Some clients are self isolating in villas or rentals advisors say

Though the coronavirus pandemic has paused most of the travel industry, there are a small number of travel advisors and suppliers still serving clients who are away from home, having left big cities to shelter in place in less-populated areas.

One of those is villa rental company Cuvee, which has properties in Cabo San Lucas, Colorado, Tuscany, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Christa Weaving, vice president of marketing, said Cuvee has three families sheltering in place in its properties.

“We are being cautious,” Weaving said. “We’re not proactively marketing it, per se, because we certainly want to be part of the solution, not a part of the problem, but we also want to support our clients and ensure they are in healthy environments themselves.”

Vacation rental company StayMarquis received 100 bookings from New York over a three-day span in mid-March. The company primarily has properties in New York’s Hamptons and Hudson Valley and Massachusetts’ Berkshires.

That moved StayMarquis’ busy season up a few months, said co-founder and managing partner Bryan Fedner. Most guests are families who wanted to escape the city, and many seem ready to stay away for longer.

“As the shelter-in-place mandate got pushed back further and further, these renters now are inquiring about extending their stays into the summer,” Fedner said.

Both StayMarquis and Cuvee have instituted strict cleaning protocols. Cuvee switched to hospital-grade cleaners and deep cleans before and after guests leave. StayMarquis is using commercial-grade disinfectants and microfiber cleaning cloths (in lieu of paper towels), and some cleaning crew members have opted to wear protective suits over their clothes. 

They are also limiting guest interaction with cleaning crews and team members delivering groceries.

“We are taking every extra precaution, and our clients’ safety and privacy and security comes first,” Weaving said. “That’s always been our protocol, but now more so than ever.”

Travel advisors have been behind some of those bookings as they help clients find more ideal locations to self-isolate.

David Rappel, an Encino, Calif.-based Protravel International advisor, had a client who wanted to be close to the ocean in Malibu for the duration of California’s stay-at-home order. He found several options, and the client picked one.

Rappel then got to work setting them up with a chef, housekeepers, airplane charter and car rental as well as gym equipment, household goods and food. He also arranged for protective gear and other precautions to keep the client and staff safe.

Dolev Azaria, founder and CEO of New York-based Azaria Travel, said revenue started to drop and clients had to cancel travel plans in the beginning of March. As a response, she began marketing a concept of “luxury isolation” on her website and to clients: private islands, private aviation, in-home chefs and the like.

She got a number of requests, specifically for Caribbean islands.

“As we were building on those, the travel restrictions became a lot more severe,” she said. “Then there was concern about potentially being stuck in a country where resources and health care were not optimal. So ultimately, what that meant for us is that our radius, the radius that we operate within, really narrowed down.”

As the situation progressed, clients felt more comfortable being away but in close proximity to home, she said. For many, that meant a car or train ride away.

Today, Azaria has a dozen or so clients sheltering in place outside their primary residence. Some are in villas, others in homes of other Azaria clients (she brokered those rental deals herself) and some in their own secondary homes with Azaria acting as a concierge.

“It’s interesting, because we’ve had to really adapt to all of those needs,” she said. “We’ve really become almost like concierge brokers more than anything else, really managing all of our clients’ needs, even the things we don’t typically do.”

Like Rappel, that has meant arranging for services such as private chefs. Azaria said all staff members go through a 14-day quarantine before working with guests, and services are all performed in protective gear; she also has measures in place ensuring guests and staff do not interact.

Weaving said it’s become clear that once the pandemic has ended, it will result in a number of changes in the travel industry. Cuvee is already reviewing its clientele and its portfolio to include more domestic destinations that clients can drive to.

The company is also working on a strategy, tentatively called Sanctuary by Cuvee, which will feature services such as private aviation, homes cleaned with the highest sanitation protocols and more activities within the confines of rental properties.

“Our anticipation is that at some point, travel restrictions will loosen, but people are going to want to take extra precautions when traveling,” she said. 

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