Vinayak Mahtani of bnbme On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Focus on the quality of the property. We call it a “WOW experience”, combining luxury with world-class facilities. Where a run-of-the-mill holiday home is like flying a commercial aircraft, staying in a “WOW” holiday home is like flying a private jet. You choose where you want to go but also how you want to go.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vinayak Mahtani.

Vinayak Mahtani is CEO of bnbme, a holiday home rental management company he co-founded with his wife, Shilpa, in Dubai in 2018.

The company partners with property owners who want to let out their homes for short-term rentals, managing guests’ stays as well as providing hotel-style services including concierge, daily cleaning and bespoke setups.

It now manages 150 holiday homes across Dubai and India, employs over 70 people and won “best holiday homes rental company (Middle East)” in the 2022 International Travel Awards and “best B2C SME business of the year” in the UAE’s SME Awards 2022.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

The idea for bnbme actually came about from a nightmare tenant. My wife and I have lived in Dubai since 2010 and we had a rental property on a private beach, overlooking the Burj Al Arab — it’s one of the best properties in Dubai. But one day, the tenant disappeared overnight and left it in a terrible state. Instead of letting it out again, or getting caught up in the angst of a court case, we used our entrepreneurial spirit to make an opportunity out of the situation. We fixed the place up and listed it on Airbnb as a holiday home… and doubled our money in the first year.

In the second year, we doubled our money again and that’s when friends of ours started to ask if we could let out their properties as well. We did it almost for fun, but it just kept growing and more and more people were handing their properties to us. That’s when we set up bnbme in 2018.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My business partner is my wife! Her desk is opposite where I’m sitting now. We spend 24 hours a day living and working together — and it’s amazing, I wouldn’t switch it for anything. We talk about work when we’re at home and talk about our social lives, who we’re going to dinner with, when we’re in the office.

This dynamic gives the business an advantage, 100%. My weaknesses are Shilpa’s strengths and her weaknesses are my strengths. We step in for each other when either of us fall short.

But forget about business for a second: supporting each other in the business has a profoundly positive impact on our personal relationship as we know, even more than before, we’re there for each other and what each other’s values are.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We had rented our apartment to guests who had booked with us for the third time in a different apartment in a week. Then we got a call from security that they were running a massage parlor in the apartment. When I went to investigate I got bulldozed by three women who within five minutes had me on the floor and had done a complete escape. The staircase they ran down had wigs on the floor so I would never be able to identify them again.

Needless to say we started being more thorough doing proper background checks.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My father. I can go up four generations in my family — my father, grandfather, great grandfather, great great grandfather — and they were all entrepreneurs. I don’t know anything else and I grew up with that mindset. The dinner table conversations would be about business and even when I was on summer vacation I would be traveling to business meetings with my dad.

I grew up in Germany and he was in the footwear business, but also set up a newspaper for Indians like us living in central Europe. I remember one Saturday being at the newspaper office and him leading a meeting. He finished that, jumped in the car and drove across the border to Holland because he then had a meeting with the head of buying of a footwear retail company. So I saw him go from being an entrepreneur asking questions of his CEO, to 45 minutes later hauling a shoe collection out of his car and selling shoes to somebody.

That has always stuck with me. My dad showed me being an entrepreneur isn’t about being the boss, the big cheese. It’s about speed, efficiency and being able to adjust to your surroundings.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

The entire influence for bnbme is hospitality. That might seem obvious but for most holiday home rental businesses, the driving influence is often real estate. In practical terms, this means properties are likely to have basic, generic set-ups, with a conveyor belt of guests checked in and out as quickly as possible. I didn’t want that with bnbme. I took a lot of inspiration from luxury hoteliers, having led Unique Precise International, a hotel supply business, for eight years before we founded the company.

So what does this hospitality influence mean in terms of innovation? Personalisation.

