That the sharing economy has indelibly altered the travel vertical is inarguable. According to a study out last year, when Airbnb enters a new city, hotel booking rates in that city fall (on average) by 1.3 percent within the first year, while annual revenue falls by 1.5 to 2 percent.
But that bite being taken out of traditional travel is not quite evenly distributed. Among some demographics — younger travelers in particular — the homesharing model has mostly missed certain segments. In particular, Joe Liebke, founder and CEO of Villaway, noted in an email interview, the platform-based model for hospitality bookings has lagged conspicuously when it comes to adoption by luxury travelers.
“Right now it is estimated that less than 10 percent of luxury travelers use vacation rentals, so building what we call ‘the trust bridge’ from luxury hotels to luxury rentals is going to be very crucial for the segment,” he said in an email interview.
Founded in 2014, the Beverly Hills-based luxury rental platform has spent the last half decade working to build that “trust bridge” for luxury travelers with rather discerning tastes. It is a tall order, and one the service provides in two ways. The first is pretty expected — with inventory that is premium, premier and might be otherwise difficult to gain access to. As of late 2019, the site claims 6,000 curated vacation villas spread over 120 global destinations.
Looking for a luxury stay in LA, and have $10K to burn a night? Villaway has you covered (though in fairness, $10,000 is a top price point; most rentals tend to run between $2,000 and $3,000 a night). If LA doesn’t feel exotic enough, there is Bali, where for $6,600 a night guests can live beachfront with eight to 15 of their closest friends and enjoy the services of both a professional chef and butler.
The goal for Villaway is simple — make it easy for guests looking for something specific, in this case a luxury rental, to cut through the clutter and be looking only at properties that will interest them. A guest heading to a typical travel platform like Airbnb looking for lodgings will be bombarded by the thousands with all types of options at all kinds of price points. There are ways to filter that down of course, and most regular guests will do exactly that.
But a guest looking for luxury experience, he noted, isn’t generally interested in doing that much work or engaging in a treasure hunt for lodging. They want to see what they want to see — and be confident that what they see on the platform is what they will actually be getting. Villaway aims to provide on both fronts, according to its CEO.
“Our clients are looking for the easiest way to experience luxurious, comfortable travel with all the comforts of home. We carefully vet every one of our hand-selected villas and provide our clients with all the amenities of a five-star hotel in the privacy of a spectacular villa,” said Liebke.
But working with guests in search of luxury is about more than the inventory alone. A customer willing to pay five figures per night on a trip comes into the transaction more or less expecting they are going to be able to get what they want for their price.
What they need to be made confident in is that once they’ve paid, they aren’t just getting the lodgings, but the experience they paid for — and that insofar as things can get off track during a travel experience there is a force on hand to make sure any problems that may arise are easily and quickly resolvable.
That, Liebke said, is why Villaway bookings all come with 24/7 concierge services from a customer service team familiar with both the details of the bookings and the locale.
“Villaway staff consistently goes above and beyond the standard we set, creating unique and exciting ways for our guests to enjoy their stay and destination,” he said.
Among possible add-ons Villaway staff has been known to procure in the past, he said, are tickets to an Oscar after-party, exclusive and hard to capture restaurant reservations, private wine cellar tours or tastings and tango lessons from a world-renowned expert. The customer, according to Villaway, is always right, and if what they want can be physically procured Villaway will work overtime to procure it.
At the end of the day, Liebke said, Villaway met a need that was going underserved in the market — an internet-based, user-friendly luxury travel platform meant to better provide for the needs of property managers, travel agents and customers.
It is a market that has gotten more competitive since Villaway pioneered it five years ago — about 18 month ago Airbnb entered the space with a similarly premised Airbnb Luxe offering. But Villaway isn’t worried by the new entrant so much as excited by it.
Because with nearly 90 percent of the luxury rental market still untapped, it is better to get the word out about platforms as a luxury travel tool than to worry about competing for the segment.
“Airbnb is helping to let the world know that there are benefits for both luxury home owners and luxury travelers,” Liebke said.