Smiling House Luxury has 1500 short-term rentals in 30 locations
Smiling House Luxury is a property management company based in Gstaad Switzerland with 1500 luxury homes in 30 locations. In this case study, Moriya Rockman, co-founder and CMO, addresses the most important factors in the luxury travel world, from gaining the trust of owners and guests, to growing in Asia and partnering with the real estate industry. You can watch the full interview on YouTube or listen to it on
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast (US only). More stations: https://anchor.fm/secretsaucepodcast
|N of properties connected||+1500|
|Headquarter Location||Gstaad, Switzerland|
|Tech Used||Rentals United + Guesty|
Get multiple properties listed efficiently and accurately on all booking websites
Maintain competitive nightly rates with real-time update across all listing sites
Automate operations to concentrate resources on business growth
Smiling House would have not been able to develop to where we are now without our PMS and channel managers like Rentals United.
50Xusual deal amount
Full Interview of Moriya Rockman - CMO of Smiling House Luxury
Vanessa: Please tell us a little bit about you. What you were doing before Smiling House Luxury and what you're doing now.
Moriya: I'm actually coming from the marketing and the PR world, was busy with branding companies, finding their uniqueness, and selling their unique selling proposition and so on. Before everything or anything, I'm actually a copywriter. I've been busy with establishing Smiling House together with my husband Ira Rockman. It started actually as a hobby with our vacation chalet in the Swiss Alps.
Already back then, I understood that each place actually has a unique story to tell. There's experience that it’s different than in other places in the world. I thought that we should be focusing on that. For three years we were busy hosting in the Swiss Alps, managing beautiful Chalets across Switzerland, before we actually got ready to kick off and to start to host other luxurious places around the world. Beside being the founder, I’m also the CMO of Smiling House Luxury
HYBRID MODEL WITH 1500 LUXURY RENTALS IN 30 LOCATIONS
Vanessa: Wonderful. I want to hear everything about how the business works. In fact, for those that don't know Smiling House can you tell us how many properties you manage and where your headquarters are?
Moriya: We are managing 1500 properties, not all exclusively but all luxury, in about 30 different destinations around the world. The headquarters is in Switzerland, in Gstaad in the Swiss Alps where we actually started our business.
We opened also an office in Israel. We want to get ready for Eastern travellers that will come in the next one to two years into the luxury market and prepare for their specific needs.
Vanessa: Great, we are going to talk about marketing a little bit later. You said you're not exclusive. So, you have a hybrid model? On one side you have exclusive properties that you manage and on the other you have properties that are not exclusive to you but that you market, correct?
Moriya: Correct. Actually Smiling House is a collection of stylish and exclusive private properties. Some of them are managed with the property managers, some of them are managed with the homeowners themselves. In the Gstaad region in Switzerland, we are actually the property managers ourselves.
We are working on this hybrid model that’s putting all of us together in the purpose of giving the best experience of hosting around the world. With the extras help that Smiling House’s giving to these property managers or homeowners out there with extra languages, a little bit more tech, giving guest experience.
I think we were one of the first one that’s established this kind of hybrid model. For a long time in the industry, we were talking about it with people and they really didn't understand what are we doing or how it's going to work. But I'm happy to say that now finally it makes sense to more people. I think we're going to see more and more of this model in other companies as well.
CUSTOMER BASE: AN ADDRESS BOOK OF JET-SETTERS
Vanessa: How does one scale the agents side of things? You are threefold, you have agents, owners, and you're a manager yourself. How do you get agents to work with you? They do the same thing as you, right?
Moriya: Right, first of all we grew organically by going to destinations and meeting home owners. They were not even aware what OTAs or channel managers have to offer. They were just doing vacation rental luxury for many years locally. But the first question was always “Why do I need you guys?”
For some of them we opened the floodgates of OTAs using PMS and channel managers. And for many we opened our address book of jet-setters. Smiling House developed a name and we got more and more direct contact from these kind of travellers that can buy it all. These circles of jet-setters you can’t find them easily on OTAs.
