Who are you and what business did you start?
Miriam Burke – co-founder of Utopia-villas.com, the leading online luxury villa rental agencies in Sitges, Barcelona
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We moved to Sitges in 2007 and built a beautiful 6 bedroomed house close to the Natural Parc del Garraf. At this point in time, 2008, when Airbnb launched, the villa rental market was just beginning to turn into a fully fledged global professional industry and we just knew we wanted to be a part of it. We realized that we had the perfect house with the ideal characteristics to be a successful vacation rental property. And we didn’t look back!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Initially, we grew organically.. When our portfolio of houses had grown to 6 we realized that it was time to really invest and create a company that specialised in the area of Sitges and provided quality luxury properties.
11 years later we have 35 luxury properties in the area of Sitges, the majority of which we manage exclusively.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Initially our focus was on the villas and providing self catering villa rental to holidaymakers. Obviously this is still our core focus however as we have grown Utopia Villas has become also very dedicated to creating fabulous customer experiences.
We have had the opportunity to grow into new geographic markets but we made a deliberate decision to stay singularly focussed on Sitges and our customers really appreciate that.
There are loads of global platforms from which to rent a villa but few will tell what is really going on in the locality or can help you to organize a perfect stay.
Our guest relations service helps guests create unforgettable experiences and this what our customers want. They want to go to the best restaurants, the best wine tours, have private chefs cook for them at the villa, have catered food upon arrival, organize a catamaran for the day and have a BBQ at the ready upon return. the options are endless with the creativity of our team.
We offer a guest relations service from Day 1 of engagement in the reservation process so that guests can make sure that their upcoming trip is their best holiday yet. This is why a huge number of guests come back to us year after year.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The impact of COVID has been very real in our industry but already 2022 looks set to a very busy year with many events, weddings and holiday plans underway. We are excited to see our industry take off again. We have seen a shift in the profile of guests too with many corporate requests and longer stay requests. It is going to be interest to see how the post COVID world will influence how we all live and go on holidays
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The evolution in the rental market has been significant since we started and so every year there is a new & significant learning. At a high level the ability to adapt to changing circumstances is very important – not always easy, but essential.
We are different to the global rental platforms in so much as we are very deep in our local market. Anyone can rent a villa and the larger platforms don’t care what villa you rent. In an instant anyone can confirm a reservation but to get the right villa in the right location and with the right services it is essential to scratch deeper beneath the surface. That is where we add more value than the big platforms.
We compete directly with the big players in our local market. That is a great achievement and it also provides a constant challenge. Ultimately, responding to these challenges makes us a better company.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
365Villas: Villa Management and CRM
Elementor: Page Builder
SmarterQueue: Social Media
Ahrefs: Marketing Tool
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I personally enjoy listening to podcasts while walking my dog. One that I have enjoyed over the years and which does provide inspiration and solace is Guy Raz’s ‘How I Built This’ – I love hearing the stories behind the brands, business and innovators of our time. What I take from those is that very often things will generally fall out of place before they fall into place. A little bit of patience means that we will get there in the end and if we are not ‘there’ it is not the end..