Photos Courtesy of Luxury RetreatsLuxury villas have been springing up all over the map in recent years; and it's no secret that they've been diverting the attention of discerning travelers who would normally be looking toward their favorite high-end hotel for an extended stay. With Barbados as his inspiration, 17-year-old Joe Poulin decided to jump head first into this growing trend by starting his own villa vacation company, Luxury Retreats, in 1999. Today, the brand represents over 2,000 villas in 50-plus countries around the world—from hilltop houses in Costa Rica to modern mansions in Morocco, to ski-in/ski-out lodges in Utah.
I had the chance to pick the brain of this young, ambitious CEO to find out exactly how this venture got started, what makes this company stand out among the competition, and where we can expect to see more Luxury Retreats villas putting down roots.
JustLuxe: How did you begin acquiring a collection of villas that you could be proud to put your name on and offer to clients?
Joe Poulin: In 1999, I lived with my parents in a small town outside of Montreal, Canada designing websites when I was approached by a homeowner in Barbados who wanted one built. At 16 years old, I decided to fly down to Barbados to take on the project. It was then I envisioned a global villa rental platform, which didn’t exist at the time. I was ambitious and inspired and began knocking on doors, searching the yellow pages, and really doing my research, looking for these high-end luxury villas I wanted to represent.
Today, I have specialists who scour the world for the most desirable homes, as well as a global team of Quality Inspectors which issue a rigorous 100 Point Inspection to all villas before they are listed for rent. This ensures that we only provide villas that meet our luxury standard. Villa owners know we only offer the best product on the market and, because of that, we see repeat clientele from homeowners entrusting us with their various properties and recommending Luxury Retreats to their network of contacts.
JL: Tell us about your background and how your past experiences prepared you for this endeavor.
JP: My dad always encouraged us to start our own business. I began building computers at age 11, and then building websites as a business by 16. I launched Luxury Retreats when I was 17. I started with just a few villas in Barbados and then included St. Martin. I was still very young and many people thought I was crazy, but our guests loved the service we were providing, and that was all I cared about. Everyone wants to relax when they’re on vacation and have a break from the day-to-day grind, just like I do. I love to enjoy the services of a private chef and other staff like a masseuse or personal trainer.
JL: What made you choose the countries/cities in which your villas are located? Which location is the most popular among your clients?
JP: Guest feedback is the primary source of our expansion efforts. We value each one of our guests, and after they’ve vacationed with us, we conduct surveys, as well as speak with them about where they’d like to travel next. We also employ a product development team that analyzes many data sources. This combined with our guest feedback helps us determine what destinations we should expand to. Some of our more popular destinations include Hawaii, Caribbean islands such as Barbados, St. Martin, Turks & Caicos, and Mexico has also become very popular. This naturally makes sense as most of our guests are based in North America.
JL: Are you planning to expand to other locations in the future? Have you received any requests to have villas in specific parts of the world?
JP: We’re expanding to 50 new destinations in the coming year, including some urban destinations, such as New York (recently launched) and London. Additionally, we recently launched our “Ski USA” locations, which include incredible properties in Vail Valley, Aspen and Telluride. Other locations launching soon include: Corsica, Portugal, Lake Tahoe, Coastal California, Napa, Morocco, Brazil, and Arizona. Most of our expansions are a direct result of the aforementioned surveys from existing guests.
JL: What are some of the unique concierge services that are provided to those staying at one of your luxury villas?
JP: We provide free, dedicated concierge services to arrange any and all vacation needs—a fully stocked fridge, organic chefs, private yoga instructors, in-villa wine tasting, and spa services etc. Some of our more unique requests include private language lessons, live event streams, even making all the arrangements for a destination wedding.
JL: Which villa is currently the most expensive to rent?
JP: Calivigny—a private island in Grenada, Caribbean—rents for up to $165,000/night. However, our average villa rents for about $2,000/night and most villas rent between $2,000-$30,000/night.
JL: What is your target demographic? How do you feel your company competes with those that usually stay in high-end hotels?
JP: Our villas typically cater to a very affluent traveler who expects only the highest standard of vacation experience. Our villas are especially popular among families and groups of couples. But, while we may have some villas with very high rental prices, there are also beautiful villa options that are less expensive than a comparable luxury hotel when traveling with a large group. There are a lot of daily incidentals that come with a hotel: individual rooms, three meals a day, beverage and room service costs, etc.
When you break it down, the villa rental will be the more economical option. Plus, Luxury Retreats offers the same types of services of a hotel: free concierge services to arrange all vacation needs; villa specialists to help travelers identify the perfect villa for them; and no membership fee. The added value is tremendous. For example, a four bedroom, four bath villa in Fitts Village, Barbados is $650 a night, which includes a cook and maid service. If you are breaking this cost down by room, you are looking at a rate of only about $160 a night.
JL: Why do you find that your clients repeatedly come back and choose Luxury Retreats over five-star resorts?
JP: Instead of a 400-square-foot room, you’re getting a 4,000-square-foot luxury home all to yourself, with many of the same services. It’s a different vacation experience. It provides more privacy than a hotel and, in many ways, a more authentic travel experience too. People can feel like they are actually living in that destination.
JL: What makes Luxury Retreats stand out from the many other destination clubs/villa rental companies?
JP: I knew that, in order to create a unique luxury service, I would need to offer travelers more than just a villa; I’d need to offer a customized, luxury vacation experience to distinguish us in the marketplace. Luxury Retreats is the largest villa rental company in the industry. Our portfolio is comprised of over 2,000 villas, representing everything from private islands, to beachfront homes, country estates, and beyond. There is no membership fee to rent a villa, and villa specialists and concierge services are provided for free to all of our guests.
Our villa curating process is also totally unique in the industry. Travelers can have trepidation about renting a never before seen home, and no one wants unwelcomed surprises when on vacation. We guarantee guests receive a luxury experience. This didn’t exist in the villa rental industry, and Luxury Retreats is the first to create this global standard.
JL: What kinds of trends in travel do you see emerging in the next couple of years?
JP: Villa rentals are growing increasingly more popular among families, as well as couples traveling in groups. We’re also seeing requests for more exotic destinations, as travelers continue to seek unique vacation spots and a customized experience. For instance, we recently expanded to Bali and Portugal in response to that demand.
JL: How are you reaching out to connect with your clients on a social level?
JP: We believe that exceptional service is all about personal connection and really knowing your clients. We reach out to our customers on a personal level by matching them with a concierge specialist to meet their every need and help them develop a customized vacation itinerary. Additionally, we continue the conversation with guests following their stay through surveys and one-on-one phone calls. For some guests, we like to meet with them in person for drinks or dinner and always love showing them Montreal when they’re in town.
JL: Tell us what is next on the horizon for Luxury Retreats and where you dream on taking it years from now.
JP: Our vision for Luxury Retreats is to continue developing a global brand that sets the standard for luxury travel. Besides doubling our exclusive portfolio of luxury villas from 2,000 to 4,000 and adding urban destinations, we plan on continuing to create the first and only luxury villa rental standard. We’ve become the Four Seasons of villas.