Nov. 30, 2021

How a Swissport Airport Exec Became the Renaissance Man of Vacation Rentals, with Simon Lehmann


Simon Lehmann is one of the most respected thought leaders and operational experts in the world of vacation rentals. Simon has been our mentor and friend for several years, but it wasn't until a couple months ago at VRMA International that we got to sit down with him and learn more about his personal and professional life prior to entering the industry.  This is Simon Lehmann like you've never heard before! His story is one of inspiration, innovation and putting real life experience to work for his businesses and clients.

Simon currently serves as President of AJL Consulting, and has  previously served in other major industry roles in his career including his time as CEO of Interhome (48,000 rentals under management during his tenure), Founder and Chairman of Vacasa Europe, and President of Phocuswright. 

But what most people don’t know is that Simon's impressive career began years earlier in the airport industry, where he worked his way up to become an executive with Swissport Worldwide.  Simon ran ground handling operations for several airports in Europe, managing 1000's of employees and by the time he turned 35, was responsible for $1.3 BILLION dollars in revenue. In this episode we dive into those early days that got him to where he is now, and then flash forward to talk about all things related to the current state of vacation rentals. Simon points out that in 2005, vacation rentals had a 5% category awareness. In 2021, it has soared to 80%. Is there room to grow the next 20%, and do we need/want that?  We also discuss homeowner retention, software choices, guest experience, the future of travel and how he believes blockchain will be the next major disruptor. Simon tells us about Dtravel, the first blockchain company to enter the vacation rental space that was just recently announced.

To quote one of Simon's inspirations, “There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Nelson Mandela

We couldn’t agree more. 

CONTACT SIMON LEHMANN
AJL Atelier
Simon Lehmann - Linkedin

CONTACT ALEX & ANNIE
AlexandAnniePodcast.com
LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Alex Husner - Linkedin
Annie Holcombe - Linkedin

Podcast Sponsored by Condo-World and Lexicon Travel  

Transcript

Unknown:

Welcome to Alex and Annie, the real women of vacation rentals. With more than 35 years combined industry experience. Alex user and any Holcomb have teamed up to connect the dots between inspiration and opportunity. Seeking to find the one story idea, strategy or decision that led to their guests big aha moment. Join them as they highlight the real stories behind the people and brands that have built vacation rentals into the $100 billion industry. It is today. And now it's time to get real and have some fun with your hosts, Alex and Annie

Alex:

Welcome to episode four of Alex and Annie. I'm Alex. And I'm Annie. And we have an amazing guest today who was very special to Annie and I, the one and only Simon Lehmann all the way from Switzerland. Simon. Welcome to the podcast.

Simon Lehmann:

Thank you. You know, the wonderful thing is to be here today. First of all, I want to congratulate you to launch this podcast to to blondies and today with the three blondies. Gray, but but this is great. And thank you for having me, me and Alex.

Alex:

Absolutely. We're so happy to have you here. And Simon, I don't know that you need a massive introduction in our industry. But I think we've got some people listening that aren't necessarily in vacation rentals. And just to give them a little bit of background about what they're about to hear and how amazing of a speaker they're about to hear from. Simon. He is currently CEO of ajl. Atelier previously was co founder and chairman of the Casa Europe, previous president of Focusrite and x board member of HomeAway and was the CEO of inner home, which was the largest vacation rental company in Europe. Simon remind me how many rentals that was.

Simon Lehmann:

Well, when I was departing in 2014. We were at 48,000 rentals. Yeah.

Alex:

Wow. Unbelievable. I mean, that's that's that's pretty amazing. Back then to Gosh. So that's that's his background. And in a nutshell, and most recently, Simon is involved with a new company called D travel, which is the largest blockchain company in vacation rentals. I'm I can't wait to dive into that. Blockchain is definitely something that we've all known as coming into the travel industry. And I was shocked and excited when I saw your LinkedIn post about a week ago about it. So we're really excited to hear more about that. Thank you. Beyond all that. Simon is Annie's mentor.

Annie:

Yes, yes, I'm a big, big fan of Simon. And so it's an honor to have you as one of our first guests of course. And that's kind of where I wanted to start Simon is you have such a fascinating history that you've shared with both Alex and I that I think a lot of people don't know about. And one of the things that we want to come across on our podcast is kind of the the real person behind the person, you know, what, what made Simon what he is, you know, and so for me, you've been mentoring me for the last couple years. And it's just meant the world to me pushing me outside my comfort zone. So I have to believe that there's some people that have pushed you along the way and helped make Simon the Simon that we all know and love. And so I'd love to hear about kind of your, you know, your story, your history, how you got to vacation rentals, because I know that's not where you started. And maybe some people that were important along the way.

