HOMES AWAY FROM HOME

HOUSE-SHAR­ING HAS ITS AP­PEAL AND ITS DOWN­SIDES. THOMAS AND ALEX ORMEROD’S BUSI­NESS LUXICO IRONS OUT THE WRIN­KLES IN THE MODEL WHILE OF­FER­ING ONLY THE TOP PROP­ER­TIES IN THE COUN­TRY.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - AIA AWARDS 2017 - STORY DAVID MEAGHER

It was an epic Mel­bourne storm that would set Thomas Ormerod on a new ca­reer path. The for­mer prop­erty in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tive left his po­si­tion as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of project mar­ket­ing at Knight Frank Vic­to­ria in 2012 and took time out to think about his next move. Un­der­stand­ably, part of his sab­bat­i­cal from the cor­po­rate world in­volved in­ter­na­tional travel with his fam­ily. Like many peo­ple, he de­cided to de­fray the cost of his ad­ven­tures by leasing out his own home in Mel­bourne short term. What he wasn’t count­ing on was one of the worst storms to hit the Vic­to­rian cap­i­tal in decades and the dam­age it would do to his house while he was away from home.

“It was just one of those crazy things,” says Ormerod. “I found I was on the phone try­ing to co­or­di­nate trades­peo­ple in Aus­tralia from the other side of the world and it was just too dif­fi­cult. And we had a re­ally irate guest who was hav­ing to man­age trades­peo­ple com­ing and go­ing and com­mu­ni­cate with me in a dif­fer­ent time zone. On both sides of the trans­ac­tion – the renter and the owner – we saw a prob­lem.” It was an epiphany for Ormerod and what even­tu­ally lead him to come up with the idea for Luxico: a hol­i­day home rental ser­vice with a dif­fer­ence.

The best way to de­scribe Luxico is that it’s like Airbnb but with only the best houses in the area. On top of that, Luxico prop­er­ties come with a ho­tel-style 24/7 concierge to greet guests on ar­rival, ex­plain how ev­ery­thing in the house works and be on call dur­ing your stay. Since launch­ing in 2013 Luxico has grown from man­ag­ing a hand­ful of prop­er­ties to hav­ing more than 200 homes in its port­fo­lio in Mel­bourne, Syd­ney, the Mornington Penin­sula in Vic­to­ria and Palm Beach north of Syd­ney. It’s a ser­vice that’s clearly res­onat­ing with trav­ellers: ac­cord­ing to Ormerod, Luxico achieved 45 per cent year-on-year rev­enue growth for the 2016-17 fi­nan­cial year with more than 10,000 room nights booked. “It’s al­most self-per­pet­u­at­ing: guests have be­come own­ers and own­ers have be­come guests.”

When it comes to the growth of the busi­ness, Ormerod says he and wife Alex have two goals. The first, he says, is to have 500 prop­er­ties in Aus­tralia on the books, the sec­ond is to have 1000 homes through­out the Asia Pa­cific in about four years.

De­spite his en­thu­si­asm for the unique ac­com­mo­da­tion busi­ness he’s cre­ated, Ormerod vir­tu­ally had to be dragged into it. “We cer­tainly weren’t look­ing to start a busi­ness like this when I left my pre­vi­ous job,” says Ormerod. “To be hon­est I re­ally wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had a lit­tle of­fice that I would go to in Sor­rento and just pro­cras­ti­nate. But then based on our ex­pe­ri­ence of rent­ing out our own home, we had some­one ap­proach us and say, we have a prop­erty that we don’t use, would you con­sider tak­ing it on for us? Af­ter the ex­pe­ri­ence we had with our own home we said no and that we just wanted some time out. They were quite per­sis­tent about it, though, and so even­tu­ally we took that prop­erty on. It went re­ally well and then it kind of be­came a re­fer­ral busi­ness and one af­ter the other we started to take on more prop­er­ties.”

About the same as leav­ing his cor­po­rate ca­reer, the Ormerods had a sec­ond child – an­other in­spi­ra­tion for Luxico as their travel needs changed from ho­tel rooms to home­s­tays. As luck would have it, Alex Ormerod’s pro­fes­sional back­ground was in ad­ver­tis­ing, work­ing with travel and tourism com­pa­nies, as well as a six-year con­sul­ta­tion with Mel­bourne Air­port to help bring more in­bound in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers to the city.

