8 min read
by Ricardo Figueiredo, Co-Founder & CEO
Published October 19, 2021
| PARTNERS | BUSINESS |
Our new rubric - Interviews with Partners - aims to give a voice to the companies that associate with us, intending to understand their history and what is at the root of their success.
This month's article introduces you to WHome, a Premium Short Term Rental Management Company that has partnered with LUGGit since 2020.
Founded in 2016 and operating in Lisbon, Porto and Algarve, WHome currently has 22 employees divided into Operations, Maintenance, Cleaning and Communication.
To talk about the company, we have its two founders, Bernardo Aires and Francisco Bravo Ferreira.
LUGGit: Hi, Francisco! Hello, Bernardo! Let me start by asking you how are you, your families and the entire WHome team?
WHome: We are all fine, thankfully. We had a more difficult period when several elements of our office team caught COVID-19. However, we managed to take the necessary steps and contain the contagion. Fortunately, the symptoms were nothing out of this world and everyone recovered well. We also hope that everyone is doing well at LUGGit and excited about the opening of the Tourism's restrictions and return.
L: How did WHome start? What was your previous career and why did you join this sector?
W: We graduated in Hotel Management at the Estoril School of Hospitality and Management (ESHTE). At the end of the course, we did internships in other countries, which opened our doors to an international career. While Bernardo focused on Operations with the Starwood Group at W Barcelona, W Leicester Square and later integrated the team responsible for the pre-opening of Mondrian London, I [Francisco] ended up moving to Dubai with Hilton for the area of Sales and was then hired by the pre-opening team at St. Regis Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi in the Revenue Management area. I [Francisco] later moved to W Leicester Square as Cluster Revenue Manager and joined another private group in London (Edwardian Hotels), also in Revenue Management.
The idea of WHome started because we both felt very frustrated in the hospitality industry, especially working for such large hotel groups where processes are so backward, the systems are old and there is an unwillingness to change and implement new ideas. Even though we were in London, we had been following the growth of Short-Term Rental in Lisbon for some time and ended up deciding to come back after five years working outside Portugal and combine our Operations and Revenue Management skills to start WHome. How difficult could this be after managing and dealing with hotels that have hundreds of rooms and employees, right? Our experience in Hotel Management has made it much easier to define our goals and our way of operating. However, short-term rental has its particularities and we have been learning a lot over the years.
L: What are the main milestones achieved by WHome since its founding, and how have they evolved internally in the face of growth? What are the biggest challenges?
W: I think one of the significant milestones at WHome was when, in the first quarter of 2019, we decided to create our Facility Services (cleaning, laundry, and repairs) company called WCare, which gave us incredible flexibility in terms of managing our services. Reservations and the brutal increase in the quality of our cleaning were immediately reflected in the feedback from tourist customers and owners. We are very proud of this because we know we offer one of the best cleaning services in Lisbon, comparing ourselves to other companies in this field. This milestone changed the fundamental dynamics of our company and opened the doors for us to other areas as well, such as apartment renovations and maintenance. WCare's primary objective has always been to create the necessary support for the management structure of the portfolio of +100 properties that WHome manages. Nowadays, we have several properties that are not controlled by WHome using our cleaning services, laundry, and repairs. With this, the biggest challenge has been to assure sustained growth of the companies, since it is crucial to have the necessary structure behind to ensure the increase of properties, without this hurting the quality of our service. From day one, this has been our focus. Another big challenge, always associated with the growth of any company, is the management of human capital and the expectations of all those involved in this business, from tourists, internal teams to the owners/investors.
L: WHome has been a LUGGit partner since February 2020, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began. How did you overcome this moment, and what changed in your reality?
W: COVID-19 changed a lot... we were experiencing a massive growth of our company. We were about 35 pre-COVID elements and suddenly everything changed. In the beginning, both Bernardo and I minimised the situation a little. However, we had to make several difficult decisions, and one of them was to reduce the teams as we could not support such a large structure without any reservations for a few months. Furthermore, the uncertainty in which we all lived created a lot of stress for the people who stayed working (I think we were around seven at the time), which created some distance in us as no one knew what to expect from all this. However, we have reinvented ourselves and focused on Mid-term rentals and preparing properties for a new segment: Digital nomads/remote workers. Since these guests were staying longer versus the 2/3 nights we were used to (approximately one to three months), we managed to ensure, in this way, an income in several properties, and this was very positive. On the other hand, we took advantage of this period to look at our portfolio and verify that some properties were no longer suitable to remain in Short-term rental without any investment and improvement in terms of maintenance – during March, April and May 2020, we took the opportunity to make many repairs to various properties. This focus ended up helping us to get through this most difficult initial period.
Finally, from the perspective of managers and owners of two companies, we realised that we have to bet on diversification and bet on other areas that may not suffer so much during periods of crisis, pandemics, etc. Without a doubt, it was a great lesson at all levels. However, we knew that whoever held on during this period would come out stronger.
L: Is the pre-COVID-19 guest different from the current one? If so, to what extent?
W: Yes, there is no doubt that the current guest is quite different from the pre-COVID-19 guest in last-minute booking behaviour and budget. We know that families, as a rule, are the travellers that spend the most, pay a higher rate and that they are not travelling at the moment. Therefore, due to that and the fact that the average rate has dropped significantly by the city, the type of guest that is travelling is younger and has a smaller budget. Furthermore, this type of traveller is looking for more fun and sometimes doesn't take care of properties as well as we would like. It has turned out to be a little more challenging as in operational terms the planning becomes more difficult. Still, considering the volume currently seen in bookings, next year the focus will be on increasing the average accommodation rate. Owners and management companies will feel more confident as the volume of Tourism is already relatively high, and this will also filter out the type of client that will be staying. No doubt, though, that next year will be a year of recovery at all levels.
L: What tools do you use daily to help you manage? Have you adopted new ones since the beginning of the pandemic? If yes, which ones and why?
W: In addition to the Property Management system where we manage all reservations and properties, we also use a Revenue Management system that allows us to have dynamic rates and various strategies implemented for different locations and types of properties, distribution channels, etc. Finally, we have a Housekeeping system where operational teams can control the quality of properties better and create better communication with the maintenance team. During COVID-19, we took the opportunity to make the switch to this new PMS that we had been postponing for some time due to the migration process being so complicated with confirmed bookings, and thus we were able to ensure that the transition was made without any errors, pressure and lost bookings in between.
L: How much does LUGGit help you daily, and what is your feedback on the interaction your guests encounter?
W: Without a doubt, LUGGit has come to help us a lot as we are often unable to satisfy guests' requests to leave their bags before check-in and/or after check-out. We try to be very flexible whenever possible. However, it is sometimes impossible and LUGGit allows us to offer an efficient and quality solution to the guest. This means that the fact that it was not possible to leave the suitcase in the apartment ends up not being so important because all the guests to date have been super satisfied with your service and this is also very important for us. There is no doubt that both sides benefit a lot from this partnership, and we highly value it. We also have younger guests and fans of this type of service, which has contributed to the significant growth in orders. Our office team is your fan!
L: What's the next step for WHome?
W: The next step for WHome is creating its property portfolio. We acquired properties and used them as a presentation model for all future clients who choose to work with us. The market is increasingly competitive, the modern traveller is increasingly demanding and it is part of our goal and duty as Property Managers to show our customers that the products designed and developed by us are successful in this market and, consequently, to a greater degree of satisfaction and financial return. With this, we will offer a broader range of options and services available to all types of customers – individual owners, company and investors.
L: Thank you very much!