The birth of Airbnb gave rise to the travel startup. The ability to market any type of accommodation – a home, a camper van, an igloo! – allowed anyone enterprising enough to play host access to a growing base of trusting guests who flocked to the platform for something beyond the average hotel room. Of course big brands took notice of the meteoric rise of Airbnb. Booking and Expedia were forced to adjust their platforms and approach. VRBO woke up from their stupor. Hotels brands began the two-faced approach of fighting the legality of rental properties in courts and the media in big cities while trying to join the party through acquisitions in the boardroom.
One brand, HOLT, is set on making a long-lasting name for themselves, by staying ahead of the curve on innovation while leaning on good old fashioned hospitality to meet the demands of a burgeoning class of modern travelers. “We want to be our generation’s Marriott,” exclaims Benjamin Earley, CEO of HOLT. “Not only will HOLT be synonymous with travel and accommodation, but the real light at the end of the tunnel is the potential disruption of the essential way the average person thinks about housing. Which happens to be the largest market in the world.”
The pandemic has not been kind to the average Airbnb host. Travel ground to a halt in 2020. As if the shock wasn’t swift enough of a total stoppage in bookings, tickets and entertainment, booking platforms and credit cards initially took travelers’ side on refunds for those affected by the shutdowns, leaving accommodation businesses ranging from vacation rentals, travel agencies, tours and experiences, holding the bag. That bag was rent owed, employees to pay and mounting bills. “The pandemic shook out a lot of small to mid-sized hosts in the rental space. And not just hosts. If you had a business tangential or supportive of people coming to your area to stay in rental homes and apartments, you were also in trouble in 2020. But long term, I think it will mold a stronger class of hosts and rental companies,” Mr. Earley says hopefully.
HOLT intends to be one of those brands. An international property developer and rental company, HOLT operates in three countries. Initially leasing and furnishing their properties, they’ve been gradually improving their process since 2013. In 2018, they moved to begin taking long-term, commercial-style leases on residential homes and buildings, and partially or fully renovating them solely for the purpose of short term rental accommodation. “For years we were trying to stick a square peg in a round hole – putting guests into places meant to be lived in permanently. But traveling is about going somewhere new and different, and having the home be a vessel for your trip, whether its business or please, long or short.”
In Bucharest, Romania, where HOLT owns and leases their properties, they added two large apartments and a contactless hotel-style building to their portfolio during the pandemic. Originally intended to be offices, HOLT approached the owners of a historical landmark building in Old Town, and pitched them on the idea of converting it to nine flexible suites.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, they fully renovated a four-story villa. In San Miguel de Allende, also in Mexico, they completed work on a home that sits facing the famed Parque Juarez in the heart of the city. All done during the slowdown beginning in 2020.
Seeking to differentiate themselves from the average Airbnb host, HOLT goes big. “We prefer to host groups. We are always looking for bigger homes in cool areas. We can do the work to make it amazing, just give us the keys in a good location.” They also go for looks. They work with local designers to bring out the local cultural charm, while also importing high-quality products to set their homes apart. HOLT aims for the top of the market in terms of price and quality of their homes.
“Anyone can post a bedroom online. It takes real magic to bring an entire home to life.” With some virus luck, and the grit earned from surviving the pandemic, HOLT is well on their way to being your friendly host in the future.
Follow along HOLT’s journey on their website at helloholt.com and social media @helloholt.