Accor's foray into homesharing might have encountered some early setbacks, but the Paris-based company's commitment to its Onefinestay brand of high-end vacation rentals appears finally to be paying off.
The homesharing startup, which promises travelers "the finest homes and villas in the most desirable destinations," was acquired by Accor in 2016 for approximately 148 million euros ($166 million). The sizable price tag made headlines, as did the subsequent news that Onefinestay had contributed to a roughly $288 million write-off in Accor's second quarter last year, implying an issue with profitability.
Rather than jettison the business, however, Accor has remained steadfast in its long-term plans to expand Onefinestay.
Following a period of leadership turnover, the company brought in Thomas Girard as Onefinestay's CEO in mid-2018. Girard, who previously oversaw Accor's new business unit as disruption leader, acknowledged that scaling the homesharing unit has proven challenging.
"Assimilating any new business is a process," Girard said. "Private rentals have a distinctive business model, combined with KPIs (key performance indicators) that contrast greatly with those measured traditionally in hotels. We have spent the past year consolidating the business, ensuring that we are customer-centric in everything we do. We are now focused on ensuring consistency and exceptional quality while at the same time improving our margins and growing sustainably."
Central to these efforts has been a reorganization of Onefinestay's sizable portfolio, which has grown from some 2,500 properties at the time of Accor's takeover to a current count of around 5,000.
The kitchen of a mansion in the Upper East Side of Manhattan offered by Onefinestay comes equipped with cookware, dishes, utensils and basic spices. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
This year, the brand split its inventory into two portfolios: a City Collection, which primarily consists of homes in major gateway markets like London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles, and a Villa Collection offering accommodations in resort markets such as St. Barts, Turks and Caicos, Cabo San Lucas, Aspen and Bali, among many others.
"We listened to what our customers, travel trade partners and other stakeholders really wanted from Onefinestay," Girard said. "And one thing that kept coming up in our conversations was a growing need to clarify our global portfolio." He added that although the City Collection is Onefinestay's fastest-growing unit, the Villa Collection bookings deliver higher gross transaction value due to their being larger homes and attracting longer stays.
Also helping to boost revenue is the brand's strong relationship with travel advisors and other business-to-business partners, which collectively account for around 20% of Onefinestay's total sales, according to Girard.
"The travel agent community is very important to Onefinestay," he said. "We recently developed new agent tools and collaterals, from white-label sites to straightforward cheat sheets about our Collections, making it clearer and easier for travel professionals to sell and book a Onefinestay home for their clients."
Onefinestay also lists select properties on OTAs such as Booking.com and Expedia.
Additionally, Onefinestay has sought to play up its more family-friendly features, with the brand working to showcase larger spaces and attract multigenerational family groups. The Onefinestay website enables travelers to filter for properties that specifically welcome babies, toddlers and/or older children.
Stephen Haskell, general manager for America at Onefinestay, said, "Vacation rentals lend themselves very well to families, and there are inherent draws to renting a home over a hotel, including having multiple bedrooms and a variety of living spaces. We add to that our ability to provide cribs, recommend childcare solutions, plan activities that are appropriate for the whole family or stock a fridge with whatever you want. Service is one of our most important values."
A children’s room at the home, which easily accommodated a multigenerational group on a recent hosted stay. Photo Credit: TW photo by Christina Jelski
During a recent media stay at one of Onefinestay's New York homes -- a six-story townhouse on the Upper East Side that generally rents for about $1,700 per night -- the brand's highly personalized and family-friendly brand of luxury hospitality was on full display.
When I arrived at the home with husband, toddler and grandparents in tow, we were promptly greeted by a friendly Onefinestay representative. She took us on a thorough tour of the sprawling five-bedroom mansion, showed us how to work the air conditioning units and stream live television from one of the townhouse's many, many TVs.
As promised via email a week earlier, a travel crib had been set up in one of the bedrooms, and, just like at a high-end hotel, all the beds were uniformly made in crisp white sheets and topped with a folded set of freshly laundered towels.
Each of the home's six bathrooms was stocked with high-end bath products from New York's Le Labo perfumery, while downstairs, the kitchen offered granola, coffee, tea, a few water bottles, Champagne and even a single-serve whole milk for the baby.
A 24/7 customer service number was available for immediate human assistance with any questions or emergencies.
Your average Airbnb check-in experience this most certainly was not.
Meanwhile, although Onefinestay appears to be hitting its stride, the competition is also heating up. In April, Marriott International made its own big splash into the upscale vacation rental sector, debuting its Homes & Villas by Marriott International, with an initial 2,000 "premium and luxury homes" across 100 global markets.
For now, however, Onefinestay has a solid head start and is showing no signs of taking its foot off the gas. According to Girard, the brand is continuing to experiment with new homesharing concepts, while still working in tandem with the broader Accor portfolio.
"We are exploring the possibility for Accor travelers to trust us with their homes while they stay at our hotels, creating a rewarding circle for both Accor and Onefinestay as well as the travelers themselves," Girard said. "One of the key reasons Onefinestay joined Accor was also to gain new clients, both guests and homeowners. Private rentals are a complementary offer to hotels, [and] the brand is an opportunity to keep high-value guests within the Accor ecosystem."