I firmly believe the future of hospitality, and holiday home lets, is about tailoring to the guest. If we have Chinese guests, that means getting a rice cooker and chopsticks in the apartment. If they are Indian, we provide items like masala chai. If they are from the UK, we stock tonic water for gin and tonics! That’s the mentality we have grown the business with — it’s about the little details which the customer doesn’t expect but really appreciates. We have a reservations team and concierge team, so instead of just handing over a key, we really look after the guest from the minute they enquire to the minute they check out.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

We are expanding into India but currently our main market is in Dubai. The status quo in Dubai’s vacation market is hotels, with 140,000 hotel rooms compared to 12,000 holiday homes. But I believe our focus on hospitality, and personalisation, is enabling us to compete with hotels.

At their best, holiday homes provide the grandeur of a hotel, but with the luxury of superior living space and tailored provisions — all for a similar price. One of our recent customers, for example, had an unused bedroom in his home and because he was staying for three weeks while on a working vacation, he asked for it to be converted to a study. We did this, no questions asked, in a way that hotels — by their nature — wouldn’t be able to.

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

Although holiday homes have been around for many years, guests have now realized they can get a luxury place for an affordable price with proper facilities. We have already seen major global hotel brands entering the space — some to manage and others as a platform. I think holiday homes are going to be the growth factor in the hospitality world over the next 10 years.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

A perfect vacation experience is focused on the following aspects:

  1. Budget. I don’t believe a vacation should set you back your year’s savings — you should be able to have a perfect vacation and have some money left over as well.
  2. Location. You should be able to choose a great location whether it is by the sea, next to a mall, in the mountains or a historic city. There should be enough to do at the location.
  3. Accommodation. My ideal vacation is with family, hence the accommodation is very important. We don’t like to be cramped into two rooms or a suite. The ideal location has a seating area where you can place your laptop, a cup of tea and a croissant and do some work in the morning — if it’s outdoors and great weather that makes it even more ideal. To me it’s true luxury to be able to do this in a home in a different country rather than a hotel, which is cramped and very cookie cutter.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

Our homes are all about connecting. We design the interiors with the thought in mind: “Where are the places the guests can hang out and connect with each other?” We try to keep the focus away from televisions and towards gatherings and communications.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Personalize and tailor the experience. For the reasons discussed above.
  2. Focus on the quality of the property. We call it a “WOW experience”, combining luxury with world-class facilities. Where a run-of-the-mill holiday home is like flying a commercial aircraft, staying in a “WOW” holiday home is like flying a private jet. You choose where you want to go but also how you want to go.
  3. Look after the customer. Don’t just check them in and out, invest in a concierge team which can look after them during their stay and help make memories.
  4. Ensure you deliver on your promise. If you are offering luxury then go all the way with the amenities, tea and coffee… and even the toilet paper!
  5. Understand your client and listen to them. Too often businesses do not listen to the entire sentence the customer has to say. The customer says exactly what they want so listen to them and understand them. Do not make your own assumptions.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe we do a lot of goodness in everything we do. But this is very private and not something we do to elaborate about.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I have a very strong belief in giving back to mother nature. We use a lot of her resources in growing crops and feeding us and the cities we build. The one movement I would start is for people to plant trees. If each of us planted one tree every year, that would mean close to eight billion trees a year. Imagine what that would do for the earth and animal population we share it with.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can connect on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 best-selling author, syndicated columnist, podcaster, stage 3 cancer survivor, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC. He has interviewed notable celebrities and TV personalities and has been featured on Fox News, The Wrap, and has worked with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, BuzzFeed, Food Network, WW and Bloomberg. Savio has been invited to cover numerous industry events throughout the U.S. and abroad. His mission is to provide clients, listeners, and viewers alike with tangible takeaways on how to lead a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. Savio pens a weekly newsletter in which he delves into secrets to living smarter by feeding your “three brains” — head, heart, and gut- in the hope of connecting the dots to those sticky parts of our nature that matter to living our best life.

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor