|Villa suites at one-year-old Casa Naga in Panama offer Pacific Ocean views and infinity-edge pools among other luxury amenities.|
Interest in villa rentals is on the upswing for a number of reasons. They can be ideal for family and special-occasion travel, couples traveling together and anyone interested in privacy and flexibility.
“Villas work so well for multigenerational travel as everyone can dine together, have outdoor space, pools and can have housekeeping, chefs and a concierge team provided with their villas,” says Jill Taylor of JetSet World Travel, Inc. “We also love the hotels that have villas on property as then the client has the use of the hotel facilities and their staff to help.”
Of course, villa rentals also present their own set of special challenges. Travel Agent spoke with Taylor and other villa rental experts about how to best maneuver this rapidly growing market.
Get Expert Help
If there’s one piece of universal advice, it’s to get help from an expert.
“There are so many ins and outs with villa rentals. It’s important to work with a supplier who has expertise in this area,” David Rubin, CEO of DavidTravel in Corona del Mar, CA tells Travel Agent.
“As with anything, you need to know your product and know what you’re selling. To do that, you need to do your own site visit. Otherwise, you should contact a reliable company that has done its due diligence and made their own site visits,” says Joyce Falcone, founder of The Italian Concierge.
“Sometimes with a larger company, you might get an agent who sells villas. Perhaps they have some paperwork in front of them but they haven’t actually set foot on the property. You may also see the same villas on different websites, but with different names,” Falcone cautions.
Likewise, travel advisors need to get the word out to clients that they, the agents, “know and use reputable companies that we have vetted, as there are so many independent companies out there that can cause a lot more headaches than worth,” says Taylor.
Ask the Right Questions
When it comes to villa rentals, it’s crucial to know which questions to ask.
“Location, neighboring properties, is there Wi-Fi? If a client is staying at a Four Seasons or The Peninsula, you’d know what standards to expect. You wouldn’t find dusty rooms or frayed linens. But you need to be very diligent with villas. Sometimes it’s worth having a steam cleaning done before the clients arrive, just to be extra careful,” says Rubin.
Jody Bear of Bear & Bear Travel says information is key to advising clients properly.
“It’s important to ask questions such as is the house fully staffed? How many hours per day is the staff there? How often are linens changed? A lot of villas come with chefs or a cook. Those are two different things. Remember that if you have problems with staff, there is usually nothing you can do unless you go through a reputable company that also acts as a concierge,” says Bear. Air conditioning is another important detail.
“When you have a property built in the 1700s or 1800s, you will have fans. But you won’t have air and that can be a big concern in the summer. Of course, many of the villas have thick walls, so that can help,” says Falcone.
JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers notes, “Clients don’t want a lesser standard of living when they’re on vacation than they have at home.” Her company, Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, represents luxury properties such as Villa Manzu on Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo.
“A lot of villas were built for families that wanted one master bedroom and several small bedrooms. That’s problematic when you have groups of couples traveling together. Villa Manzu has eight bedrooms and everyone is over 1,000 square feet. It also has a permanent staff, not one that’s brought in for a booking. If you have people hired just for a particular booking, they might not know the villa,” says Kurtz-Ahlers.
|Among the many villas available through Abercrombie & Kent is Tuscany’s Castiglion del Bosco, a favorite with travel agents.|
Villa rental clients don’t always want to simply stay in place.
“Most travelers who come to us for villa rentals want a comprehensive tour also. For example, they will want a 12-day tour of Italy that includes three or four nights at a villa in Tuscany. We incorporate the villa into the tour and we book a full-service villa at a resort such as Castiglion del Bosco, which provides the best of both worlds. It’s a proper villa with all of the service and amenities that travelers find at resorts,” Ashley Ganz, owner of Artisans of Leisure, tells Travel Agent.
For active clients interested in Hawaii, Rubin recommends Pure Kauai.
“They’re fantastic. We had a client who stayed at a villa for several months. Each day, they asked what excursions the clients wanted to do,” says Rubin.
For Italy bookings, Falcone will work with agents to provide a full range of services. Among them: transportation to and from the airport, licensed guides, specialty visits, winery tours, cooking lessons and even ballooning.
“We provide a spiral-bound notebook with information on restaurants, local products and shops. We also have a 25-page destination guide to Italy with tips on language, culture and etiquette. We even recommend movies to see and books to read to help get ready for the trip,” says Falcone.
