From hyper personalisation to remote working in style, Globetrender speaks with Ultima Collection managing partner Michala Chatel about what lies ahead for elite travellers
When Ultima Collection launched in 2016, what problem was it setting out to solve?
It was a matter of filling the gap in this niche premium market of property rentals, private residences and chalets that don’t have a branded service level behind them. Our clients know they get Ultima Signature Services wherever they stay and are reassured they will be at a very high level.
How many properties do you have and in which locations?
At the moment we have 25 residences across six destinations in Switzerland, France and Greece (Geneva, Megève, Gstaad, Crans-Montana, Corfu and Courchevel – our newest).
Where do you expect most of your bookings to be coming from in 2021?
I think it will be a good mix of both domestic and international. I still believe that staycations will be a big thing for 2021 – a lot of people will want to test the water before they go onabigtrip–butfrom what I’ve seen there’s a crazy appetite for travel.
What is the average length of stay?
We currently have a three-year booking – so far, that’s the longest – but the average length of stay at Ultima Collection properties is 33 days.
What makes Ultima Collection unique in the luxury property rental space?
It’s definitely a mix between our real estate, our interior design and Ultima signature services. Our clients feel at home whether they’re in the Gstaad property, in Corfu or in Geneva, so it really does appeal to people maintaining a bubble.Our clients have a lot of money but not a lot of time, so they really want to focus on being with their family. We help to optimise every minute they have. Our clients come for the staff as much as they do for the properties – we know that the people are really part of the experience.
We have clients who follow our teams and make multiple bookings, often because their kids create these amazing bonds with the staff. We understand that parents want to make sure their children are entertained, stimulated, having fun and in safe hands with people they trust.
How have the needs and demands of elite travellers changed since the pandemic?
I would say that 95 per cent of our clients travel by private jet. The moment the word “pandemic” was used, old and new clients were calling us, wanting to escape to one of our homes away from home. They were looking for that safety model.At the beginning, we launched a concept called “Hideaways”, which meant you could rent our properties without services. But, in the end, our clients wanted our services as well. Why? Because we’re protocoled for everything.
We have health and safety procedures in place and guests trust our staff. For example, we have a policy that suppliers leave deliveries outside and it’s our staff who brings them inside so there’s no contact with external people.
Our properties have private outdoor spaces, pools and spas that would be difficult to find in a luxury hotel. This is what makes our properties so appealing. Guests also see what happens behind closed doors – what the chef is doing, for example – so we can offer that transparency that you wouldn’t find in any other property.
How do you personalise stays for guests?
We send out preference sheets 30 days before arrival so that before the clients get here, we know a lot about them. We also usually know through their assistant what activities they like to do and make sure we have back-up plans if the weather is not going to permit something.
The number of times our clients have said they would like to go on a beautiful boat excursion, or go to the beach and have a picnic, only to wake up and find that it’s pouring with rain or windy.
Nevertheless, our team will always be ready and waiting with an alternative set-up so there’s never that element of disappointment or a feeling of wasting time. The same goes for our skiing properties. If it’s foggy and guests can’t go skiing, then we’ll have another activity arranged for them that day.
Because our staff are able to give their full attention to our clients, unlike in a hotel, we can really go out of our way to give them what they want. We can buy all of their ski gear in advance or arrange for three or four different luxury brands to come up with selections of clothes to shop in-house.We have clients who might want to go to a special restaurant but don’t want to leave the house. Before the pandemic, takeaway from luxury restaurants wasn’t really an option. But we’ve always managed to do that through our partnerships and through good local contacts. We can arrange helicopter transfers, yoga instructors, spa treatments, oyster and champagne tastings – anything, really.
How do you cater to people who are remote working?
All of the properties in the Ultima Collection portfolio have private offices – pandemic or not, our clients need to work. It could be a ski vacation, it could be a summer retreat – there’s always a guest who needs an office and a printer and a proper wifi connection.
How much does it cost to buy out Ultima Collection properties?
The majority of our properties are full buy-out. It’s one reservation only since it’s a private residence.
So you’re looking at a price point of about £100,000 to £150,000 a week, including staff, transportation from whatever airport you’re arriving into and then all of the basics such as tea, coffee, afternoon snacks and breakfast.
What are Ultima Collection’s ambitions for growth?
Great possibilities present themselves to those who seize the opportunity. But there’s no point in growing for the sake of growing. Our business model is really about acquiring unique properties.
The idea is to stay concentrated on Europe for now, then once we have that stability and all of the properties are open and operational, I would love it if it we could expand somewhere more exotic and different.
What are your predictions for the elite travel market in 2021?
I think that those who can travel are going to keep doing so. Elite travellers tend to be more flexible. For a start, those who have the means to fly private can travel twice as easily as those people who go by commercial [airlines], as there are roughly double the number of private airports in Europe.
The majority of our clients have multiple residences so they have the flexibility of being able to say, ‘Let’s jump to London because we have a place there’ or, ‘Let’s go to Geneva.’ I think we will continue seeing long-term stays and the products that really appeals to them are the private properties.