Article | August 10, 2021
It would be an understatement to say that the recent pandemic is ushering in a seismic shift for the travel trade, which suffered a collective gut punch as COVID-19 unrelentingly raged across the globe. New health and safety protocols, crisis management plans and other operational touchpoints are being overhauled to help those in—and dependent upon—the travel industry better pivot and adapt to the unforeseen. For travelers, priorities and sensibilities have also evolved on multiple fronts. For one, various reports extrapolate how privacy has become the new luxury.
In fact, a “Covid Travel Outlook 2021” travel sentiment survey by Indagare found that travelers “feel more comfortable renting a home or private villa for added privacy” and that “more than half of those surveyed said that they are 54 percent more likely to rent a home than they were prior to coronavirus, preferring to ‘Stay at homes not hotels,’ for added security and peace of mind.” Other reports tout the key advantages of private luxury villa accommodations, with privacy and exclusive use entrenched among them.
Amid the surge in category popularity, travelers must also consider ways to aptly vet luxe private villa options amid a burgeoning field. According to an Indagare.com story outlining the benefits of “going private,” proximity is one overarching booking factor noting that “for some travelers, a house close to town or affiliated with a nearby resort or hotel provides the perfect combination of exclusivity and access (to restaurants, coffee shops, fitness classes, etc.). Others prefer staying someplace further removed, opting for a home with fewer amenities or a lavish villa with every convenience under the sun.”
The article also points out another critical aspect that, all too often, is taken for granted: availability. The story cites the reality that “accommodations can fill up months or even a year in advance,” which some more spontaneous wanderers might not expect. Relative to post-pandemic issues, the story further cautions that “this year, with exclusivity at an unprecedented premium and fewer destinations open to international arrivals, early planning is crucial. One reason: Many travelers are opting for longer stays, now that remote work and Zoom classes are ubiquitous, meaning there’s less turnover. For these extended trips—workcations or staycations—having strong WiFi, reliable phone service and separate areas for being productive are key factors when choosing the right rental.”
With this and other public discourse helping spur private villa reservations, I sought to connect with one purveyor in the space that is making due strides: Destinations in Paradise. This boutique agency offers a suite of architectural five-star private villas in four locales: The Big Island and Kauai, Hawaii as well as Los Cabos, Mexico and Mendocino, California. Having personally experienced this company’s brand of haute hospitality on the Big Island, I sought to connect with the founders—David Cohen and Howard Appel—for some clarity on how they’ve apparently adapted so well in the post-pandemic era. Here’s what they had to say.
MK: So, first, let’s talk about the properties, themselves, and also your company at large. What sets Destinations in Paradise apart from other luxury home and private villa purveyors in the various regions where you operate?
Cohen: It's essentially our caliber of white glove service, which is highly personalized and with the very best amenities that can be provided. The company was started because we wanted to have some fun, as Howard and I had been retired a while. We wanted to give people, especially those desiring privacy and security, the kind of high-caliber experience that we would expect. When someone arrives at one of our homes, they're greeted and welcomed with enthusiasm and everything to elevate the experience is there. This includes the best linens, a house full of flowers and arrival gifts. In Mendocino, we leave fresh-baked goods and wine. In Mexico, our guests are greeted with cold towels and margaritas. Plus, any special requests are accommodated. Even when guests depart, we give them a thank you gift for having booked a stay with us. Overall, it’s a very personalized experience. It’s akin to having a member of the family come and stay. You get up early in the morning, make them breakfast and generally make them feel at home … that this is their home for the duration of the visit. The difference is that it's a five-star experience at every touch point.
Appel: We, ourselves, like to travel in luxury and, as we started acquiring the properties, we realized that this is a great opportunity to offer to other people the same kind of treatment we enjoy. It's the way we all would love to be treated. And we think we offer it differently and more special than others. The business sort of just fell into place as bookings escalated and we started to acquire additional properties.
MK: In the luxury travel space, much is said about the importance of personal touches to elevate the experience. So, can you provide an example of things you all do in this regard to go over-and-above for high-end luxury travelers?
