Pillow Talk#6: Mr&Mrs, Living+, a Malaga SWOT team and our story is ‘pants’

I was on VRMA’s European conference organizing committee for several years. One year, at the Prague event, we invited Tamara Lohan, co-founder and CEO of booking platform/travel club Mr & Mrs Smith as a keynote speaker.

Tamara was very much my choice. Mr & Mrs Smith was moving into villa rentals on top of its hotel offering, and it was a brand I had long admired since my days running Triptoes, which was a Canada focused vacation rental booking platform. On the day, she did an inspiring talk drilling into how they believed that the guest experience was the core value proposition and how the company had fostered a committed community of engaged buyers and aspirational followers, and had built a loyalty program that was driving success.

At the time, I remember being surprised the talk didn’t quite hit the spot with the vacation rental crowd. I spoke to several property managers and tech companies afterward, and the general refrain was that all that was fine for the hotel market, but her core message of brand loyalty through innovative positioning didn’t quite resonate with them.

Creating something grand by putting the user first

Here was a company building something grand and powerful by putting the guest experience first, even though what it offered — hotels and villas that you could book through many channels as well as direct — wasn’t all that unique. But Mr & Mrs Smith, as a brand, had a clearly defined target market segment, an innovative approach to how it marketed properties and built strong relationships with its customers. As a result, it created a community that loves its product.

Fast forward a few years, and Mr & Mrs Smith just announced it is being sold to Hyatt (including its villa division) for $66 million. Good news for Tamara and her team, and even better for Hyatt, although a risk for sure when you’re not buying a physical asset. However, it shows that building a community and having a clearly identified and executed value proposition is, well, valuable.

SWOT teams descend on Malaga

Last week I attended the Vitur Summit in Malaga — thank you, Carlos, for your relentless commitment and enthusiasm for the industry :). Over the course of the three days, business leaders across the STR space got together with the objective of finding common solutions, or at least a common consensus, by discussing the key themes impacting the industry.

Unsurprisingly, impending regulation was the number one issue making it onto both a negative and positive list of impacts. AI and its galloping speed of transformation (check out this review by Altexsoft if you want a very meaty overview of what’s now possible for STR) was up there too. As was the more mundane but also challenging workplace/ground staff shortages.

Our story is pants. It’s time to build a new narrative

The number one takeaway was that the STR industry will suffer, perhaps irrevocably, unless it can pull together under one common voice with a shared purpose and a clearly defined narrative.

Quite frankly, the story ‘out there’ is pants. Detractors are leading it, it is focused on bad actors, is full of scapegoating and utterly fails, for the most part, to tell the story of the positive impact that the industry can and does bring to individuals, communities and the economy.

As businesses, individuals, and industries, a lot hinges on our reputation. The gnarly question is — is there enough consensus across nations, regions, and localities to turn this ship around? And do we have enough time to do it? I’ll be exploring the industry’s issue with its reputation and its need to start telling a better story about itself at the Skift Summit in New York next month.

Succession sells us Living+

Those of you that are fellow Succession fans will get this. Waystar Royco’s Living+ was a poignant reminder that combining/confusing the tech world with the real estate world can balloon ambitions that don’t always match reality….

Succession is always larger than life. Matsson is more Musk than Musk. The Roys are more Murdoch than the Murdochs, and Shiv and Tom’s latest marital spat was more scorpion-tongued than George and Martha.

Kendall’s Living+ launch, a planned residential project described as bringing “the cruise-ship experience to dry land” was a real-estate venture aimed at senior citizens that treats gated communities like a franchise, with planned rollouts in multiple locations promising a safe, secure community enriched with content.

So far, so outlandish. Or is it?

Next month I’ll be in Vienna introducing workshops on new tech entering the senior living and coliving spaces. We’ve got an actual robot on stage and a start-up offering VR simulations of experiences seniors can’t enjoy in real life anymore. It’s feeling pretty close to Kendall’s utopian dream.

Tomorrow, I fly back to Spain for Scale Rentals where I’ll be digging into the business synergies of realtors and property managers, and talking about PR for scale. See you there!

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About me – I’m the CEO, and founder of Abode Worldwide, a public relations agency focused on raising the profile of technology solutions and operators transforming the global lodging, hospitality and living sectors.We work across STR, hotels, multifamily, coliving, senior living and PBSA.

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