Staying Private In The COVID Era

Lynn Elmhirst, Open Jaw Trends Editor

An increasing number of advisors' top clients are seeking private villas and other non-hotel
accommodations in order to get away with their families and stay safely isolated in private luxury.
Photo by Ikaia Pal via Unsplash

Private aviation inquiries may be ‘off the charts’, as one supplier told OpenJaw for Part 1 of our series about private travel in the time of COVID, but it’s not just private air that’s taking flight, private accommodation is also taking off.

Meg Partridge, the Chief Product Officer of HVN (pronounced ‘Haven’) Travel Group, says that private accommodation is “the fastest growing trend in travel” adding that “in 2019, one-third of travellers booked a non-hotel stay. COVID is just accelerating pre-COVID trends.”

Perfect Match

COVID’s ‘new normal’ lifestyle aligns with private accommodation’s main features, she says. Clients are, “seeking privacy, a full house to themselves, and professional standards of cleaning and care.”

These days, “no one wants to stay in a big brand hotel,” confirms Andrew Newman, President of Black Tie Travel. He says many of his clients are, “Booking boutique, 1-bedroom villas on the ocean in a resort with all the services, but more space and privacy.”

“Now people are gravitating to smaller. Staying away from big brand hotels in favour of boutique hotels – or villas,” says Pat Lista, Head of Product and Supplier Relationships at HostedVillas. Its private rentals come with a local concierge in the destination. This member of the local community helps guests with local orientation and access but also adds new perceived value during COVID.

“Guests can maintain their social bubble – especially with things like food and wine deliveries, and a chef coming in and cleaner coming in that the concierge arranges – all pre-approved and following current health protocols.”

COVID has “opened people’s eyes” to the company’s full-service private-villa experience, said Lista. “You can travel with your bubble to a private home and stay just with your bubble and screened staff.”

It allows guests to self-isolate, says Lista. Guests aren’t booking the outside experiences arranged by the local concierge that are part of the company’s calling card. “That’s dead right now. No private museum tours, or wine tastings, or yacht excursions.”

“Demand for private villas has really been increasing as our advisors’ top clients are looking for the safest ways to travel with their family and friends,” agrees Mary Kleen, Director of Advisor Services at TravelEdge.

“Our customers are looking for safe and secluded vacation getaways. Even in established resorts, people want the option of private dining, larger rooms and suites and to feel secure that best cleaning and distancing practices are maintained.”

And she points out, “Suppliers have responded with increased product offerings.”

More Ways To Stay Private = More Opportunities for Advisors

In addition to new product offerings, we are seeing variations on accommodation sales models that allow travel advisors to capitalize on the private-stay trend.

Alison Hickey, president of Kensington Tours, tells OpenJaw, “In response to Covid-19, we have launched a series of new products, such as Private Retreats, focused on stunning ‘away from it all’ destinations and smaller boutique accommodations where clients have private entries. And the Resort Collection by Kensington Tours – a way to deliver unforgettable experiences for our clients around some of the world’s finest resorts and beaches.” 

Long-established HostedVillas sells its luxury concierge villa product direct to consumers but also works with the trade.

Marriott had soft-launched its own private accommodation brand, Homes & Villas not long before COVID hit.

TravelEdge’s Kleen notes even traditional luxury resorts are morphing to meet the COVID-related increased demand that includes more than increased space and privacy. “A new trend is to offer longer-stay rates that include a workspace for the adults and an education assistant to assist the children with their schoolwork.” 

“We see a growing role of travel advisors – including in providing longer term stays,” says HVN’s Partridge.

HVN is a relative newcomer on the private-stay scene, and the company has found a new niche between the ‘sharing economy/amateur’ type of rentals, says Partridge, and high-end concierge villa model. On the Sales side, HVN works exclusively with the trade, and on the product side, it deals with, “Professional property managers only. So we can offer a consistent, quality experience - but at a wide range of price points” that give travel advisors more options for a wide range of their clients.

Private Stays in the Long Term

While he says right now, private villa guests are following health guidelines and sticking very close to their homes away from home, Hosted Villas’ Lista agrees that private travel options like villas are the key to a post-COVID return to travel.

“There’s no question in my mind that people are itching to get away,” he says, and not just in Europe or the Caribbean. “It’s driving a demand for domestic options the company hasn’t seen before.”

“There’s so much pent up demand,” confirms Black Tie Travel’s Newman, and the best option is private travel, especially for multi-generational families and long stays.

HVN’s Partridge adds, “Once they’ve dipped their toes in the water, clients fall in love” with private stays, especially when they are provided by their travel professionals.  

“Travel advisors add a layer of personal care that clients appreciate," she said.

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