Certain expectations come when you have an event called the “Vacation Rental World Summit.” Even more so when the summit is hosted at the “Impérial Palace” in Annecy, France. And when you take 4 flights and a taxi over three separate days to get there, you can imagine how easy it would be for the entire experience to not live up to the billing.
Easy that is, if you have never met the force that is Antonio Bortolotti, and the incredible community he has built over the past eight years. Far from failing to live up to the hype, Antonio, Annecy, the attendees, and VRWS as a whole, more than delivered.
Old World Style
Unlike many conferences and events, Antonio deliberately goes out of his way to host the VRWS in less obvious locations. While this does lead to more travel depending upon where you are coming from, it also delivers an event that is a true experience, and one you often would not have had otherwise. As Jennifer Hsieh of Homes & Villas by Marriott International said in her presentation, “I had never heard of Annecy before, but what a hidden gem! I am definitely coming back.”
That was the sentiment expressed by everyone I spoke with. In fact, it was difficult to walk around without looking up and just being astounded by the jaw dropping beauty at every turn. Well done, Annecy.
But it wasn’t just the location that was spectacular. As many of you in this community know, the experience is one-part place. The other, and at least as important part is the people. The gracious hosting by Tim Andrews and the OVO Network team at their offices the first night was a beautiful way to be welcomed to Annecy and welcomed back to in person events.
Not to be outdone, Moriya Rockman and Smiling House did some hosting of their own. That is until the hotel came up to the Presidential Suite and asked them to stop at 4am the second night!
And then there was the joy of being able to connect with the people I follow and learn from online, but who I have not had the opportunity to see in person in nearly two years. People like my mentor, friend, and the Godfather of vacation rentals, Simon Lehmann; like my values and culture doppelgänger, Sébastien Grosjean; like my fellow reformed consultant, Alex Nigg; like my partner in Stoicism, Thibault Masson; like my former colleagues (and , Michael Goldin and Stewart White; and like my annual commuting partner (and savior), Michele Diamantini. These, and so many others, made this a truly special occasion for me personally, and from what I could tell by the conversations throughout the week, for others as well.
The point being that the conference, and the people at it, do and did a great job of pulling the best of what our industry offers together.
Incredible Destinations + Amazing People = Unforgettable Experiences
VRWS As A Microcosm for the Industry
The event, and how Antonio runs it, is emblematic of the best of our industry in another striking way. As its name implies, it is global in nature. Like our guests, people traveled from all over the world to attend. From conversation to conversation, you could float between hearing French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, English and more, sometimes all in the same group!
But as large as it was, as far reaching as it was, just like our industry, the magic happened in person, on the ground, and thanks to an admirable attention to detail. Just like all of you and how you think of your guests, when I asked Antonio how things were going the first day he said: “I just am working to make it better. So many people travelled so far, and put their trust in me, I do not want to let them down.” He certainly didn’t let any of us down.
Many people ask for feedback. The majority want to hear how well things are going. Very few truly listen for how to improve. Even fewer immediately act on that suggestion. Antonio is in this elite group. Based on feedback the first day, he entirely reworked the agenda for the second, just as thanks to feedback from Vanessa de Souza Lage two years ago about the lack of women on stage led Antonio to ensuring at least 50% of the people on stage this year were women.
This is Antonio presenting changes to Day 2 based on feedback he received Day 1
The Looming Shadow
COVID was still ever-present. This was not only because I got to the first day’s lunch late because I needed a COVID test prior to departure. It also came up in literally every single presentation, and most likely every off-stage conversation as well.
But the shadow was not an eclipse. As Robin Bass expressed to me: “I made it through 9/11 in New York. I’ve made it through hurricanes in St. Croix. COVID has been hard, but it is another thing I will make it through and come out even stronger on the other side.”
This is what is so extraordinary about the vacation rental industry and the people in it. When everything is against us, we seem to elevate to even higher levels. It is an inspiration to see, and to be a part of. Everyone acknowledged we were not out of COVID yet, and there was no telling if and when we might ever be.
But rather than lament how things have changed, and how hard they have become, people were in Annecy to discuss, learn, and problem solve how they would adapt and evolve to come out even stronger than before. The best days for all of us are ahead thanks to this mindset (perhaps in spite of some of the warnings for small and midsized managers from Richard Vaughton in his highly acclaimed presentation on the second day).
They say good things come to those who wait. If waiting two years was necessary to pull off this amazing event, so be it.
That being said, I really hope we don’t have to wait another two to do all of this again! Perhaps in an attempt to ensure this does not happen, Antonio closed the summit with a very exciting announcement: the launch of VR PODS after a successful pilot this past year. If you are interested in working in a sort of “mastermind” group with your vacation rental peers, I am sure he would love for you to reach out.
Always be learning. Always be growing. That is how we as an industry continue to innovate and improve.