When I set up Bookings For You in 2011, one of my key aims was to ensure that the company always delivered exceptional customer service levels for our clients. As part of the process to do this, six years later, I still personally visit each and every property within our portfolio, both so that I can check the standard of accommodation and also so that I can best advise my clients on the perfect holiday rental for them. This inevitably means plenty of trips to Italy (and more recently France)! And just as inevitably, each time I announce I’m heading over to view some villas, I am inundated with offers from people keen to accompany me… After all, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of nights on the continent?
However, I thought it about time to de-bunk the myths around some of my trips! It’s certainly not as glamorous as it seems! And it’s definitely more work than people assume! So here’s a ‘day in the life of Jo Mackay’ on tour!
At 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon in early April, I set off on the 90 minute drive to reach Gatwick, swiftly followed by a quick bite to eat at the airport and a chance to clear my inbox before heading to the boarding gate for my flight. As is too often the case when catching a flight later in the day, I came up against the usual delays, all of which meant that I only ended up reaching my B&B in Italy at 1.30 in the morning. Welcomed by the most exceptional hosts who had stayed up to greet me, once my head did finally hit the pillow, I was asleep in minutes! Incidentally, if anyone is looking for just a night or two in this area, the Villa Rubino B&B comes highly recommended.
Unfortunately the alarm was set for 6 a.m. though so my chance to get a decent nights sleep was pretty limited. My hosts had freshly squeezed some juice for me the previous evening and that, along with a piece of their delicious chocolate cake was more than enough to wake me up! I have to confess that the high sugar Italian breakfasts are one of my guilty pleasures on these trips! Only on the continent are cake and biscuits acceptable first thing in the morning! I crept out of the B&B by 6.45, careful not to disturb the other residents who, unlike me, were relaxing on holiday!
By 7.30 I was at my first appointment with my local property manager, Fiona. Fiona is a superstar, always going out of her way to help guests during their stay. She also provides the ‘meet and greet’ service for those staying in this area. I don’t know how I would manage without her!
From here, it was a short drive to my next appointment of the day at 8.30. This was a chance to view a new villa in the Italian Lakes. The aim was twofold… Firstly, it was a chance for me to see if the property would fit within our portfolio. But, it was just as much a chance for the owners to meet me and to allow me to explain how we work as a company and what we stand for. The property was fantastic and I came away convinced that it could be a great addition to our portfolio. However the rental rates that the owners were looking to achieve were, in my opinion, too punchy and so we had a really useful discussion on what a fair price would be. As a result of this, the owners have since agreed to reduce pricing, thus ensuring that our holidaymakers continue to get great value for money when choosing an Italian holiday rental with Bookings For You.
The day continued in a similar vein…. from here, I went to view two smaller apartments. As they were in an apartment complex I already work with, this was a pretty quick visit but did allow me to take some new photos and to also ensure that the property was equipped to the standard we require for our guests. As it turns out, this proved invaluable and I came away with a pretty extensive list of additional kitchen equipment that would need to be purchased before we could rent it out on behalf of the owner. Bear in mind though that the apartment had been shut up for the Winter and I was the first visitor in months… in other words, it hadn’t had the big Spring clean that we give all our properties ahead of the first visitors of the season. This meant plenty of dust and spiders… and in this instance, the visit highlighted issues with the shutter system which meant I came away from the trip with a heavy smattering of concrete and dust in my hair!!! But at least I was also reminded of the spectacular views these apartments enjoy. I felt very lucky to have visited on a clear, warm, sunny day.
Once the worst of the dust was out, from here it was on to 2 other apartments. This time they were more of an unknown…. But I was certainly not disappointed. Both were 3 bedroom properties sleeping up to 6 guests. Sharing a lakeside pool area with 8 other apartments, I could immediately see that these would be extremely popular with our clients. This time I was meeting the owners themselves so it was also a good chance for me to practice my Italian! Unfortunately, whilst I can now understand most of what is said in Italian, my brain is painfully slow at transmitting so any chance to practice is good for me! It was also a reminder of how many different style properties I view in a day too. Whilst the apartments were almost mirror images of each other in layout, the decor was extremely different as a result of some dramatic renovations. The results of one of the owner’s hard work was the creation of a spectacular, contemporary space which had clearly drawn on the 1970s for inspiration whilst using the very best of Italian craftsmanship and materials including beautiful Carrara marble from the northernmost tip of Tuscany.
My next visit was one of the most spectacular villas I have had the pleasure of viewing. One of my other aims when I set up the business was that we would never try to appeal to only a certain part of the market but this does mean that on trips such as this we can go from viewing a small 1 bedroom apartment priced at 500 euros per week to a stunning villa such as this one which we’d price at 15 times that amount! I must confess that the nosy part of me does particularly enjoy visiting these grander properties…. I suppose it’s that same nosiness that makes me watch TV programmes such as ‘Through the keyhole’ to see how the other half live! The owner wasn’t sure whether they wanted to rent it so it was very much an exploratory visit, giving me the chance to view the property and thus allowing me to share our opinion on what sort of rental income they could achieve. Incidentally, three months on and we are still in discussions with the owners now… one of the other things about working with Italians is that often progress is not made as quickly as I’d like it to be!
Back to the day in question though and by now it was 2.00 and my stomach was rumbling. Admittedly, on many of these trips, lunch is nothing more than a quick sandwich whilst driving between appointments. I make a point of always bringing bananas and bottles of water with me so that I have something to munch on if I run out of time to eat… After all, Italians are renowned for both their lack of punctuality and their ability to talk at length, neither of which are conducive to staying on schedule! But this trip was slightly unusual in that I somehow ran ahead of time and therefore could enjoy the chance to actually head to a restaurant and enjoy a bowl of pasta. Everyone I was meeting had been on time or early and the combination meant for the first time ever, I had some free time on my hands! Despite it being early April, the weather was glorious… clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine so a table outside was requested!
And then it was off to my final appointment of the day – a stunning apartment in Pallanza – before heading back to Milan Malpensa to catch my flight back home. I have to say I’m a bit of a ‘home bird’ and rather than relishing the chance to have a night away, can’t wait to get back to my husband and children. Again, frustratingly, the flight was delayed but I made it back home just after 9 p.m. and so got the chance to see my two children before they went to bed.
So, all in all… what did I achieve on my flying visit to Italy? Well I viewed 7 properties in the Italian Lakes in a space of 8 hours and spent about the same amount of time again either on the plane or waiting at the airport! Unfortunately, I didn’t spend that amount of time sleeping but a Saturday morning lie in beckoned on my return so who am I to complain?!!! It was a great visit… a chance to check out some fantastic new villas and apartments in the Italian Lakes, and a chance to meet some new Italian property owners. Our next trip will be to Puglia this July.