- 10-room boutique hotel
- 2017: year listed on Airbnb
- Key benefit: 75% occupancy rate, surpassing hosts’ expectations
- Other benefit: Guests are ready for the Cayena experience
If you build it, they will come.
That may work in the movies, but not so much when you’re talking about drawing visitors to a 10-room boutique hotel on a remote stretch of Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Ryan, along with his brother, Evan, and sister-in-law, Lisa, designed and built a stunning tropical retreat, Cayena Beach Villa. The beachfront hideaway in the jungle, adjacent to a breathtaking national park with snow-capped mountains, was perfect for people open to adventure but with a taste for the finer things. When construction completed in January 2017, they needed to find those guests—and right away. With its reach and reputation, Airbnb seemed like the natural choice.
“Basically from then on it was Airbnb 100 percent, and we were filling the place up,” says Ryan. Since officially opening, the vast majority of Cayena Beach Villa’s 5,000-plus guests have come through Airbnb. Ryan says the platform was critical in helping them achieve an occupancy rate of 75 percent in 2018, surpassing what they had expected. “It took off faster than we had planned,” he says.
Guiding guests off the beaten track
So how do they convince people to travel thousands of miles, involving complicated itineraries, to a relatively unknown part of the world? Airbnb’s popularity, especially with guests who yearn for a unique vacation experience, is a big part of it, of course.
But the three hosts also have a keen understanding of their clientele and the business savvy to maximize the opportunity provided by Airbnb. In particular, the platform’s easy-to-use messaging capabilities have proved crucial, as getting visitors to Cayena can require a bit of handholding.
“Because it’s a pretty remote location, there’s a lot of information that we like to share with our clients,” Ryan says. Airbnb’s listing pages and messaging tools support the detailed communication Cayena needs. “Other booking agencies don’t really have that,” Ryan adds.
The back and forth with guests typically starts Ryan describing the property and location, quirks and all. “We’re on the grid, but we’re in a very rural area,” Ryan says. “When the power goes out, it might go out for a couple of days.”
For those who are undeterred, Ryan offers to make travel plans, since getting to this corner of paradise can involve special arrangements. Once bookings are made, many guests place dinner orders ahead of time, which helps the villa’s kitchen shop efficiently for the freshest food on their expeditions to the markets (which are not close).
The communication in advance of the trip helps to set the tone for the visit itself. When guests arrive, they’ve already talked with their hosts and feel at ease about a farflung journey off the beaten path. Ryan says it is common for them to greet each other upon arrival as if they’re already friends. All of it has led to a steady stream of stellar reviews, which in turn, helps attract new guests.
“It's really personal, you get to know a little bit about the people; you have the whole write-up about them, and they have a better feeling of us as well.”
Ryan, Co-owner of Cayena Beach Villa
Building community on a secluded beach
In many ways, Airbnb has allowed Ryan, Evan and Lisa, to build the kind of community they sought during a decade of adventuring throughout Latin America. Starting in 2005, they traveled in a beat up Volkswagen van, discovering new places and picking up fellow travelers along the way. Eventually, they opened a hostel and restaurant in the small Colombian city of Santa Marta. As the business grew, they realized they and their fellow travelers were entering a new phase of life. “The people that are backpacking these days aren’t just hippies, they’re professionals,” Ryan says. They built Cayena to cater to those travelers. And Airbnb helps ease them in before they arrive.
“It’s really personal,” says Ryan. “You get to know a little bit about the people; you have the whole write-up about them, and they have a better feeling of us as well.”
At Cayena, dinners, which dozens of reviewers on Airbnb extoll, are prepared by a gourmet chef, and guests often eat together at a long table. Ryan joins them whenever he can.
People who book directly or through other means often don’t have the right expectations. “You get people that think they’re going to a hotel,” Ryan says.
By the time guests arrive, they typically have everything they need to relax and enjoy the experience — that is if they’ve heeded the advice they received through Airbnb: Pack carefully because there are no stores nearby to pick up amenities. Other booking platforms don’t allow for that kind of contact with guests, says Ryan. “It’s just a better level of communication.”
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