Our property managers are happy to get this service to expand and to get more direct bookings and so on.
TRUST IN THE LUXURY WORLD AND NO INSTANT BOOKINGS
Vanessa: I see, okay, so you’re a channel for some of these property managers and at the same time you have the technology to push the properties onto different OTAs. All luxury property managers I speak to tell me that it's so hard to markets luxury properties. On one side because the owners don't want to accept everyone. On the other, it's very hard to find the right channels. When it comes to that, you do instant booking? Or, how does it work?
Moriya: Unfortunately not. This is one of the obstacles for us working with OTAs that really were not designed for this segment. This is a global problem of the niche of luxury segment. We cannot take instant booking, we cannot just take the credit card even if the person has the amount of money that we're requesting to take. There are so many questions on the other hand, even from that point of view of the homeowner.
Not mentioning the thousands of questions and requests that are unique to the kind of people who are traveling and spending this amount of money.
So it's very hard for us to work with the OTAs. We need to chat with our potential guests because the trust to take such a decision of going to such expensive holidays involving so many up-selling decisions. For people to take this decision online, it's hard.
WORKING WITH NICHE INSIDE NICHES
Vanessa: Yes, agreed. So which sites work for you?
Moriya: Of course, we are working with Airbnb because Airbnb were the first one. Actually today I just saw a picture of me and Brian Chesky. It was exactly today, three years ago in Los Angeles where we met. They were the first one with Chip Conley that were listening to our needs and even looking deep into it and understood that if they want to take a bite from this luxury segment they have to take it to the next level. Right after that they bought luxury retreat.
Over there, we're working with them with Airbnb LUX and HomeAway, of course, Expedia, and other few channels that allow it for us and trip advisor to communicate and to answer upon request. Nothing is instant which is making our work hard. Less tech is involved, unfortunately, but from the other hand the good news is that every deal in Smiling House or in the industry of luxury, I’d say is 40 or 50 times the amount of the average deal in the industry. So… Let's say it's worth it : )
Vanessa: Any niche sites that you work with where you could recommend in terms of luxury?
Moriya: Actually, we are very busy with social media. The niche is actually all kind of clubs, all kinds of websites or organizations that are dealing with experiences. In the luxury segment the importance of experience is really high, the whole idea being “give me this experience that I will never forget and I would pay for it, no problem.”
There are these websites doing only ski, only yachting or trips with expensive cars, or culinary trips… and we help with accommodation. It’s niche inside a niche inside a niche. We keep on looking for those opportunities because we know that that's how travelling is evolving.
DEVELOPING THE OFFERING TO TRADITIONAL TOURISM PARTNERS
Vanessa: Do you also work also with travel agents, I imagine?
Moriya: That's it, now we realized that we have to deliver our knowledge and our experience to many more parties out there. The legacy partners of the legacy travel players, whatever we want to call them, or maybe the “traditional tourism partners or activities”. And the concierge companies or travel designers, or even the hotels themselves, the biggest chains of hotels. They all want to take a bite of our industry - we can be the bridge.
So yes now we are working on developing the tech to work with those players. So property managers, even small, even if they only have five amazing properties in Sinbad or 20 amazing properties in Mykonos, they'd be able to offer their rentals to these kind of very eager players.
Because, let's not believe that these industry players are completely going down. The number is showing that more people will continue traveling through travel “concierge”. The generation, the grey hair, the baby boomers and even some of the X generation will still put somebody in the middle especially when it comes to luxury.
GETTING READY FOR ASIA & THE COMMUNICATION BARRIERS
Vanessa: That's good to know. So you need lots of them I imagine. What a what are your plans with Asia? Tell me about Asia.
Moriya: We’re still researching the needs of these travellers. One thing we noticed is that even though people from Asia contact us directly they want to continue the communication for example on Airbnb. So we thought “Wow that's weird, you’re getting us directly and you want to communicate via the OTA. Why is that?”
