Imagine waking up in a king size bed with just one problem: do you go for a morning dip in the jacuzzi in the ensuite bathroom of your bedroom, the pool just next to the beautiful, sun-filled terrace outside or the Mediterranean a short trek from your front door?
For those not on the cheapest of holidays, this might be an actual contemplation. Now, Finnish travel startup Villada is making decisions like this more and more common among regular holiday-goers.
“We noticed that villas were only really available through global sites,” Villada CEO Tommi Lehtonen explains. “There was no domestic option and no way to receive customer support in Finnish.”
Villada’s idea is to tie together the simplicity of a booking site and the customer service and helpfulness of a travel agency. The service was launched in Finland in 2014. Lehtonen and co-founder Eerik Rusanen decided to focus on destinations that were within an easy reach from Finland and already popular in the market, such as the Greek Islands, Italy and Portugal.
The villas are handpicked, and they have to tick a fair few boxes on the list of qualities to make the cut for Villada’s offering. Lehtonen isn’t willing to go into too much detail, but one of the demands is that the villa is available in its entirety; Villada doesn’t offer individual rooms or floors, only entire houses. Also, most properties have their own swimming pools.
Aiming for the top spot
Villada aims to be the number one premium villa service in the Nordic market by 2020. At the end of last year, the company gathered almost half a million euros from investors, and the sum was used to expand cross the pond to the Swedish market.
According to Lehtonen, Sweden has exceeded all expectations. After significantly less time in the market, the booking figures are on the same level as in Finland. During the course of this year, Villada will enter some of the remaining Nordic countries.
“In general, we believe there’s plenty of potential in the Nordic market,” Lehtonen notes.
At the moment, Villada offers around 600 villas in nine countries. The number is constantly on the increase; Lehtonen says that when in the beginning Villada was reaching out to the villas, now the villas are coming their way proactively. Lehtonen anticipates that the list will include at least a thousand options by the end of the year.
The company has also proven safe for investors. It’s profitable as things stand, and investments go to growth and development. This keeps risks at a reasonable level.
Going where customers want to go
New destinations are constantly sought; the Villada duo is keen to hear where travellers want to head for their vacations. With its growing number of customers, the company is in a good place when it comes to finding villa owners.
“In practice, whenever we suggest collaboration, we don’t tend to hear anyone say no,” Lehtonen tells.
At the moment, Villada employs its two founding fathers plus one, who’s in charge of the Swedish operations. With the sales numbers skyrocketing, soon there’ll be room for customer service personnel and a developer. When new countries get on board, each market will have someone looking after customers locally.
Being in the travel business comes naturally to the duo, as Lehtonen and Rusanen are seasoned travellers themselves. During their studies, they did an exchange in Barbados, interned in Russia and participated in courses in the UK together.
Now, they both tend to spend their holidays in Villada villas.
“But we no longer travel together,” Lehtonen says. “These days, we tend to take our holidays separately.”