Cohen: Here's one interesting example about the Mexican property, for example: It's two acres of the most gorgeous landscaping that you've ever seen. Even though it's in the middle of a desert, we are desalinating seawater using solar power, so the yards and the landscaping and the flowers are all very lush, but still desert-type plants. The interesting thing is that Howard and I have worked together for close to 40 years and, until we actually got into this business, I had no idea that he had this artistic flair. The landscaping at all of the houses is beyond spectacular. My own personal favorite is the Mendocino home, which has the equivalent of an English country garden. You can just go and sit in there and read a book, sitting in the fresh air with beautiful butterflies and bees buzzing around. The Hawaiian property is the same; it’s just gorgeous, perfect Hawaii.
Appel: It's important to note that these homes are indoor-outdoor homes. We want to make sure we carry the luxury on both sides. If you actually do a search of our home in Cabo on Google Earth, you can easily spot it because it's the only significant patch of green anywhere along the east scape. This kind of lush, natural beauty is just one of the many ways that we cater to our guests relative to the luxurious aspects both inside and outside of the homes.
MK: You touched on some of it already, but what are some other special amenities and activities that you offer in, and around, the homes that are available to guests?
Appel: One key aspect is that each home comes with a concierge service. Our guests can partake in any activity in the local surroundings. We try to offer the opportunities within the local community and try to personalize that. In Mexico, it might be premiere deep-sea fishing, surfing and paddle boarding. In Mendocino, we're about 30-minutes from Anderson Valley, so we can arrange for private wine tours. Especially during the recent pandemic, to help our guests have fun but also avoid big crowds was important to us. Of course, the homes in Hawaii and Mexico have beautiful pools, swim-up bars and each property has its own set of unique amenities on-site a like solar-lighted tennis court. In fact, when we travel to Mexico—in the seven or eight times we've been there—I think we've left the property twice. There's no reason to go elsewhere because everything is there with you. Whatever you want to do, whatever the guests would like, we can make it happen.
MK: Speaking of the pandemic, obviously the past year and a half has been tough for the travel industry, so how have the recent health concerns impacted your business with respect to private villa versus hotel, resort or other kinds of accommodations? And, also, the guest experience while actually visiting a property?
Appel: We took COVID very seriously from the beginning and, yes, 2020 was a hard year for us. We lost almost all of our business, but we used that down time as an opportunity to continue to enhance the homes. Even now, when guests come to one of our properties, they're greeted in a manner that best assures their health and safety. We have our house managers maintain their distance and use masks, of course. But, during the guests’ stay, we also make sure we work around their calendars to not intrude on their stay there. We take it very seriously. And, in fact, when a guest leaves, we have a minimum 48 hours between guests so we can properly clean and sanitize the home for the next guest.
MK: Many people often associate private villa experiences more with leisure travel versus business. But I know Destinations in Paradise properties are also utilized in business—especially when there are privacy, exclusivity and health-related preferences. Plus, of course, the properties are also perfectly suited for corporate events, retreats and even utilized as incentives and rewards for employees and business partners. So, tell us about these kinds of corporate benefits.
Cohen: Even though the houses are focused on providing a safe, comfortable environment for families and extended small events, we do also host small, medium and large-scale corporate events at the houses. Whether it's a two-person law firm figuring out how they're going to run their businesses remotely, to a large distillery that wants to try and get their name out for a new product for, say, tequila in Mexico, our homes are an apt venue. Of course, we host weddings and social media is prompting bookings from people like rappers who want a place to chill out and rethink what their next shows or postings are going to be. And we've hosted philanthropic events like releasing baby turtles in the beaches of Mexico to address species endangerment. For that, a university in Mexico held a business meeting at our property, and as a gift we paid and supported their release of 600 hatchlings. Howard has also had some dealings with movie studios that are interested in hosting either corporate get togethers and business strategy meetings. And, in at least two instances that I can recall, they’ve considered using the homes as part of a movie production. I should also mention that each of the homes have the ability to cater for large and small groups. If we bring chefs in, that event never ever needs to leave the property. The house in Mexico, for instance, has two kitchens that are fully capable of catering to as many people as the property can accommodate, which is substantial, but each of the homes have the ability to cater internally and not rely on outside services.
Appel: All the homes offer businesses a unique opportunity to host meetings and events, from the very large as in Mexico, to even Mendocino for smaller gatherings. They’re all unique and offer the privacy, security and comfort that private villa venues offer—all, of course, with our discerning five-star touch.
