Sense of Place [Episode 8, Barcelona]

A Sense of Place is a travel show that meets destinations through the eyes of vacation rental properties and their most incredible hosts. Follow our Facebook Page or YouTube Channel for updates. ​

I think professional hosts AND seasoned travelers would agree: the best kinds of vacation rentals feel like home.

They’ve got more than just a bed, a kitchen and some keys. They’ve got the feeling that someone has actually put some thought into this: that the owner or manager has actually slept in this property and gone through the various things that one might need living there day to day.

Now, the wonderful thing about our new industry is that every host describes home slightly differently: this gives personalities room to shine through. And for some that takes the shape of culture, to others family. And for some people like Damien Harris, it’s nostalgia. Literally speaking, his business Picasso Suites is a fleet of vacation rentals in central Barcelona. But figuratively, it's a reference the most meaningful time in his life. Barcelona is where he started his first business, it’s where he fell in love, it’s where he was first introduced, to the shared economy, deciding to host complete strangers in his guest room way back before HomeAway or Airbnb ever existed.

Whenever Damien ​talked about people he missed or milestones he achieved in Barcelona, he ​got this nostalgic glimmer in his eye. And over ​my contentious "shared economy" days in Barcelona, through his property and his personal connections, Damien would pass some of that glimmer on to me.

Barcelona Deconstructed

Each destination and host has multiple layers to its success. So we decided to pull back the curtain and share commentary on the people, places, and best industry practices that made ​Barcelona and Damien so unique.

​​To record this video, I've used the Logitech c920 webcam, the Blue Snowball microphone, and Camtasia screen recording software.

​The Learning Center

The following series of videos are designed to help better understand ​Damien's secrets to success. Watch each short clip and think about how it might apply to your vacation rental business. 

​1. The Essence of Hospitality

​Damien got started with vacation rentals before Airbnb existed. He was hosting people in his home for the enjoyment (the income was fun too). While some of those original elements of his hospitality were unreplicable, it became something of a template for his now-thriving property management business.

​​2. Duplicating Damien

​One of the things we hear from a lot of professional VR hosts is "I wish I could duplicate myself." But ​can also be seen as a weakness of the business. Damien aims to "duplicate" himself using a balance of technology and in-person charm (in the form of staff). 

3. Staging a Demonstration

​Barcelona is one of the most ​controversial vacation rental cities in the world. Damien got to experience this up-close when one of his apartments was "infiltrated" by demonstrators -- he gives them credit for creativity. You can see the full article on this incident below...

Vecinos del Casc Antic destapan una red de pisos turísticos ilegales y el gerente les planta cara >> Video Link​

4. The Gamechanger

​What do vacation rentals mean to Damien? They are a gamechanger. Not just in terms of income, but as a father, they make his travels less stressful and all-the-more enjoyable. 

5. Management from Afar

Damien manages his Barcelona apartments from Berlin. This requires a unique dose of problem-solving in order to make sure things are smooth. Sometimes we see that managers from afar can teach on-site managers a whole lot (and of course, vice versa) because they're forced to break problems/challenges down to a molecular level. 

6. Where to Draw the Line?

​Airbnb has cultivated this incredible generation of hospitality professionals. But it has also created a weird space in which some hosts feel like they're doing you a favor by letting you stay. When charging real dollars and competing with the hotel down the street, Damien believes there's a certain duty to run a true business in which the ​guest is always right. 

Not long ago I knew next to nothing about Marbella as a vacation destination. I knew it was in Southern Spain and I knew it was on the coast. That’s about it. So when I arrived at the nearby Malaga train station from an amazing night in Madrid, I’d be meeting Borja Rodriguez a native of the area and one of the most forward-thinking vacation rental professionals in Spain.  I was pretty intent on letting Borja tell me precisely what to do. In the end, he’d teach me much more than that.

We met at the gate of the rental where I’d be staying, one of about 30 properties Borja’s company Vacation Marbella manages with white gloves. The rental complex was located about 100 meters from the lapping waves of the Mediterranean and was mostly what one would expect from a European beach complex: neatly manicured grounds, elevators with requests that you dry off before entering, a gate with a guard who is sometimes there and sometimes not. What was totally unexpected, however, about my vacation rental for the next few days was the level of standards and the business savvy Borja injects in pretty much everything he does.  

In a lot of ways, Borja represents a much greater trend of professionals in one industry leaving their well-paid jobs to get involved in the vacation rental movement full time. These people are finding the landscape of the profession that they thought they would do forever — in Borja’s case it was finance — changing in front of their very eyes and are therefore are encouraged to venture out and explore new, often-entrepreneurial lines of work. The vacation rental industry is such a good fit because it’s so new…nobody has been formally trained, and pretty much everyone got started accidentally…which opens up the door wide for opportunity and cross-pollination. In meeting the various friends, family, and colleagues who revolve around him — you sense that Borja’s adventuresome instincts seem to be rubbing off.

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