When Maserati launched its new SUV last year the luxury car brand didn’t splash out on a five-star hotel, instead photographers rolled up to Baz Luhrmann’s historic Italianate manor, Iona, in inner Sydney.
TV, advertising and film locations along with events have become an offshoot of the luxury home rentals sector, which also caters for a new generation of far more demanding travellers, according to Matthew Fleming, managing director of Contemporary Hotels. The boutique accommodation firm runs a 200-home stable, last year doubling its inventory after buying competitor Luxe Houses, and is considering a separate events division.
In the past few years, the upper end of the market has moved away from the traditional holiday rental “where little things could be forgiven”, says Fleming. “Instead, there is a demand for perfection, similar to a stay at a five-star hotel.”
Guests expect housekeeping that is perfect, a meet and greet on arrival, champagne, a fruit bowl and flowers, says Fleming.
“It’s nothing like the old approach where the keys were under the door and linen was in the cupboard.”
That “demand for perfection” will only become greater, he believes. “People travel more, people are more inclined to stay in a house rather than a resort and expect it to be better each time. The more you use it, the more you expect of the experience,” he says.
The Contemporary Hotels business was founded by former model and creative director Terry Kaljo who, in the mid 1990s started with a letter box drop in Sydney’s Palm Beach to see if owners would rent their homes.
In 1996, she bought Rockridge, a four-bedroom house above Palm Beach, later adding a home near Port Douglas and one on Bedarra Island. The family owns four homes and two apartments, with a farm stay near Berry to be added. “If I can prepare it in time,” says Fleming, who is Kaljo’s son.
“This (the farmstay) was my investment, we bought a 100 acre dairy farm on the south coast and it will be part of the letting pool at some stage, but the family are enjoying it too much.”
The vast majority of the portfolio is managed on behalf of the homeowners, with many being full-time holiday rental properties where the calendar is managed on a weekly basis, rather than rented a few weeks or months a year when the owners are on holidays themselves.
At the top of the company’s stable is Eclipse, a modern five-bedroom ocean front at Palm Beach on Sydney’s northern beaches that rents for $35,000 a week in the high season.
There is also a batch of homes designed by high-profile architects including a Harry Seidler house in the NSW southern highlands and Peter Stutchbury’s ‘‘Invisible House’’ in the Blue Mountains.
The family also own the 18-room Medusa hotel in Sydney’s Darlinghurst and owned the 40- room Kirketon nearby until its sale in 2004.
“If another hotel opportunity presented itself, we would take it,” says Fleming. “But the luxury holiday rental industry is growing at such a dramatic pace,” he adds, noting that the immediate focus is on managing the up-market holiday homes.
Fleming started out at the Medusa and the Kirkton, “putting legs on beds and housekeeping”, later working for the Commonwealth Bank for six years mostly in trading, and moving to Japan in 2009 managing holiday properties for a resort in Niseko.
“When I found my way back here, I found a market I had gained a passion for,” he says.
Fleming only expects the holiday rental market to grow. “My generation and younger than me, they are not investing in property, they are investing in experiences,” the 36-year-old says.
“With the price of real estate, owning a home is pretty much dead and buried … for a little while at least.”