Telegraph - December 2020:
'Airbnb is valued at $100bn, but this private holiday club takes 'home stay' to the next level'
A social-media network for people with fabulous properties to rent from chateaux to private islands
Hot on the heels of last week’s news that Airbnb has just been valued at $100 billion on the Nasdaq stock exchange, Stay One Degree, an exclusive members-only community allowing discerning travellers the chance to rent luxurious homes from each other, has announced a substantial investment by Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group.
While Stay One Degree remains tight lipped about what form the partnership will take, one can’t help thinking that decadent private rentals such as those in its collection, which span everywhere from Provence to South Africa, coupled with Mandarin Oriental-level service, could be a pretty fabulous idea.
Plus, a friend rang last night full of woe to say that he’d been defrauded of £3,000 by a scammer on Airbnb. That’s the danger of these websites: the anonymity, and – if something goes wrong – the nightmare of navigating the complaints procedure. Which is why Stay One Degree is such a genius concept.
Founded by two friends, Thomas Bennett and Jorge Munoz, in 2017, it's a website to connect someone who owns, say, a rarely visited private island in Indonesia, to someone else with, let's suppose, a large and currently empty chalet in Morzine.
Of course, money changes hands: this isn't timeshare, you are hiring someone else's place. And you can join even if you don't happen to have an astonishingly swanky property to lob into the mix. But the point is that neither the owners nor the renters stay anonymous. Since it's a private club, though, that isn't a problem. In fact, it's the whole point.
"I was sick of staying in hotels, or renting a holiday villa that didn't feel like a home," explains Bennett. "And when I went to stay at friends' houses, it always felt much more fun. And I treated the property differently too."
Indeed, if you're staying in a house owned by someone you know, or by a friend of a friend, you treat it with respect. In exchange, the house owner won't fob you off with second-rate Ikea furniture and lock away all the good glassware leaving you with plastic cups to drink from. Think of it like a social network for luxury holiday homes.
That networking feeling extends to the whole transaction so, before you go, you can ask your host for recommendations for restaurants or secret beaches. It's quite a step up from Tripadvisor. And that's because both you and your property have to be thoroughly vetted before you are allowed to join. But once you're in it's worth it, what with private islands in the Bahamas, 14th-century, 73-bedroom castles in County Durham and 11th-century châteaux on the French Riviera on its books.
The vicissitudes of 2020 haven't put the brakes on the business, says Bennett: "We've grown so we now have 4,000 homes," he tells me. "Of course, it's not a normal year, but because of travel restrictions, if you're stuck in the UK, you'll stay in a British property, so all through the summer everything we had in the UK was full. In America people were taking staycations, in France everyone wanted to drive or take the train somewhere else in the country. Spanish members wanted to stay in Spain..." You get the picture.
Thanks to their extensive Hong Kong and Singapore membership, the co-founders of Stay One Degree knew what was going on in Asia early and they had put in pandemic measures globally by mid-March. That means allowing extra time (48 hours) between check-ins, an even more thorough deep clean between guests, and, for instance, advising owners not to launder sheets on site but to send them to professional laundries. Some members booked properties for months at a time to work from home in more salubrious surroundings, and questions such as, 'How far away are the nearest neighbours?' have become more frequent.
That wasn't a question I was asking when I booked my Stay One Degree experience a year ago. Rather, I was after neighbours, and bustle, and fun: theatres; cinemas; restaurants; shops; cafés... It was my daughter's first trip to New York and I wanted her to have the whole Big Apple experience. Those were the days.....