback.
“We’ve already done everything required to ensure there’s consistency,” he says. “What we need now is agents to help us find the right clients for our product.”
And while he admits private villa rentals may not be for every mass market consumer, Younes believes that there is a lot of potential for agents who work with young families, intimate wedding parties, corporate teams and affluent clients looking for a private or elevated vacation.
“It’s an upgraded experience, but not necessarily with an upgraded price tag,” he says. “I think there are resort guests who pay rates that are very similar to ours, who aren’t getting even close to what we offer.”
Further to that, Guezen, who’s been with the company since 2000, adds that while taking the first step to learn the product is always a big undertaking, once a client tries Luxury Retreats, they rarely look back.
“Travel agents can’t ignore [the sharing economy] or they’ll miss out on something really advantageous,” he says of the high-repeat market.
“And if they have the foresight to believe in a product that’s tried, tested and true, they’re heroes in the end.”