Sabrina Piccinin tells us how Haute Retreats is redefining luxury for the luxury traveller.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Sabrina Piccinin: We are doing great. Covid-19 gave us the opportunity to spend more time together with the family and the opportunity to experience Venice without the crowds, like when it was when I was a teenager.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Haute Retreats.
Sabrina Piccinin: I spent my formative years in Italy in a town 30 minutes from Venice, which is where I embarked on a career travel industry in 1993s. “During the 30s, my grandmother was the manager of a luxury hotel in Paris and my grandfather the bellman. This was a grand place where both middle class and noble travelers chose to stay in this beautiful city. I was always excited to listen to my grandparents’ stories about their experiences while working there and all of the wonderful people they met. My grandmother was the queen of hospitality”. I started working for luxury hotels from an early age. I was 16 years old, from the Italy Venice area, Liguria Cinque Terre, the Lake Iseo area to the USA. I worked in all departments at the beginning and as the general manager at the top of my career for Hyatt. I am an FAA commercial pilot with 650 hours of flight hours built in the USA. After travelling to the four corners of the world as a successful luxury hotel’s general manager and also the property manager for mansions for rent in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, I decided to come back where I started my journey. I love the fact to live in between the Dolomites and the most beautiful city in the world: Venice.
Haute Retreats is our luxury hospitality brand that aspires to be the platform for luxury travel design, bringing together the most unique and memorable places where to spend your vacation with that “Italian Hospitality Touch” wherever you go.
Haute Retreats was created in 2016 after so many years of studying and serving our guests with the best travel experiences. I am a traveller myself, and also, I have a background as a hotelier since I was 18 years old (now I am 44), and what I enjoyed the most about my career is helping people have the best time when they travel. I love suggesting the best places where to stay, what they should not miss about staying at that place, coordinating, and suggesting the best time to be in that place so they won’t miss a unique event. Like for example, we arranged an amazing trip in the Cinque Terre, planning their stay in one of the best hotels in the area where they could enjoy the fireworks during the day at night in July, being part of the celebration of the patron of this city. I have the quality to be patient and tailor that perfect vacation plan for my guests. I spend hours going through what they like, what they like to do during their free time, the taste they have about home design, and I will find the best home or hotel or retreat for them.
I found the need in the rental market space for a platform where people could go and find the best. Our principle remains the same as when you started selecting the best places where to spend a vacation. We go through a list of standards, and the most important one is, for sure, the people who connect with us and represent the property. I was a property manager myself in Costa Rica, and I wanted to make a difference. You rent a villa, but you also buy the experience that comes within the villa. The concierge service, the activities, the location, how you get there and how you get around.
How does Haute Retreats innovate?
Sabrina Piccinin: Haute Retreats, on the other hand, was created in 2016 following the same process that I implemented during my hotel business career. We collaborate with the top professionals in the luxury villa rentals market. Haute Retreats is independent and not listed with any of the large sites. It is a unique and independent platform that makes sure our guests receive a 5-star hotel service experience. We receive many requests to add properties, however, we keep our standards very high, and we go through a very strict process before we approve the listing. The Haute Retreats headquarter is located near beautiful Venice, Italy.
We see each of our collaborations as an opportunity to deliver the best to our clients. We help professionals as well to serve their clients, giving the trust of a product they won’t be disappointed in.
We don’t list our company through any OTA. If you come to Haute Retreats, it is because you know the brand, not because you saw it on Airbnb or Vrbo. You are probably going to find sometimes the same villa listed through our OTA, but what makes us different is the fact you are going to talk with someone that believes in what she does because she has years of experience in planning, serving people and understanding what they need. We will accommodate your requests, and we will add some perks to your stay, like an early check-in during peak season, a grocery shopping service delivery upon your arrival if we know your flight will arrive late in the destination. We will tell you who will be waiting for you at the airport and who will welcome you at the villa.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sabrina Piccinin: Our business keeps the model of a business where we spend at the moment there is a cash flow. We don’t invest unless we know that operation will bring more. We keep our operation live following the rules of if you don’t have it, you can’t spend it, so we coped really well with the coronavirus pandemic. We refunded our clients who could not make the trip. We rescheduled the ones that felt ok to postpone. I believe that you don’t need money to make money. I built Haute Retreats from nothing. Our predominant source is experience, and if you have passion, everything will fall in the right place.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sabrina Piccinin: Not really, actually we now partnered with a great leader in marketing, Selin, who is branding Haute Retreats in markets like Turkey and UK, we are partnering with a great leader in the South Asian events based in NYC, Chetali, and we will keep looking for opportunities for people that will grow with us and will have the same mindset.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sabrina Piccinin: The phone is the tool that will never go out of fashion, calling, talking, spending the right time with the customer, especially during this time, when they know things are changing so quickly, what they need to hear is that you are there from them, there is nothing better than talking or video calling, even better.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sabrina Piccinin: Here in Italy, businesses could not count on government grants, so our business is afloat because we know how to keep reinventing ourselves.
Your final thoughts?
Sabrina Piccinin: When you wake up in the morning, you need to feel alive. You want to know your mission for the day, ask the universe what your purpose for the day is. My mission with Haute Retreats is to help as many people as possible to create their dream vacations.