Interview with Alexander & Tina Marie
At the Florida home of Tina Marie and Alexander Mayr - an idyllic modern high-rise condominium within a resort community overlooking the nature preserve followed by the glistening waters of Bonita Bay just North of Naples - the sun is setting for a spectacular grande finale. As a character petrified by natures magic moments and Audubon wildlife, I wonder what it would be like to call this environment home. Reading my thoughts, Tina Marie tells me: “Ahh, by the way our place is available for rent on the website too.” It immediately became clear to me that these people practice what they preach.
Just a couple weeks ago, Alexander and Tina Marie launched bookluxuryrentals.com, a carefully curated website of luxury vacation rentals. Say Elon Musk were to ask an intern at Tesla to scout traditional vacation rental portals such as HomeAway and Flipkey to compile a list of places that, were he to spend a holiday in them, wouldn't hurt his luxury sensibilities - it might read something like bookluxuryrentals.com. Among the places featured on this website are stylish designer homes on the water canal in Naples and classic pueblo style ranches in the vineyards of Napa Valley. As their motto goes, bookluxuryrentals.com is tailor made for the sorts of travelers for whom elegance is more obsession than afterthought.
There are similar services available online, featuring thousands of stunning homes at extraordinary prices, but, for the moment bookluxuryrentals.com appears to be the only site of its kind combining the founders personal travel journal with amazing photography featuring each location as that of one seeing as if one were there. The question is: What does this websites existence say about the greater climate in the vacation rental industry? Who are bookluxuryrentals.com clients? Where do they come from? It’s not as the Marriott hotel groups marketing survey suddenly suggested that the traveling crowd wants more luxury and individuality. So what is it that Alexander, Tina Marie and their competitors are picking up on?
Is there something about the current climate in the fast growing vacation rental market that told you now is the time to launch a site like bookluxuryrentals.com?
Alexander: Absolutely. We run a vacation home real estate brokerage in Florida for over ten years catering to hundreds of international travelers every season. Recently I’ve been receiving increasingly feedbacks of past guests stating “Alex, you got the best homes down there, can you get me something similar cool for next year in Arizona, Colorado or California?”. What we noticed is the lack of a condensed online venue combined with a trusted personal vote presented within an engaging photographic environment.
Tina Marie: We travel, too. We spend countless evenings sitting with our tablets on the couch sifting for hours through thousands of rentals on other rental-home website and none of the places aren't even close to what we want to experience on our travels. Often we ended up just tired and frustrated not seeing our relaxing dreams going anywhere close to fruition. We were seeking a positive, personal engaging environment displaying quality over quantity for our various vacation style ideas. This is what sparked bookluxuryrentals.com.
Do you feel you have much competition?
Alexander: Not really. Many sites are limited to a certain region or area. And others feature impersonal listings lacking any sorts of engaging first-hand personal experiences like those we provide through our travel journal.
And what do say?
Tina Marie: TripAdvisor and AirBNB seemed interesting at the beginning when they started out with decent photographs, things-to-do at their featured locations and free-to-list business models. But they charge a high percentage of fees to the traveler, and they allow anybody to upload whatever they think is rentable. Eventually those ended up like VRBO and HomeAway awash like a jungle with millions of listings. bookluxuryrentals.com is not a site where everybody is free to upload. Our site very personal, strictly curated and by invitation only; it's an amazing collection of homes that share a certain spirit or style.
But style is a matter of taste. What are your criteria handpicking homes for your site? Are you planning on representing homes you don't like yourself aesthetically?
Alexander: No. If we don't like it, it's not going on our website. This happens a lot. Our site is very personal. We are basically sampling our tastes coming from a background of architecture and interior design. I also want to emphasize that our interpretation of luxury or ‘travel-in-style’ doesn't necessarily need to be expensive. Often, when you look at our competitors sites for luxury homes, you get magnificent properties at rates that are way too expensive for most folks. So we thought: Enough, let’s do a site for people who want affordable design in charming and inspiring surroundings. If places are too expensive, we won't consider them - we’re not interested the the sort of mega-mansions that cost $5000+ per night. Our average is closer to the $250-750 range per night.
Tina Marie: I feel that people associate the word luxury nowadays in many different ways, not just posh, gold and silver. Simplicity or minimalism can be luxurious as well. We don't have to convince travelers who keep returning to us, we don’t have to explain to them what we are doing or that this property is something different. The know as soon as they see the homes on our site. We provide our own photography aimed at telling a compelling story about each home and its surroundings.
From your experience do some travelers choose a holiday destination purely based on an architectural special type of rental available there?
Tina Marie: We want to believe that’s increasingly the case, especially we notice inquiries from past guests asking about several very different destinations with a similar type home as they experienced during their last stay with us.
Alexander: A ranch in Arizona, a log-home in Colorado, a secluded designer pad overlooking a California vineyard … yes, certain people seem to be choosing where to go based on the style of home they are dreaming about picturing themselves in “the perfect world”. We understand that. We also think constantly about design and architecture. In fact we found ourselves traveling to certain areas just to experience places from that perspective.
Do you see bookluxuryrentals.com growing?
Alexander: Yes, but we do not want too many houses in each destination, because that would defeat the purpose if this site. We want to keep it small and personal enough so that our travelers don’t get lost, as it often happens on other rental sites.
Tina Marie: Yeah, we have to consider striking a balance between opening up to new destinations and our ‘travel-in-style’ motto. We do both, we either single out areas where many people travel to and feature a few great homes there, or we put style first and, in the case of an designer masterpiece - even in the middle of nowhere - go ahead and feature this too. At the end of the day we’d like to stay true to our roots of doing great things and not sell out to become a profit-driven only behemoth venue.
How did you both develop this interest? What are your backgrounds in the field of design and travel?
Alexander: I happened to grow up in an architect family. As a child my father often dragged me against my will to his construction sites watching the craftsman working. Often I ended up hauling buckets of mortar or framing wood around to help finish a job in time. Early in life I became a real estate developer, but soon I grew frustrated with budget constraints, political red tape and local demand restraining projects sellable to the masses. It was then, when my hobby of architectural photography morphed into sought after professional skill. Later in life after moving from Germany to Florida my photographic talent became the lifeline for our success starting a vacation home brokerage mainly geared at international and out-of-town home buyers. I finally found myself in a position to scout the best homes in one of the most beautiful places on earth and present them to my international following in the most appealing way possible.
Tina Marie: Somewhat similar to Alex I grew up in a vacation rental broker family. During my upbringing I often had to listen to diner table discussions about events at the rentals my parents represented. Nevertheless I first ventured out on my own as an entrepreneur in the healing arts with stints in motivational speaking. It was after selling those businesses that I found my way back to real estate. I became a real estate broker myself, but it was the art of interior design that kept my enthusiasm alive. Over the years I decorated countless homes for ourselves and our clients being instrumental transforming them into very successful ventures. What we have done for over a decade for our vacation home buyers- finding the best properties in the market place - we are now doing on a global scale for those who like to travel-in-style.
Alexander: I am grateful for the joy doing it.