We realized that it’s about the communication capabilities of Airbnb. Right now we are not answering in Mandarin but it’s not only about the replies, it's about the whole user experience, the user communication that they feel comfortable with.
So we understand that first of all we need to fix this for them to travel comfortably. We have to fix the communication gap so they can depend on us.
We’re also interviewing guests coming from the East to understand their guest experience needs better so we can make it easier for them to make the decision to choose us. We’re hopefully going to put all this the knowledge into the service that Smiling House will be able to offer in future.
TECH FOR SERVICE OFFERING NOT FOR COMMUNICATION
Vanessa: In terms of technology, I imagine you must have a really good website, right? You pay for traffic?
Moriya: We’re not really paying for traffic. The way our industry is working is very much based on word of mouth. We grew a lot thanks to hosts that became guests and guests that became hosts. Because they are the owners of the same type of property elsewhere. If I would have to spend money to target this audience group, it would not be cost effective. I promise you that.
So, for marketing we’re focusing on provided more and better features, for example, we just added recently, a feature of private jets. That is amazing that you can just book any plane to fly from one place to another. It's even cost effective because it's shared economy based jet based on the empty leg. There’s a world of services that our guests are expecting.
We understood that there’s no point to develop too much tech like other companies mainly because our clients need the communication. They need the personal touch. This is something that no instant messaging can give.
Although I must say that a company like Smiling House would have not been able to develop to where we are now without our PMS and channel managers like Rentals United that allow us to spread our offers.
LUXURY HOME OWNERS: THE POWER OF A HAND SHAKE
Vanessa: How do you market to owners? How do you get the owners to work with you?
Moriya: When we started we physically flew to the destinations. We landed in Mykonos to find local homeowners of amazing villas and started to talk to them and tell them “we want to connect you to the luxury world”. People were shocked because no one from the travel industry ever came to see them, they did it all through email. For us it was really important not only to grow the business but also to see what we are offering, really visit and take pictures and see how close it is to the sea or how far it is from the slopes and the facilities. We saw some amazing homes! Can you believe that one property we were visiting in Mykonos had a magnesium pool?!
Today, I can say that we're getting more & more property managers and homeowners that would like to join us. If it’s the Instagram exposure, if it’s the Facebook, the connection to all kinds of direct clubs and so on. But we still want to go to every market we’re developing and see it for ourselves, this is very important.
PARTNERING WITH THE REAL ESTATE WORLD
Vanessa: Consolidation is a word we hear a lot in the industry especially in that the property management world at the moment. Is this something you see happening in the luxury vertical?
Moriya: You know, Smiling House, we bootstrapped it but we can see us connecting to two different kinds of business concepts.
The first one is the Rent to Buy and Buy to Rent concept. For the first time we see that the industry can connect to another completely different one, outside of tourism, outside of nightly bookings. It’s the real estate world that's realized that vacation rental is an interesting products and vacation rental in luxury even more interesting because the person can enjoy his own house and still rent it at the same time. So we’re looking at this kind of interesting partnerships with real estate.
As for consolidating with other similar services, I can tell you, we would like to grow but we don't want to give up the quality that we promised to deliver. So we would have to partner with very very similar companies.
Vanessa: Thanks so much. Take care, bye.
Are the listings site's commissions included in your pricing?
No, they're not. Some listing sites add their commission on top of the prices you save. These channels want your net rates. Other channels will charge their commission from the prices you save. For the later, you have the possibility to mark your rates up to cover for their commission. We inform you in details how the channels work after you sign-up.
Are other connections included in your pricing?
Rentals United integrates with tech providers that help manage short-term rentals automatically. These providers include Property Management Systems, Payment Providers, Yield Managers and Operational Tools. In order to use them, you have to sign up and contract their services, and pay them separately.
What does your pricing include ?
The Rentals United fee includes storing your property info, using the Channel Manager and all of our other tools: Guest Planner, Booking Engine, Guest Communication, Quality Checker, iCal sync and Multi-Calendar. There's no set-up fee: you will get training during the first month of signing up and larger accounts will get a Key Account Manager to help them grow.