FEATURES AND ADVICE
Article | August 10, 2021
Controlling how employees spend company money on travel has been one of the biggest historic challenges for finance teams. Most company spend is governed by purchase orders, with payments made in relation to specific invoices from the company’s own bank. The data is available transparent and can be analyzed to spot any inconsistencies. But controlling travel spend, which is most company’s largest discretionary spend area, is much harder.
Employees increasingly organize their own travel, empowered by corporate self-booking tools for search, booking, and payment. This can help with visibility, particularly if the corporate uses lodge or virtual cards to pay. However, pre-trip spend like air and hotel bookings only represent 50-60% of the money spent on travel. What about the rest?
Article | August 10, 2021
For decades, people had two ways to make travel arrangements. There’s the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach, beloved by individual travelers and small groups for its budget-friendliness and accommodation of various preferences. There’s also corporate travel management, used by business travelers and companies with no time or patience to plan for frequent work trips. Unlike personal travel, business travel has several limitations: which airlines and hotels a company can book with, where and how bookings can be made, and what expenses are considered valid for reimbursement.
Article | August 10, 2021
The September 11th attacks. The Great Recession. The COVID-19 pandemic.
All three of these seismic and tragic events have resulted in heartbreak to humanity, including loss of life and our emotional well-being both individually and collectively. Of course, accompanying these global crises were monetary meltdowns reminiscent of the Great Depression that commenced in 1929 and lingered until the late 1930s.
After a “relatively” calm 70 years, the United States economy has suffered three devastating developments inside the last two decades, alone. There have been wars fought throughout the world and inflation escalations along the way, to be sure, but the start to the 21st century has suffered escalating and unusually concentrated economic calamities some that have profoundly altered the very fabric of our lives, both personally and professionally.
Indeed, on the business front, such periods have been among the most perhaps the unequivocal most trying of times. Amid current circumstances as the coronavirus rages on around the globe, I recently connected with internationally-renowned business restructuring executive James “Jim” Martin, founder of ACM Capital Partners with offices in Charlotte, Denver and Miami. Having spent the last three decades leading international middle-market companies through periods of distress and transition to actualize stability and growth, Martin is uniquely well-positioned to share insights on how business can rally to best assure a “COVID comeback.” Here’s what he had to say.
MK: First, before addressing the current coronavirus situation, what can you tell us about how you’ve helped companies navigate previous “rough waters”?
JM: Relative to the September 11th attacks back in 2001, I’ll share a representative example of a strategic pivot that didn’t just help a company survive, but actually drove profit. After that horrendous event, I stepped in to assist a large aviation maintenance repair-and-overhaul facility whose revenue had been cut fully in half immediately following the attacks the result of many carriers permanently parking older aircraft (including the 727 fleet). The sizable challenge presented was to maintain a 1000-person labor force while allowing the industry the necessary time to recover. To do so, we created a captive subcontracting company to which we transferred one-third of our labor force. During our troughs, we contracted this labor to our competitors and, during peak periods, we utilized this labor for ourselves. Thus, not only were we able to retain our skilled, well-oriented labor force during the recovery, but that very staff actually provided additional, supplemental profit. The end result was that we sold the business for $138 million, which provided our new investors with a 33 percent internal rate of return (IRR).
Less than a decade after 9/11, amid The Great Recession in 2008, I entered another industry that proved to be among the most brutalized by a global economic downturn: automotive supply. My client was a key supplier to the “Big 3” U.S. auto manufacturers.
At the start of 2008, the industry forecast was the production of 18 million vehicles in North America. Come summer, however, it was clear the automakers would not come near reaching that forecast due to the financial crisis. This did not come as a complete surprise to us, though, because amid our firm’s protocols we had had already fully immersed ourselves in our client’s industry and employed forecasting tools alerting us of trends ... this one in the wrong direction. So, we were privy to the situation well before management and others within the industry. By late June 2008, we instituted cost-cutting maneuvers and furloughs that enabled the company to withstand the industry’s brutal second half of ’08 that would result in two of the “Big 3” automakers filing for Chapter 11. Despite the industry producing less than half—as much as eight million—of its original vehicle-production forecast, our client not only survived, but ultimately grew and prospered.
