Exclusive interview reveals mindset of ‘Destinations in Paradise’ private villa rental purveyors setting post-pandemic service standards as traveler, booker & event planner sensibilities shift amid COVID-19
It would be an understatement to say that the recent pandemic is ushering in a seismic shift for the travel trade, which suffered a collective gut punch as COVID-19 unrelentingly raged across the globe. New health and safety protocols, crisis management plans and other operational touchpoints are being overhauled to help those in—and dependent upon—the travel industry better pivot and adapt to the unforeseen. For travelers, priorities and sensibilities have also evolved on multiple fronts. For one, various reports extrapolate how privacy has become the new luxury. In fact, a “Covid Travel Outlook 2021” travel sentiment survey by Indagare found that travelers “feel more comfortable renting a home or private villa for added privacy” and that “more than half of those surveyed said that they are 54 percent more likely to rent a home than they were prior to coronavirus, preferring to ‘Stay at homes not hotels,’ for added security and peace of mind.” Other reports tout the key advantages of private luxury villa accommodations, with privacy and exclusive use entrenched among them. Amid the surge in category popularity, travelers must also consider ways to aptly vet luxe private villa options amid a burgeoning field. According to an Indagare.com story outlining the benefits of “going private,” proximity is one overarching booking factor noting that “for some travelers, a house close to town or affiliated with a nearby resort or hotel provides the perfect combination of exclusivity and access (to restaurants, coffee shops, fitness classes, etc.). Others prefer staying someplace further removed, opting for a home with fewer amenities or a lavish villa with every convenience under the sun.” The article also points out another critical aspect that, all too often, is taken for granted: availability. The story cites the reality that “accommodations can fill up months or even a year in advance,” which some more spontaneous wanderers might not expect. Relative to post-pandemic issues, the story further cautions that “this year, with exclusivity at an unprecedented premium and fewer destinations open to international arrivals, early planning is crucial. One reason: Many travelers are opting for longer stays, now that remote work and Zoom classes are ubiquitous, meaning there’s less turnover. For these extended trips—workcations or staycations—having strong WiFi, reliable phone service and separate areas for being productive are key factors when choosing the right rental.” With this and other public discourse helping spur private villa reservations, I sought to connect with one purveyor in the space that is making due strides: Destinations in Paradise. This boutique agency offers a suite of architectural five-star private villas in four locales: The Big Island and Kauai, Hawaii as well as Los Cabos, Mexico and Mendocino, California. Having personally experienced this company’s brand of haute hospitality on the Big Island, I sought to connect with the founders—David Cohen and Howard Appel—for some clarity on how they’ve apparently adapted so well in the post-pandemic era. Here’s what they had to say.
MK: So, first, let’s talk about the properties, themselves, and also your company at large. What sets Destinations in Paradise apart from other luxury home and private villa purveyors in the various regions where you operate?
Cohen: It's essentially our caliber of white glove service, which is highly personalized and with the very best amenities that can be provided. The company was started because we wanted to have some fun, as Howard and I had been retired a while. We wanted to give people, especially those desiring privacy and security, the kind of high-caliber experience that we would expect. When someone arrives at one of our homes, they're greeted and welcomed with enthusiasm and everything to elevate the experience is there. This includes the best linens, a house full of flowers and arrival gifts. In Mendocino, we leave fresh-baked goods and wine. In Mexico, our guests are greeted with cold towels and margaritas. Plus, any special requests are accommodated. Even when guests depart, we give them a thank you gift for having booked a stay with us. Overall, it’s a very personalized experience. It’s akin to having a member of the family come and stay. You get up early in the morning, make them breakfast and generally make them feel at home … that this is their home for the duration of the visit. The difference is that it's a five-star experience at every touch point.
Appel: We, ourselves, like to travel in luxury and, as we started acquiring the properties, we realized that this is a great opportunity to offer to other people the same kind of treatment we enjoy. It's the way we all would love to be treated. And we think we offer it differently and more special than others. The business sort of just fell into place as bookings escalated and we started to acquire additional properties.
MK: In the luxury travel space, much is said about the importance of personal touches to elevate the experience. So, can you provide an example of things you all do in this regard to go over-and-above for high-end luxury travelers?
Cohen: Here's one interesting example about the Mexican property, for example: It's two acres of the most gorgeous landscaping that you've ever seen. Even though it's in the middle of a desert, we are desalinating seawater using solar power, so the yards and the landscaping and the flowers are all very lush, but still desert-type plants. The interesting thing is that Howard and I have worked together for close to 40 years and, until we actually got into this business, I had no idea that he had this artistic flair. The landscaping at all of the houses is beyond spectacular. My own personal favorite is the Mendocino home, which has the equivalent of an English country garden. You can just go and sit in there and read a book, sitting in the fresh air with beautiful butterflies and bees buzzing around. The Hawaiian property is the same; it’s just gorgeous, perfect Hawaii.
Appel: It's important to note that these homes are indoor-outdoor homes. We want to make sure we carry the luxury on both sides. If you actually do a search of our home in Cabo on Google Earth, you can easily spot it because it's the only significant patch of green anywhere along the east scape. This kind of lush, natural beauty is just one of the many ways that we cater to our guests relative to the luxurious aspects both inside and outside of the homes.
