Debbie Misajon is the founder and managing director of Epic Hideaways - a villa rental company specializing in destination luxury properties. She brings over 25 years of experience and a passion for traveling the world to every location offered and personal recommendation. I had the opportunity to interview Debbie over the holiday break and ask a few questions about some of the more exceptional aspects of Epic Hideaways (www.epichideaways.com).
Tell us about yourself. Where does Epic Hideaways fit into the picture?
My background has been in the luxury hotel arena working with Four Seasons, Leading Hotels of the World's Prima Hotels, and Amanresorts. I also launched a successful villa company in Hawaii about a decade ago. After years of working with the best and learning from the best, I wanted to create something through which I could blend my hotel and villa background. So, I developed Epic Hideaways, offering the finest private homes and the hottest resort villas in epic destinations.
I have a passion for transformative, experiential travel. There's nothing more fulfilling than meeting a client by phone, creating an experience of their annual holiday or getaway, and receiving positive feedback at the end of it all. I'm happiest when I can personally meet guests at check-in, and then see them off at departure and witness their transformation firsthand. Just yesterday I shared in the joy of a guest's son as he walked up to the house having surfed his first wave. Epic!
The website is a showcase of unique places and properties, an offering of what can be had for travelers who want the opportunity to live, if only temporarily, in a destination. For those who aren't entirely ready to let go of resort amenities, Epic is collaborating with a number of luxury hotel companies that have developed villas, including Amanresorts, Alila Hotels, Trisara and many others under negotiation.
Just how large is the private villa industry? Can you give us some figures on the revenue and growth of this segment?
It's a growing market, indicated not only by the prolific number of businesses in the private homes segment of the industry, but also by the number of resorts with developing villa components. According to a 2010 survey by Radius Global Market Research, there are more than 6 million vacation properties in the Unites States and Europe that are rented to travelers every year. These vacation rentals generated more than $85 billion in rental income in 2010. (http://www.daytondailynews.com/lifestyle/travel/why-vacation-home-rentals-are-a-growing-trend-1155912.html)
Many resort companies recognize the growing interest in villas demonstrated by the number of properties offering one or more luxury villas on site like Amanresorts, Alila or Ojai Valley Inn. It's a trend you just can't ignore. Resort villa sales are very different from traditional hotel sales with unique configurations, owners' needs to meet, and owners' uses to be worked around. You must have intimate knowledge of the villas you represent. Thus, site inspections are crucial.
Who are the customers for private villas? Is it just the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' crowd?
Laughing! Private villa customers definitely include the ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' crowd. However; villas have crossed into the mainstream. Today's private villa renters are a family, group of friends, special interest group, or destination wedding.
The typical Epic client is a family on an annual holiday, immersing themselves in a culture or experiential travel. They might live inland at home, and want to experience the beachfront lifestyle for two weeks, shop locally and feel like a part of a community. On the other hand, we have had celebrities and high net worth individuals who simply want to get away from the demands of their daily lives. They don't want to walk through the lobby and be gawked at, have paparazzi publish photos of their spa faces as they return to their suite, or be bothered while on holiday. This makes a private villa highly desirable as many of these properties are located on exceptionally private estates. Epic Hideaways will organize the pre-arrival provisions, in-residence spa treatments, private chefs on demand, and cater to their desire to spend quality time alone and out of the frenzy.
What are the economics of a typical villa rental? What does it cost and what is included?
The costs are dictated by the guest's lifestyle, whether they are recreating their home or stepping it up. However, in general it is less expensive to rent a villa than multiple hotel rooms, dining in a restaurant every night and paying resort amenity fees. For example, a family of four may opt for a beachfront piece of real estate for their annual holiday because they don't live that lifestyle at home. They might require daily housekeeping and desire a swimming pool, but more importantly they hope to craft a meaningful experience for their family through personalized activities, which might include fly fishing instruction, surfing lessons, volunteering at an orphanage or clearing local hiking trails of invasive plants.
In this case, opting for a private villa home will pencil out more economically than booking several hotel suites. Preparing their meals in the home, doing laundry rather than sending it out, and buying juice by the quart rather than at spending $8 per glass are all examples of money saved through the villa experience.
Pricing will vary by country. Typically, the house is the only thing included in the US. However, in Asia and in Europe, you will find that the pricing includes housekeeping staff, security and a chef; it varies. That's why it's so important to work with an industry expert.
You also sell villas. Is there much turn over, or is this just a side business to rentals?
It's a natural side business. Guests spend two weeks of their time in a neighborhood and find they like it. Or, they like the destination and want to have a place of their own. Epic works with several real estate agents who focus their business on second homes in the best holiday destinations.
What makes Epic Hideaways special? Tell us about the Epic philosophy?
Epic Hideaways has a passion to transform what amounts to just two weeks of time off into a meaningful experience in a humble, residential setting. After years of working with the finest providers of service and product, I wanted to share what I've learned and come to love.
Reserving a villa home or resort villa with Epic Hideaways offers a number of advantages. With 25 years of travel knowledge, we offer our clients the very best professional experience in accommodations. Because I'm on a first name basis with villa owners, management teams, and General Managers of featured properties, your reservation will receive the attention it deserves, insuring that the details are tailored exclusively for your villa vacation. Whether you're staying for a quick getaway or your annual holiday, the planning is always essential.
Who are your key competitors, and how do you differentiate Epic villas?
Epic doesn't compete with the behemoths or the large operators who cast massive SEO webs. This is because we rely on long-term relationships within the travel industry, taking the time to create an epic holiday; from finding the right villa, the ideal activities, the best providers, to the honed chef and even locating the right philanthropic programs (see: voluntourism). Anyone can rent a villa; the difference is in the making of the unique experience.
Do you have any plans to expand Epic beyond your Pacific Rim expertise, and if so, what regions are you considering?
My passion for Asia has lent itself to launching with a number of properties in the region. The resort properties of Trisara, Alila and Amanresorts were natural fits for Epic Hideaways, largely given that a hefty part of my employed professional career was with Aman, and that both Trisara and Alila are headed by former Amanresorts colleagues of mine. We work very closely with a former LHW General Manager in Italy representing the finest properties of his product line in Italy. We are beginning to receive interest in representation from many luxury properties in the US, Latin America and Spain, so growth is inevitable. Epic won't grow in number of villas represented simply for growth's sake; it will grow because the properties and destinations offer an Epic experience.
What does the future hold for the super-luxury villa segment?
It seems to be a growth area with the increasing numbers of Indian, Chinese and Latin American travelers we are seeing, combined with the trends of generational and experiential travel. All said, the villa market is poised to accommodate these new travelers and trends.
(Article published in eHotelier on January 13, 2012)