When Allison Crawford visited Los Angeles for Design Week in 2016, she stayed in her first short-term rental. Her less then ideal experience made her ask herself why there wasn’t a chic vacation rental brand with multiple locations that you could trust.
Crawford tells me, “Since Airbnb is now bigger than the world’s top five hotel brands put together, we wanted to be the first to bridge the gap between short term rentals and boutique hotels. In the summer of 2017, I opened the first HOTELette in Nashville and launched HOTELette Austin shortly after in the Fall of 2017. In Fall of 2018, HOTELette Dallas opened and in November of 2018, we launched the HOTELette Shop.”
When I inquire what her professional background is and how she got into the hospitality business she explains, “After graduating from Southern Methodist University with an Advertising degree, I sold radio advertising in Austin. My next job was selling copiers on Wall Street, which taught me the value of being relentless. I moved back to Dallas to take on a Director or Marketing position at an automotive company. I always had my side hustle of flipping houses and renovating properties. In 2015, I dove headfirst into my design firm, Allison Crawford Design, which helped me build a stronger foundation for HOTELette.”
Crawford had originally planned on naming her brand Casita Collection, but had a last minute change of heart while driving where the name HOTELette popped into her mind and she immediately had her attorney file a trademark for the name (which took a year to establish). “Multiple locations have always been part of my vision. I want people to have a vacation rental brand they trust and seek out wherever they go. I’m always scouting for new locations and plan to open another HOTELette in 2020. Austin, Marfa, and other top travel destinations are on the shortlist”, states Crawford.
Ironically, running multiple locations has presented it’s own set of challenges. Crawford continues, “The laws surrounding short-term rentals vary immensely and are constantly changing. The local legislature often determines where we can open our properties, and sometimes if we can keep our doors open. That said, managing short-term rentals across multiple markets has its own set of challenges. Initially, we outsourced property management, but quickly recognized that we needed a closer, more personal connection to our guests. We brought management for all properties in-house at the end of 2018.”
HOTELette is self-financed through traditional bank mortgages. “This has allowed us to maintain complete control over the brand, as well as demonstrate its profitability from day one. Call us old school in retaining total ownership at the expense of a more robust marketing budget, increased salary pool and other luxuries that go hand-in-hand with outside funding. This practice allows us to experiment freely with our systems, create something authentic and grow in a sustainable, intentional way. When you’re self-funded, you have to be scrappy. Focus on the essentials and be conservative. To me, this means scrapping the emphasis on an expensive office or lavish holiday parties, and emphasizing creative marketing tactics. In the future, to continue expanding at our current rate, we are entertaining outside investors who are passionate about our company culture and vision. We’re looking for someone who recognizes not only the profitability but importance of being hyper-local and supportive of a wide range of female creatives”, explains Crawford.
On whether she thinks her model is where boutique hospitality is headed Crawford responds, “The short term rental market begs for a boutique aspect. We’ve already seen that consumers are increasingly interested in renting homes (versus hotels), because of the private, gathering opportunities homes offer. With the growth of services like Airbnb, millennials are being conditioned to seek home shares over hotels, indicating a greater future demand for boutique short term rentals. As millennials prioritize travel over paying student loans or starting families, even more money will be allocated for luxury travel.”
Although I have not stayed at any of Crawford’s properties yet, I am drawn to her design aesthetic, which is similar to my personal style. Crawford tells me, “My aesthetic is something I call ‘Modern Vintage’, a vibe that leaves our core demographic (females aged 25-54) sharing the HOTELette experience on Instagram. This design-centricity wasn’t just an aesthetic choice, however. The “girlfriend getaway” market brings in over $200 million yearly. And, research on travel indicates the vitality of social media to hospitality. 87% of millennials—the largest generation to date—use social media for travel inspiration and planning, and 97% of them will post on social media while traveling. Not only are millennials discovering hospitality brands online, they’re prioritizing and spending more on brands that are hyper-local and instagrammable. To play into this, we’re leveraging lifestyle influencers and continuing to be hyper-local with tightly curated city guides.”
For those who want to bring a little HOTELette design inspiration home, you can visit Crawford’s online store. “The HOTELette Shop is a collection of home goods and decor that my team and I have sourced over our years of travel. As a designer, part of my vision for HOTELette was the opportunity we had to share furniture, art and home goods with my guests in hopes of inspiring them and their respective homes. Now, our guests and admirers are able to purchase quintessential HOTELette goodies like blankets, barware, art and pillows”, states Crawford.
Crawford continues, “As a female creative entrepreneur, it’s important to me that every piece in our store tells a story and gives greater, international exposure to fellow female creatives. It is my intention to weave supporting fellow female entrepreneurs into every aspect of HOTELette: from the women who staff my team, to the women who’ve created the art on our walls, to the women who’ve crafted the amazing homegoods and decor in our shop”, explains Crawford. This year, Crawford is launching a signature HOTELette Eau de Toilette and home fragrance and continuing to collaborate with fellow female entrepreneurs on the HOTELette Shop. We continue to be on the forefront of hospitality and travel trends while providing an award winning design experience.”