“With Tom’s prop­erty back­ground and my

ad­ver­tis­ing and travel back­ground, Luxico is a pretty good hy­brid,” says Alex. With Luxico, she says, Thomas’s fo­cus is on the prop­erty own­ers and hers is on the guests.

“We’re not just about the ac­com­mo­da­tion – we’re about all of the other touch points that make a hol­i­day a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Alex. “We al­ways talk about the ac­com­mo­da­tion be­ing the start­ing point for your hol­i­day, but re­ally the mem­o­ries are made from the ex­pe­ri­ences you have within it.” Luxico of­fers guests more than just an up­dated list of lo­cal restau­rants and ser­vices – it op­er­ates in much the same way as a lux­ury ho­tel does. The­atre tick­ets, restau­rant reser­va­tions, pri­vate tours, chauf­feur-driven cars, a home-cooked meal, mas­sages and spa treat­ments, babysit­ting and gro­cery shop­ping are just some of the add-ons avail­able to Luxico guests.

There is also a con­sis­tent level of pre­sen­ta­tion to all Luxico prop­er­ties. The com­pany has a strict rat­ings sys­tem in as­sess­ing whether to rep­re­sent a prop­erty or not. As well as lo­ca­tion and prox­im­ity to things of in­ter­est, Luxico prop­er­ties must be com­pletely ren­o­vated and well de­signed. Luxico ac­cepts less than 20 per cent of ap­pli­cants into its net­work. The com­pany sup­plies all its prop­er­ties with the same high-qual­ity bed linen and tow­els as well as Ae­sop bath­room ameni­ties. A gourmet ham­per with lo­cally sourced pro­duce and bare es­sen­tials is also sup­plied to guests. “We try and in­stil con­fi­dence that our guests will have the same ex­pe­ri­ence wher­ever they stay with us,” says Alex. “The com­mon thread is they want cer­tainty that they have some­one on hand when they need them, or some­one to speak to if there is a prob­lem.

“The big­gest chal­lenge has been how to scale op­er­a­tions with such big ge­o­graphic ar­eas and be sure that we can de­liver a con­sis­tent level of ser­vice,” she con­tin­ues. “And that has taken a bit of time to get right.” In Au­gust Luxico ac­quired the San Fran­cis­cobased tech­nol­ogy startup Hello Scout to help its concierge team bet­ter ser­vice guests. Hello Scout was de­vel­oped for ho­tels to take the pres­sure off their front desks and pro­vide lo­cal, ex­pert in­for­ma­tion – book­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, find­ing a nearby café – via text mes­sage.

“We will use it for our guests,” says Thomas Ormerod. “If they want to or­gan­ise, for ex­am­ple, a boat trip on Syd­ney Har­bour, we will send back a quote from a ser­vice provider and when a guests ac­cepts it the ac­tiv­ity will be booked and the charges will go on to their ac­count, like charg­ing some­thing to a ho­tel bill. If we have an in­cred­i­ble prop­erty that doesn’t have on-site staff be­cause of its lo­ca­tion, then we have the tech­nol­ogy to be able to sup­port train­ing some­body to be able to de­liver a Luxico stan­dard in that lo­ca­tion.”

Luxico’s guest pro­file is close to 50 per cent do­mes­tic trav­ellers and 50 per cent in­ter­na­tional, ac­cord­ing to Alex, with guests from the UK and the US rep­re­sent­ing 36 per cent of all in­ter­na­tional book­ings. Luxico has also part­nered with lux­ury tour op­er­a­tor Aber­crom­bie & Kent as its pre­ferred home ac­com­mo­da­tion provider in Aus­tralia. By the end of the year the com­pany plans to of­fer prop­er­ties in By­ron Bay in north­ern NSW, the Sun­shine Coast and Port Dou­glas in Queens­land.

“The ac­com­mo­da­tion is the start­ing point, but the mem­o­ries are made from the ex­pe­ri­ences you have.”

Alex and Thomas Ormerod started Luxico af­ter a trou­ble­some ex­pe­ri­ence leasing out their own house.

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