Piano player in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona. Photo by Barb DeLollis.

Piano player in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona. Photo by Barb DeLollis.

Luxury travelers who typically book pricy hotels (think Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Mandarin Oriental, St. Regis, Trump) are increasingly asking their travel agents about renting mansions and luxury apartments. They may be going to New York, Paris or London, and they may be a group of Millennials or a multi-generational group.

That was one of the findings that came out of a roundtable discussion with top luxury travel advisors held recently at the Terranea resort in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif. The travel-advisor summit was assembled by Destination Hotels & Resorts, which runs the high-end resort. The agency executives – who regularly put together leisure trips that cost $50,000 – were from leading travel agency companies including American Express, Valerie Wilson Travel and Pro Travel.

From the agent’s perspective, they’re seeing some of these services – such as London-based OneFineStay.com – intent on growing their share of luxury clients.

“Just as Uber evolved the limo business, the villa business has taken a twist,” Mickey Weill, vice president of business development for Protravel International. “One Fine Stay (is) engaging the agency community. They realize the value of us being salespeople.”

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The agents said that their customers have heard about Airbnb, and like the idea of trying something new and trendy that’s local and authentic. It’s not about saving money; instead, it’s about bragging rights, they said.

Despite the success of Airbnb, some luxury hoteliers believe they may be immune to the growing short-term-rental trend made famous in the USA by the San Francisco-based company. But it was clear from the agents’ behind-the-scenes experience that this isn’t true.

What the agents said about the growing request to rent high-end homes and apartments was of interest to Jan Freitag, a senior vice president with hotel industry tracker STR who advises hoteliers on trends. Freitag spoke at the conference.

“What I found interesting is that it sounds like the high-end traveler is now saying to their travel advisor, ‘I’m going to build my own packages and amenities. Just give me the room,’” he said.

“Hoteliers have to be very aware of a potential shift in buyer behavior, and they have to ask themselves, ‘What are we offering that makes our experience attractive to a traveler who right now is looking at Airbnb and other RBOs (rentals by owner)? How can we make that interesting and authentic so that they don’t jump?’”

Some of the advisors raised concerns about using these services, because some cities like New York have banned declared them illegal. They also point out that they can’t guarantee quality or even safety for their clients, like they can with luxury hotels.

Readers: Are you considering short-term rentals for your business or leisure trips? Why or why not?