JetSet’s Taylor, who is something of an Italy specialist, singles out Monteverdi Tuscany villas as a product she loves to sell because, she says, the location in the Val d’Orcia is a perfect place to be based. “The views are great and the staff is on property to help with any needs for our clients as well as the amazing restaurant that has some of the best food in Italy,” she says.
She also books Castiglion del Bosco and other Abercrombie & Kent villas because they “have an option for a host and that is always helpful, so clients have someone who is available 24/7 if they are not staying in a villa that is associated with a hotel. This helps alleviate any problems while clients are traveling.”
Options Are Expanding
While traditional favorites, such as Tuscany, Lake Como and the Amalfi Coast remain top-sellers for Falcone’s and Taylor’s Italy clientele, options are expanding worldwide to meet increasing demand for villa stays.
“Abercrombie and Kent have their Sanctuary properties. And more and more hotels have residential units that can be rented as villas. Four Seasons Hualalai on Hawaii’s Big Island has residences, as do a lot of Ritz-Carltons. They’re a great option, because you have the services of a full hotel staff,” says Rubin. Bellmen in particular can be handy.
“Something that can be a nightmare is when a high-end client has to carry luggage up two or three floors. That’s a prescription for a ruined back and a bad holiday,” says Rubin.
“The villas that are attached to hotels or resorts are a good option for the high-end clients. The amenities will be standard and brand trustworthy,” says Bear.
As far as destinations, Hawaii is known for its villa offerings, says Rubin.
“We’re finding that interest is growing for every part of the world, from Cape Town to the European countryside, and here in the U.S. as well,” he adds.
“New villas are coming up in other countries. We were contacted by a man who had a villa in Bulgaria that looked amazing,” says Kurtz-Ahlers.
Closer to home, villa rentals are a popular option in Mexico. Sean Emmerton, villa program director for Journey Mexico, tells Travel Agent that Punta Mita and Los Cabos offer the highest quality of product, while the Riviera Maya is the most in demand with clients.
The company’s portfolio stands at 115 villas and counting.
“Our villa business is growing by leaps and bounds. One of the things that sets us apart is that we have onsite staff. We have offices in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City and Cancun,” says Emmerton.
Other destinations in high demand for villa rentals include Tulum, although the inventory isn’t quite there yet. Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende are popular, as well. But they’re saturated by VRBO listings. The same goes for Huatulco.
“We approach home owners and they ask why should they pay us a commission when they’re already getting business from VRBO?” says Emmerton. It’s “buyer beware” with sites such as VRBO and HomeAway, he notes.
“You’re dealing with a homeowner or a third-party management company. The interest is simply in getting a steady stream of people in the villa. Keep in mind that anyone can use Photoshop to make a home look beautiful. What if you get there and the electricity or the plumbing go out? You’ve already made a wire transfer of all the funds. It’s so much better to be protected by having people and resources on the ground,” says Emmerton.
And, since even the most well-planned stay may encounter unexpected difficulties, Rubin has this advice:
“Travel insurance is a must. There’s usually too much money at stake with a villa to travel anywhere without it,” he says.
Villa Rentals: The Product
Now that you have some insights into the hows and whys of selling villas, here are some prime, diverse examples of what to sell.
|Here is a view from the living room to the terrace at Villa Aquamare on Virgin Gorda, B.V.I.|
Villa Aquamare, British Virgin Islands: A good fit for families or couples traveling with other couples, Villa Aquamare is located on Virgin Gorda just roughly 15 minutes from The Baths, the British Virgin Islands’ most coveted tourist attraction. Each five-bedroom villa is perched at a different elevation and surrounded by landscaping for even more privacy, yet angled to maximize views of the stunning Sir Francis Drake Channel.
A separate Concierge House is located on the property to provide attentive guest services at every turn. Clients have the rare option of renting more than one villa, or even all three, to accommodate large gatherings of up to 36 people in one private enclave.
The villas all have comfortable and spacious areas and ample balconies with great ocean views. But a distinguishing feature of the Aquamare experience is found in each of the spa suites: open, yet completely sheltered marble bath areas with separate large, outdoor shower rooms.
Private, in-villa dinners, lunches and breakfasts are also offered where one can get either a gourmet meal or some down-home cooking. For dinner, we chose some comfort food cooked by our incredibly friendly chef, Mimi, who made an extremely delicious sweet potato and leek soup. Clients also have the option of getting a butler, who will come to the villa for eight-hour shifts and take care of their every need.
