Sense of Place [Episode 9, Guardea, Umbria, Italy]

​One of the most incredible things about the vacation rental movement is that someone with access to a vacation property can get started pretty much over night. Put your property up on a listing site like Airbnb or HomeAway, be responsive to your inquiries and you can literally be hosting guests this coming weekend. This is major diversion from the traditional world of hotels, where investors, staffing, permitting, and operations can take months if not years to put together.

​But vacation rentals' ease of entry can be both a blessing and a curse: on one hand, it presents awesome new opportunity to aspiring hospitality professionals all around the world…on the flip side, it can leave those very same people relatively unprepared for the demands of running a hospitality business.

Debra is a California-born architect who occasionally, when she is excited, ditches English for Italian, showing how much she’s become one with her adopted home of over 30 years. She’s the owner of Casale Pratto del Cocinelle, a restored 5-bedroom historic farmhouse with a sprawling, tapestry-like view of rural Umbria. There is not a spot on the property that doesn’t provide a view of rich fruit trees, dormant volcanoes, or the Tevere river. And when you’re sleeping there, the house is like a throwback to the Italy of old, but through the eyes of a visionary Californian.

Debra puts forth a valiant effort to connect and empower every single one of her guests even though actually getting guests is a constant struggle…and that therein lies some heroics. Doing your absolute best with what you have, treating every single client, even if it’s only one or two, as if they were the queen. And while this may sound like an unrealistic way of doing business to some, unrealistic is a relative term.

Hope you enjoy!

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.

About the Author Matt Landau

Matt Landau is the Founder of the Vacation Rental Marketing Blog and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings. Google+ | More Posts (230)

  • Antonio Bortolotti

    Beautiful episode, Matt (as all the others). Bravo!

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Antonio!

  • Thanks Matt. That was so awesome, enjoyed every minute of it.

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks Terry!

  • Sarah N Jeremy Oberlander

    I got chills a number of times while watching this episode. You have a beautiful way of telling a story and bringing us in to the lives of these real people facing the same challenges we face, just in a different (but incredibly awesome) location. Matt, your talent of communication and your passion for this industry blends seamlessly in this medium. What a privilege you have to meet all these interesting people in all these amazing places, and it’s our privilege to go along for the ride!

    • Matt Landau

      Oh my! Sarah, thank you for such a meaningful comment! I feel so privileged to be surrounded with people like you and Jeremy and Debra — it’s like this new virtual world doesn’t HAVE to be faceless or robotic — it’s helping us become better people! Look forward to meeting you one of these days 🙂

    • Debra Carol Haddock

      WE got goosebumps as well Sarah!
      Matt really is talented communicating wherever he goes, you should have seen him with Italians that speak little English! We miss him playing with the word “lui” and “quindici”!!

  • John

    Matt is the Maestro! This is awesome and so well made!!

    • Matt Landau

      Thanks JK! We gotta do a bald men’s episode — how awesome would that be — just me and you and a bunch of bald IC members wandering around doing stuff like getting haircuts!

  • Danna Weight Kittell

    Well done! I’d like to stay at Debra’s and have all those wonderful experiences you had!

    • Matt Landau

      Oh you most definitely should! I can GUARANTEE Debra would love to have you — and replicate all the wonderful experiences. She lives for this stuff!

      • Debra Carol Haddock

        You got that right @Matt!

    • Debra Carol Haddock

      You bet @@dannaweightkittell:disqus! Come on over the big pond – we’re here and we’d love to have you!

  • Debra Carol Haddock

    I followed from a distance @loscuatrotulipanes:disqus for about a year before I got the courage to join you wonderful people in the Inner Circle. I never dreamed of being in such a positive helpful group as you all have been let alone to have ever met Matt, Stuart & Tammy! Such great, talented people just anxious to get the’word out’. Great communicators be it verbal, images & sound. I’ve got a long way still to go but I’ve got a wonderful launching pad! Come visit again!