What inspired you to start curating and renting design apartments in Lisbon?
Five years ago I saw that tourism was growing in Lisbon, and recognised that this market would be massive. It would be a great business opportunity, but I knew I would need to differentiate my product to stand out in the short-term rental market.
I focused on up-scaling existing properties to cater to high-profile guests with an interest in design and historical environments. I realised millennial travellers are looking for authentic experiences and culture, something they couldn’t get if they stayed in standard hotels. I targeted this niche which wasn’t already being catered for. I started searching for apartments with soul – with an historic essence you can feel within them. The most important part of the project was ensuring that I got the right balance between respecting the historical spirit of the property, whilst updating it with sophisticated modern design.
How do you go about the design and renovation process once you’ve found the right place?
My background is as an engineer so my speciality is not in design and décor. When I started to work on my first apartment, I first consulted all with my wife – because all wives think they are great designers! [Laughs] But from the beginning I knew that I needed to work with professionals to ensure my apartments were the best they could be.
In addition to employing professionals, I realised that my renovation projects would be more successful if a design concept was decided on right from the beginning. If the vision is in place from the start, it influences the architectural layout and structure and ensures the final creation is more cohesive. On the other hand, if the architectural renovation is done before a design concept is agreed, you miss opportunities. When I initially raised this idea with the architects they weren’t happy that the interior design would dictate their architectural plans, but they agreed to give it a try and the end result was great.
So once you have your beautiful finished apartments, how do you go about hosting guests?
My wife and I manage all of the apartments. She runs the operation side of things whilst I focus on the marketing. I have an MBA in marketing and really enjoy it. The idea which drives my business is that I don’t sell a bed – I sell an experience. I am showcasing the city through my apartments.
I believe that the hosting process begins even before the guest arrives. Throughout the booking process I stay in touch with them, help them arrange the best transportation to the apartment, and offer tips on local secrets in the nearby area that they should visit. I also provide brochures highlighting the best non-touristy places to visit, so that they can get a truly authentic experience. I aim to provide an experience before they even arrive here; that is what I have strived to do since the beginning.
What do you think about the current state of tourism in Lisbon?
I think it is great that large numbers of people are coming to Lisbon, but it needs to be managed. The city used to be our secret and so it wasn’t built to cope with large numbers. Some people just say there are too many tourists but the real problem is that the city hasn’t been prepared for the influx in numbers. Infrastructures like transport need to be improved and we need to come up with ways to better distribute visitors, as at the moment they are concentrated in certain areas.
I personally believe that tourism is giving life to the city like never before. When I started investing in this area, people didn’t understand why I was doing it. Many buildings were in ruin, people were homeless on the streets, there was not enough electricity, and people wanted to get away. Tourism has rejuvenated the area, and now it is beautiful and vivid.