Short-term rental operator Domio adding buildings

Domio is opening its first apartment hotel in New Orleans.
Domio is opening its first apartment hotel in New Orleans.

Fresh off a $12 million Series A round of funding, hospitality start-up Domio is looking to make a splash in the alternative accommodations space.

Launched in 2016 by Jay Roberts and Adrian Lam, Domio is a professional management company that leases apartments and homes from property owners and turns them into short-term rentals, listing them on platforms such as Airbnb. 

The company, which has properties in Austin, Boston, San Diego, New Orleans, Honolulu, Nashville and Chicago, handles everything from furnishings to building maintenance to housekeeping and also offers a 24/7 guest concierge service. 

The Series A funding, led by Tribeca Venture Partners and Softbank Capital NY, brought Domio's total funding to $67 million.

Roberts, who serves as Domio CEO, said, "Our competitor is the amateur Airbnb, HomeAway or VRBO host. The amateur short-term rental operators are being regulated out of the industry. And so there's an opportunity for professional companies like us, who have the financial and legal resources to secure hotel licenses and operate properly."

While Domio's original inventory largely consisted of standalone residential homes, the company is now focused on inking five- to 10-year leases on entire multifamily apartment buildings. This year, the company is officially opening its inaugural apartment hotel in New Orleans, which Roberts said makes Domio the first short-term rental operator to be awarded a hotel license by the city. 

A bedroom in one of the short-term rental apartments at Domio’s New Orleans property.
A bedroom in one of the short-term rental apartments at Domio’s New Orleans property.

Domio director of marketing Umer Usman said, "We want to create a more consistent brand experience and also not be at the mercy of regulations. And instead of having to send housekeeping to 50 individual homes in a city, it makes much more sense to have one apartment hotel, operationally speaking."

According to Usman, the average unit at Domio's New Orleans property is a two-bedroom, two-bath space and can sleep up to eight people, making it uniquely suited to group travel. Adjoining two-bed units can also be booked together, enabling group accommodations for as many as 16. The property also offers amenities including a rooftop pool and deck, work space, gym and other common areas. Rates average around $149 to $199 per night.

At the moment, Domio has no set commission structure for travel advisers, but Roberts said the company is open to working with them. 

"We're a little different from other apartment hotels in the market in that we're focused on bigger apartments," Usman said. "Most of our units are around 1,500 square feet, so we're about five times bigger than the average hotel room."

Domio is also seeking to differentiate itself with a design-forward approach. Domio's New Orleans apartment hotel, for example, features custom wallpaper, art prints and even some furniture created in-house by the company's design team. 

Olivia Hnatyshin, Domio's head of branding and design, said, "We're really looking to own the entire experience, from the wallpaper, the hallway carpet, the posters, and we've even developed our own scent." 

She added that Domio-designed wall art and posters are currently up for sale on the online marketplace Society6. Looking forward, the company plans to make its units even more "shoppable," with tentative plans to build on Domio's partnerships with home goods brands like Snowe and Casper to offer guests an easy way to purchase items they've enjoyed during their stay.

Expansion is also a priority, with Domio eyeing entry into Miami and New York as well as international markets such as Paris, London and China. Currently at around 500 units across seven markets, Domio aims to be in 20 markets with approximately 1,500 units by the end of 2019. 

Usman predicted, "Once people experience a Domio, I think word of mouth will be a strong factor in driving our growth." Still, he admitted, "when it comes to getting people to try us, Airbnb has been a great platform for us to list on, and we'll continue to list on a lot of marketplaces, like and HomeAway."

Either way, he said, "We'll communicate to guests that the best way to have a great experience with us is to book direct. The goal is to ultimately convert people into Domio loyalists."

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