MK: You touched on some of it already, but what are some other special amenities and activities that you offer in, and around, the homes that are available to guests?
Appel: One key aspect is that each home comes with a concierge service. Our guests can partake in any activity in the local surroundings. We try to offer the opportunities within the local community and try to personalize that. In Mexico, it might be premiere deep-sea fishing, surfing and paddle boarding. In Mendocino, we're about 30-minutes from Anderson Valley, so we can arrange for private wine tours. Especially during the recent pandemic, to help our guests have fun but also avoid big crowds was important to us. Of course, the homes in Hawaii and Mexico have beautiful pools, swim-up bars and each property has its own set of unique amenities on-site a like solar-lighted tennis court. In fact, when we travel to Mexico—in the seven or eight times we've been there—I think we've left the property twice. There's no reason to go elsewhere because everything is there with you. Whatever you want to do, whatever the guests would like, we can make it happen.
MK: Speaking of the pandemic, obviously the past year and a half has been tough for the travel industry, so how have the recent health concerns impacted your business with respect to private villa versus hotel, resort or other kinds of accommodations? And, also, the guest experience while actually visiting a property?
Appel: We took COVID very seriously from the beginning and, yes, 2020 was a hard year for us. We lost almost all of our business, but we used that down time as an opportunity to continue to enhance the homes. Even now, when guests come to one of our properties, they're greeted in a manner that best assures their health and safety. We have our house managers maintain their distance and use masks, of course. But, during the guests’ stay, we also make sure we work around their calendars to not intrude on their stay there. We take it very seriously. And, in fact, when a guest leaves, we have a minimum 48 hours between guests so we can properly clean and sanitize the home for the next guest.
MK: Many people often associate private villa experiences more with leisure travel versus business. But I know Destinations in Paradise properties are also utilized in business—especially when there are privacy, exclusivity and health-related preferences. Plus, of course, the properties are also perfectly suited for corporate events, retreats and even utilized as incentives and rewards for employees and business partners. So, tell us about these kinds of corporate benefits.
Cohen: Even though the houses are focused on providing a safe, comfortable environment for families and extended small events, we do also host small, medium and large-scale corporate events at the houses. Whether it's a two-person law firm figuring out how they're going to run their businesses remotely, to a large distillery that wants to try and get their name out for a new product for, say, tequila in Mexico, our homes are an apt venue. Of course, we host weddings and social media is prompting bookings from people like rappers who want a place to chill out and rethink what their next shows or postings are going to be. And we've hosted philanthropic events like releasing baby turtles in the beaches of Mexico to address species endangerment. For that, a university in Mexico held a business meeting at our property, and as a gift we paid and supported their release of 600 hatchlings. Howard has also had some dealings with movie studios that are interested in hosting either corporate get togethers and business strategy meetings. And, in at least two instances that I can recall, they’ve considered using the homes as part of a movie production. I should also mention that each of the homes have the ability to cater for large and small groups. If we bring chefs in, that event never ever needs to leave the property. The house in Mexico, for instance, has two kitchens that are fully capable of catering to as many people as the property can accommodate, which is substantial, but each of the homes have the ability to cater internally and not rely on outside services.
Appel: All the homes offer businesses a unique opportunity to host meetings and events, from the very large as in Mexico, to even Mendocino for smaller gatherings. They’re all unique and offer the privacy, security and comfort that private villa venues offer—all, of course, with our discerning five-star touch.
PHOTO GALLERY IN ADDITION TO VIDEO MONTAGE ABOVE:
~~~ Forbes Business Council Member Merilee Kern, MBA is an internationally-regarded brand analyst, strategist and futurist who reports on cultural shifts and trends as well as noteworthy industry change makers, movers, shakers and innovators across all categories, both B2C and B2B. This includes field experts and thought leaders, brands, products, services, destinations and events. Merilee is Founder, Executive Editor and Producer of “The Luxe List” as well as Host of the nationally-syndicated “Savvy Living” lifestyle TV show that airs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta and other major markets on CBS, FOX and other top networks; as well as the “Savvy Ventures” business TV show that airs nationally on FOX Business TV and Bloomberg TV. As a prolific lifestyle, travel, dining and leisure industry voice of authority and tastemaker, Merilee keeps her finger on the pulse of the marketplace in search of new and innovative must-haves and exemplary experiences at all price points, from the affordable to the extreme. Her work reaches multi-millions worldwide via broadcast TV (her own shows and copious others on which she appears) as well as a myriad of print and online publications. Connect with her at www.TheLuxeList.com and www.SavvyLiving.tv / Instagram www.Instagram.com/LuxeListReports / Twitter www.Twitter.com/LuxeListReports / Facebook www.Facebook.com/LuxeListReports / LinkedIN www.LinkedIn.com/in/MerileeKern. ***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above may have been provided or arranged at no cost to accommodate if this is review editorial, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***
* Photos courtesy of www.DestinationsInParadise.com