MK: Turning attentions to COVID-19, what do you feel is integral for businesses to survive and recover?
JM: For businesses to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, it’s going to take a two-pronged approach: both financial and human capital. Starting with the financial, it will be a “loan-ly” world for those not well-versed in the intricacies of SBA, PPP and other “economic disaster” lending. Consider how expeditiously those programs were rolled out. Then consider how even more quickly they were scooped up. Did anyone really read those loan documents in full, or even halfway through, initially or even to this day?
My guess is at least half of the companies receiving COVID-related loans took a very “CliffsNotes” approach to these agreements. The result is there’s a solid chance funds were used incorrectly, which is going to make a lot of the loans, shall we say, less “forgivable.” For example, if your company’s payroll roster is shorter today than it was pre-virus, the portion of the loans forgiven is likely to be less.
And while your mind may rush to claiming ignorance and throwing yourself upon the mercy of the government to which you already pay taxes, realize that third-party capital is likely to participate in this market through securitization. This means that thousands of SBA loans could be bought, then packaged to be sold to the secondary market, at a discounted rate, no less. If this happens, understand that the purchasers will have the full intention of holding their borrowers (i.e. small business owners) to paying back 100 cents on the dollar.
So, those companies who received loans and are required, but unable, to pay them back in full may be exposed to either foreclosure or, worse, a “loan to own” scenario. In other words, much like the agreement that comes with your big-tech user agreements, like those prompting users to “click agree,” the fine print matters.
What this means to recovery is that, once again, cash is king: gather it; preserve it; cease lines of credit; liquidate what you can; negotiate costs down with suppliers. And if your company had a healthy bottom line pre-COVID, than a professional familiar with these trenches can help you look to refinance or bring in equity.
With all of that said, the key to a COVID-19 recovery is going to be adhering to the rules of a lender’s road, as well as the ability to navigate the red tape when you veer off that road. If you have read all the fine print and properly managed your loan, congratulations! You’ve acquired some really cheap capital. For those who didn’t do their research, however, this road to recovery likely will need some paving.
MK: What about the human capital you mentioned?
JM: Yes, and then we arrive at the human capital. Lots of companies today are excessively top-heavy. Remember the part about removing emotions from this process? Companies that quickly recognize cuts need to be made will be better positioned to recover than those who dawdle. Again, compiling and preserving cash is going to best position a business for recovery.
This is an instance where it’s especially beneficial to know when to pull triggers (best if earlier than others) and to make decisions that are not based on emotions a tall order for many CEOs, which is why many turn to turnaround experts. However it’s undertaken, what’s certain is that reducing human capital is painful, but it is also often necessary and almost always beneficial.
The upside is that, when the virus no longer exits, businesses can already be well-positioned for a fairly quick recovery. Maybe not v-shaped sans a vaccine, but quick relatively speaking due to the downturn having been so specific to one singular causing factor.
MK: Tell us a bit about your role as and general value of a turnaround expert when turmoil strikes a business.
JM: During times of difficulty, owners and executives can greatly benefit from specialized knowledge that’ll help them best navigate those unchartered waters that are often entangled in a lot of red tape. So, turnaround experts bring to the table a litany of tried-and-true “been there, weathered that” experience and expertise. There’s simply no substitute for engaging with a partner whose entire mandate is ensuring your company’s survival and success during some of the most grim and challenging times it might experience those professionals who are willing to spend sleepless nights figuring out how to ensure the company meets payroll; who’ll work around the clock to keep the company’s doors open; and who can tackle challenges without being hindered by emotions that understandably weigh on a business owner or manager. It takes this kind of specialized expertise, experience and grit to lead companies through periods of distress and transition, to stability and growth.
No stranger to corporate chaos, during Martin’s own three decades as a globally-regarded turnaround expert, he has reportedly created and restored nearly $1.5 billion in value to lower middle-market companies; raised an additional $1 billion in capital; and managed mergers and acquisitions in excess of $500 million all collectively representing his company restructuring portfolio valuation in excess of $3 billion.
Today, as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on business operations far and wide, take heed that there are various key strategic and creative tactics that can help businesses not only weather the storm, but even emerge stronger and more financially secure on the other side.