Aquamare’s private Beach Park, with its man-made, white-sand beach, is the ideal setting for destination weddings and small meetings.
|Blue Sky Luxury recently added Langara, the Penthouse at Sandy Cove Barbados to its select Flagship Caribbean villa portfolio.|
Langara, the Penthouse at Sandy Cove Barbados: Blue Sky Luxury recently added Langara, the Penthouse at Sandy Cove Barbados to its select Flagship Caribbean villa portfolio. The four-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath Langara spans the top floor of the exclusive Sandy Cove residential development on Barbados’ Platinum Coast. The 6,500 square feet of indoor spaces marry modern design with tropical ambiance, opening seamlessly to terraces furnished for al fresco dining, lounging and swimming in the Penthouse private pool.
Guests can discover hidden beaches aboard the home’s private yacht, explore the white-sand beach cove and reef with snorkels and SUP boards, or explore Barbados with a private car and driver. The Langara luxury experience also includes elevator access to the Sandy Cove facilities, including a lagoon pool, gym and sauna.
A staff of four sees to every detail for Langara’s guests, including a butler and private chef preparing meals that rival nearby five-star restaurants. In addition to the attention of Langara’s staff, the Blue Sky Luxury Concierge Can team provides personalized guest services that begin even before vacationers leave home, from arranging tours and personalized experiences to advising the chef on menu favorites and dietary requirements.
Nevaeh, Anguilla: Nevaeh (heaven spelled backwards and pronounced ‘ne-vay-eh’) is Anguilla’s newest rental estate. This private retreat, located in the island’s fashionable West End, is set in one acre of gardens that step down to a half-mile of beach. To enhance the sense of seclusion, five of the bedrooms are in the main house, with three more in a guest house among the flowers and foliage. The second floor of the main house is given over to two master suites, separated by a pergola-shaded cocktail deck that is slightly elevated to make the most of the sea views. The master suite on the first floor has been subtly designed to accommodate the needs of guests with impaired mobility.
Adjoining the main lounge is an elegant kitchen. No fewer than five fridges and freezers (including an enormous GE SubZero) are integrated into the decor. Six upholstered chairs belly up to a granite-topped counter, inviting guests to sample snacks between meals. A private chef is included in the top rate.
The infinity pool, with its oversized candles flickering inside antique lanterns and spotlights sparkling on the iridescent blue tiles, is the perfect spot for nightcaps or skinny dipping by moonlight.
Other sports offerings include a lighted Astroturf tennis court that doubles as a basketball court, a dedicated air-conditioned Techno gym, sea scooters and stand-up paddle boards, beach volleyball and kayaks. Beach-lovers, in fact, never have to get off their loungers — they can have the staff serve drinks, snacks, chilled towels, a tented dinner or tiki-lit barbecue right on the sand. Nevaeh can be booked through Ricketts Luxury Properties, the exclusive representative for the villa.
Casa Naga, Panama: The 25,000-square-foot Casa Naga debuted in February of last year just steps away from the main resort, overlooking the rainforest and Pacific Ocean. Standout features include an indoor koi pond, a master suite with an open-air shower in the center of the room, and a private plunge pool on the balcony.
Set on a cliff at the edge of the rainforest, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Casa Naga is the vision of Herman Bern Jr., vice president of Product Development of Bern Hotels & Resorts, and English designer James Derry. The residence is available as an exclusive vacation rental and event venue to guests of The Westin Playa Bonita, located just 20 minutes from Panama City and less than an hour from Tocumen International Airport.
The villa has six guest room suites, with a master suite that measures 1,500 square feet and features a private plunge pool, two outdoor terraces and an indoor garden with a grandiose open-ceiling shower as the focal point. The property also offers a spacious indoor/outdoor dining area, show kitchen, living room with double opium bed for lounging, fitness center, game room with billiards and a full bar, and den with an 85-inch plasma TV.
