Today on the blog I’m sharing an interview with a travel agency based out of Bali called Villa Concierge.
Check out the interview.
- What got you interested in starting Villa Concierge? Tell us your story.
- I have always been interested in helping people essentially. If I can help to put a smile on someone’s face today I’ve done a little bit of good in the world. So I guess I’ve naturally been drawn towards the hospitality sector – probably without really knowing it.
- Thinking about it now, I guess it stems from my earlier years as a child. Growing up in eastern Java was tough. Children get separated from their parents at an early age to go and live with relatives or grandparents – people who can afford to look after you. It’s every child’s (and parent’s) nightmare. You’re immediately thrown into a whole new world, where you have to adapt. Sometimes from the age of 3 or 4. You learn to survive. Quickly.
- In my case, I lived with my grandmother. As she was old, I had to help her. Even at such a young age. So, right from the start I was helping someone – and learning how to survive. Those qualities have never really left me. They have helped me in life and business.
- So, I’ve always looked upon helping people as a natural thing. It’s why I’m here. Villa Concierge was born out of wanting to do my own thing. I’ve always been incredibly independent – from the age of three! After working in the Middle East and the US briefly, I returned home but couldn’t settle after experiencing a new life overseas. I had to do something. I guess I’ve always beed very driven. In part due to my childhood experiences.
- The island of Bali offered an escape. You have a wonderfully exotic island where tourism (and hospitality) feature highly. So it was the natural thing to do – make my own way across eastern Java. Find a job – any job. And look for opportunities. I worked for an event company briefly. A wonderful experience. Again – helping people. But that need and want to do my own thing was never far from my mind. With an events business in Bali, you come into contact with villa owners and villa management teams. Hence the transition began!
- I worked for another villa rental (and management) company first. Managed to learn the ins and outs of the business before setting up Villa Concierge. And the rest, as they say, is history – my history 🙂
2. What is it like vacationing in bali? What is most appealing about the area compared to other vacation spots?
- I think, the island of Bali has always been seen as this mystical destination from years and years ago. An exotic, far away, island that we only saw in films. A once barely inhabited island that’s now become more accessible of course. It’s always had that mystic and intrigue I guess. I’ve lived here for over 10 years. So I’ve seen many, many changes. Roads that were once rice fields and dirt tracks. Whole areas that were fields are now shops and villas and hotels. Some would say, the development of the island is too much. But delve deeper and you still find the older Bali – the towering palms and terraced paddy fields.
- I listen a lot to guests’ feedback. Guests that return year-on-year. They love Bali. Once you have settled into your luxurious villa, you’re a million miles away from the stresses and strains of daily life. Villas here are so spectacular. Visit with your loved ones – as a family or a couple or a group of close friends – and it really is a wonderful holiday experience. Bali is easily accessible now too. Especially from anywhere across Asia and Australia. So, you have an exotic island that is just so different from anywhere else. You can stay in the most luxurious surroundings and yet, dip your toes in local Balinese life at the same time.
- The nature of the place offers a certain calm and tranquility. Once you’ve settled into a villa you really do start to relax. It’s that mix of being in luxurious surroundings. And then being surrounded by such varied landscapes. And having the beach and all these chilled bars and restaurants as a bonus.
3. How have you gone about marketing your business so far and what’s been working for you?
- In the early years, we did very little in the way of marketing the business. People just seemed to know us. And know me which was lucky. I managed t get a lot of referrals from working in the events business and previous villa management company.
- As the competition has increased we’ve had to start trying various things. But it really has been word of mouth most of the way. France has provided a lot of business with referrals from the French community in Singapore telling their friends and family back home in France. I have a lot to thank them for!
- We’ve tried all sorts of things really. But the one thing that is constant – people appreciate having someone actually based here that they can book their holiday with. I know Bali very well. So does my team. We are all Indonesian. So we really do offer that insight and that feedback that perhaps you don’t get with agents overseas or other online agents.
- People across the world often tell me, that is the reason why they book their villa with us. We always welcome them to Bali too. Waiting for them to arrive at their villa or meeting and greeting guests once they’ve settled in. It makes a huge difference. Knowing you have someone here for you, especially if you are a family with children.
- So we’ve tried to push this aspect a bit more – whereby guests have someone they can really rely on. Before and during their visit. It’s often quite scary to book a villa and not really know where it is or who owns it or how is it managed. Plus, when you spend such a lot of money to book, it helps to have someone you know actually here. Trust is huge. So it’s that aspect that I want our guests to know is here.
- I like to think we also do a very good job in sourcing the right villa for the right price. We try to go that extra mile in finding something that genuinely suits a family or a couple. Guests often tell me, you know what I like, Lulu, so please go ahead and find something. It’s that level of trust that people appreciate. Especially if they have no time to search and select.
4. What has it been like as companies like AirBnb have come into the picture for a travel agency such as yourselves? How do you stand out from those that offer rooms in the same area?
- It’s been very tough for every villa group here in Bali. And I dare say for those people in similar locations across the world. Airbnb has been the biggest thing to affect our business in 10 years. It’s certainly disrupted things, which is what they set out to do, right. But you can’t afford to be bitter about these things. It’s the same for everyone. I guess it’s about progress. Now we have to find other ways – other disrupters. And so on. But no doubt, it’s been tough. Business has been affected.
- Providing genuine local insight is now more important than ever. Airbnb don’t come close in that respect. We’ve had guests who have booked through Airbnb, only to change villas once they’ve arrived. Either the villa didn’t look like it did on airbnb or the pool is too small or the area is not safe. Etc. With someone based here, you get your villa vetted, looked over, checked, before you arrive. And if any problem, we tell you and find you another villa. It’s a must. Your holiday here is too valuable. Time is too precious. And we understand that.
- No matter how effective and efficient online booking engines are, I don’t think we can really replace real people. Not in this industry. Face-to-face contact with real human beings is vital. Guests appreciate that contact. That will never go away. I hope!
5. What are your future plans for 2016 and beyond with Villa Concierge?
- We’re going through a phase where we are improving our online presence – redesigning our website to highlight the ‘genuine local insight’ theme. Much of our communication will highlight this. We are also going to provide that insight to people through a series of well researched topics about Bali. And also about things related to vacations, relaxation, recuperation, etc. It’s our responsibility to provide content, not only about Bali villas. And then make that content easy to access. People need and want more than just a booking site. We all seek to soak up more content. So this is now a big part of our work. Our blog will become a central feature of our website now – It’s about insights.
- Our online presence will be continually improved and updated. We are working with experts overseas now, in the US and Asia, to improve our offering online. This is the first time we have worked with help outside of Indonesia. So you can say, we are very serious about providing the best (and most trusted) resource available.
- We would like to offer more exotic villa vacations elsewhere. We have over 300 listings in Phuket. So this, along with other destinations, will become more prominent and accessible. And we already have people on the ground in those destinations. Which is key to what we offer.
- It is getting tough out there, especially with the likes of airbnb. So we need to find new ways of attracting people and offering alternative services. Whilst we have villa listings that cater to everyone’s need, we are also fortunate in that we cater to HNWIs. This is a market that is set to continue increasing at an enormous rate – vacations and vacation experiences for HNWIs. So this is also something where we are looking to offer more.
- Research into how we can compete will feature heavily. And whilst we have steered away from any kind of partnership scenarios, perhaps we will look at something there. But this will only happen if both parties share the same values of course.