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The luxury home-rental race is heating up

By Rosie Spinks

Globally speaking, it’s a boom time for the tourism industry. That’s even more true when you look at the luxury tourism industry, the growth of which has outpaced travel overall in recent years.

But this presents a problem for luxury tourism operators: When your customer has ultra high expectations and few price restrictions, how do you differentiate? Just like everyone else, the high-net-worth set travels to get away from the norm—it’s just that their “normal” is far above the standard of many travel operators.

One way to stand out is to continue to make an impression on your luxury customer even after their trip is over. To that end, luxury private rental service Onefinestay (acquired by Accor Hotels in 2016) has upped the ante this week with the introduction of of their Higher Living concierge program.

The service is a kind of extension of their existing concierge service, which was already available to all Onefinestay guests via phone, text, or email 24/7 during their stay. But now, Onefinestay guests will have free access to the mobile concierge app for a year after each trip. With each new stay, the access resets, meaning “the more a guest stays, the more advanced and personalized the concierge system becomes,” as CEO Javier Cedillo-Espin put it.

This isn’t just an on-call service to get guests to book more Onefinestays, either. Need last minute theatre tickets? A personal chef for a dinner party? An artful floral arrangement? Leave it to Higher Living, who is happy to attend to your every whim, travel related or not, for a year after you get home.

In an era where many of the traditional trappings of luxury travel—including the old-school hotel concierge—are falling out of fashion, Onefinestay’s model seems to be adapting alongside the luxury traveler. It is completely invisible when you want privacy—or to feel like you’re “living like a local”—and utterly at your beck and call when you want to be pampered. Similar to services like Quintessentially (which, unlike Higher Living, has steep membership fees), the Higher Living app serves as a year-round reminder of how it feels to stay in the lap of luxury. In other words, it is ”a relationship program,” as Cedillo-Espin described it.

The move is well timed. It comes not too long before that other home rental company, Airbnb, makes its play the luxury sector. After Airbnb acquired Luxury Retreats in February of last year for $300 million, the industry has been waiting to see what form the travel giant’s luxury tier—rumored to be called “Lux”—will take. While Onefinestay has just north of 10,000 listings—a number that pales in comparison to Airbnb’s 4 million—it has taken a much more labor-intensive approach to curation, ensuring the quality of each property, unlike Airbnb.

And it seems Airbnb may soon learn a lesson that Onefinestay seems to have cracked: While the profit margins may be bigger in luxury, the expectations are even larger.