The living area has 50-foot ceilings and an open entryway with stone pillars and steps that descend to an immaculately landscaped outdoor patio and 25-foot, semi-Olympic infinity pool with two shallow areas for sunbathing. A large Jacuzzi and typical Panamanian rancho, or poolside palapa, offer panoramic ocean views of the Pacific — a scenic setting for guests to relax and entertain.
|Deep in the hills of Guatemala, Villa Palopo at Casa Palopo offers lake and mountain views from its lofty perch.|
Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: There are only nine rooms here. Seven of the rooms are located in one building while the remaining two rooms are located in Villa Palopo, which is located high above the first floor of the hotel and deep into the hills. Villa Palopo is a villa in every sense of the word. It is very tastefully designed with a very chic overtone. There’s marble everywhere, lots of blacks and whites and very simple, yet effective decoration. The highlight of the villa however is the full length, lap pool that offers full 180-degree views of Lake Atitlan as well as three dormant volcanoes.
If it is hazy, you will not be able to see any of the mountains or volcanoes. There is also a Jacuzzi located just next to the pool and a covered up sitting area where clients can enjoy some cocktails, rain or shine. There’s a helipad on property, something we rarely see at other luxury resorts throughout the world. The helipad is literally a few short stairs bellow Villa Palopo. Booking a helicopter ride one week in advance will ensure your clients’ transfer, but rides can be booked 24 hours in advance, depending on availability.
Andaz Residences Maui at Wailea: Tropical Villa Vacations has added an exclusive new villa at Andaz Residences Maui at Wailea to its collection of luxury homes, estates and villa vacation rentals on Maui. One of only 12 privately owned Andaz Residences Maui, the SeaGlass villa is a three-bedroom, four-bath residence offering 3,234 square feet of indoor and outdoor living space. This villa provides a hip, casual atmosphere with a sleek, contemporary design and a sprawling outdoor lanai with garden and private hot tub. SeaGlass can accommodate up to eight guests (six adults maximum and two children).
Andaz Residences Maui is located at the 15-acre beachfront Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort. Tropical Villa Vacations’ guests at SeaGlass villa enjoy full access and charging privileges to all of the resort’s facilities and services, such as multiple pools (including four cascading infinity pools), the 14,000-square-foot Awili Spa and dining options including the locally sourced Ka’ana Kitchen and the celebrated Morimoto Maui. Tropical Villa Vacations has, since 1995, offered a custom collection of luxury vacation rentals in Maui.
FLORIDA AND CONTINENTAL U.S.
Villa Experience Miami Beach: The Villas Experience by Travel Impressions has announced the addition of more than 16 luxury villa rental properties in Miami. The Miami Beach villas offer access to amenities for golf vacations or special occasions like honeymoons, destination weddings or large family and friend gatherings.
The Villa Experience Miami Beach collection has private villas for groups of two to 17 guests with rates ranging from $1,500 to $16,400 per night. Notable features include gourmet kitchens, marble flooring, modern interior design, private white-sand beaches, heated pools, classic Miami art deco architecture, rooftop terraces, outdoor dining areas, private boat docks, unobstructed bay views with media rooms, onsite spas and more.
In addition to a personalized selection of private villa lodging in Miami Beach, The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions concierge team can arrange added features including cooking lessons, private chefs, in-villa massages, personal training sessions and more. Travel agents can earn commission on added features when booked in advance.
Agents can obtain access to The Villa Experience’s Virtual Villa Rental Catalog Link by registering as an affiliate at www.villas.travimp.com in order to arrange commissionable villa vacations for their clients with the assistance of trained villa consultants.
The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions only works with professional management companies that offer complete portfolios of villas, offers a wide choice of destinations, dedicated villa staff, no credit card surcharges and is always commissionable to travel agents.
Also in the Sunshine State, VillaDirect Vacations Homes specializes in Orlando in general and Walt Disney World in particular.
Pegged to the theme “Genuine Discovery,” Destination Resort Management offers villas, residences and condominiums in Florida and throughout the United States, including Hawaii, California, Arizona, and Colorado ski country — Vail, Snowmass, Aspen — among other locations.
Preferred Residences offers collection of luxury villas, homes, lodges and condominiums — 37 properties throughout North America (including Hawaii), plus one each in Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. The “Preferred Family” feature on its website provides a checklist of age groups, amenities and services to help you find a property that best suits your client’s specific needs.
Villas of Distinction also covers a good deal of the globe, with luxury rentals in the Caribbean (17 islands), Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, U.S. and other destinations. Among these are villas categorized as Private Island, Historic Estates, Resort, Wine Region and Celebrity. It also offers a number of sports themes (golf, ski/snow and tennis) and a range of “lifestyle” options, including such niches as LGBT, pet-friendly, limited mobility and spa retreat, among others.