Simon Lehmann:

Absolutely, um, first of all, once again, it's so great to be here. And I'm so happy to face a different type of podcasts. And I'm glad you guys launched it. And, and we can contribute to that accordingly. And industry. I think my biggest mentor was my my mother because she pushed me out of my comfort zone. Really, without a doubt because I come out of her very academic family. And I took the easy route and did an apprenticeship instead of going to university. And who cares, we can all achieve our goals. So I think, you know, it's a matter of what you believe, and understanding what are you strength? And where do you need to push your strengths you know, never push a person who can play basketball and playing tennis. Right? And, and that's what it's all about. And I think my father has totally understood this guy is not made for the for the bench in the school. He's made for the real world, right? So I entered the real world at the age of 17. Instead of going to university, I finished my nine years of compulsory school in Switzerland, and I faced the real world because I did an apprenticeship. And I learned to have big shoulders and big elbows. And and it was it was not a non academic way. But over the time I realized academia is important for several reasons, not just for the CV but just to understand more complexity and deeper insights and how financials work commercial world works. How marketing works, how everything else works. So, so for me, I needed to sort of lose my horns first. So I moved to Australian twin when I was 20 years old. And then I came back and I realized I need to add to my curriculum, some real knowledge in terms of commercial knowledge and financial knowledge. So I signed up for a bachelor and did that. And I realized that you know, things are can take you a lot further. So I think it's a good combination of real life experience. And and then also adding the right amount of academia to it. I believe going forward, I think real life experience is going to be more important than anything else. But we shall see how this is evolving. I

Annie:

think we talked about you actually were in the airline industry, space working airport management, was it?

Simon Lehmann:

Absolutely. So I was working with Swissport, one of the largest grant handling companies in the world, which was a part of Switzer group. We went through, obviously, a grounding, we went through, you know, the worst thing that an airline can go through, you know, one of the wealthiest and most common airlines, well known airlines in the world, like Swiss Air, went bankrupt at 911. And, and we had a lot of subsidiary companies. Now I was in the ground handling subsidiary, we were large scram handling company in the world. And I had a massive opportunity to go in there and, and deep dive into ground handling. My first station was Athens, where I managed 700 people, three airports, and then I went to Germany, Swissport, Germany, where I managed airports with three and a half 1000 staff. And then I ended up at the age of 35, being responsible of the commercial division of Swiss border, 1.3 billion Swiss franc to run the entire commercial division, or the sales of all Swissport worldwide. So, you know, my career was like a rocket ship. And and yeah, at the age of 35, I had 1.3 billion revenue responsibility.

Alex:

Wow, unbelievable. That's, that's just incredible to think. But, you know, a couple things that come to me, after what you just said, I mean, the the emphasis on education, that was obviously a big thing as you were growing up, and I know, You've done a lot of different work within our industry on the education side, right. I mean, the hotels out school and vacation rental University, and those types of things, which is there, there's not a lot of people out there that can pull together programs like that, but you know, you obviously have the background to, to be able to do that. And then the next part is, but then moving into the real life experience. I mean, you don't get more real life experience and being on the ground with was 700 people at the first airport. And then Germany, how many people was

Simon Lehmann:

that? You know? 1000? Yeah, yeah. I

Alex:

mean, unbelievable. And then $1.5 billion. That's, that's unbelievable, beginning to your career, but and it just, it makes sense, naturally, that you would be, you know, a consultant and professional and operations now, even though it's something completely different vacation rentals. Much different background there. But my gosh, I mean, you really know how to make things move and how to get the parts going in the right direction.

Simon Lehmann:

Yeah, absolutely. Alex, and I think, you know, if I can ask you, the word consultant is, is maybe difficult words to use with the experience that I have, right? So engaging with AGL a little bit of sales on our side is that you're not engaging with the consultant you're gauging with the life experience, company, love and, and I think that's, that's fundamental to us, and especially me as well, you know, at the age of 48, I decided to sort of, you know, aggregate my my world and life experience into one and build a firm, that, that I have the ability to share my experience. So, I would not call myself a consultant, any shape or form. I call myself as a partner that you can call with literally every challenge that you have, as you can appreciate having been CEO, literally 2025 years of my life. I mean, I've seen so many different things. I've seen corporate life, I've seen disasters I've seen, you know, airplane crashes, I've seen 911 I've seen groundings, I've seen SARS, I've seen a lot of different crisis. And at the end of the day, the value that we create is is the way we can create realities by experience, and then we can react to it and that also, you know, that's also point to the pandemic as well. How do we react to a pandemic? Because we've seen crisis before and I think, you know, we see ourselves as a partner to discuss this and advise value, and potentially, you know, help create solutions to the remedy, whatever it is, whatever the challenge might be. And that's how I see myself the experience that I've taken, I've, I've run massive management teams, I've run international companies across the world. And at the end of the day, I decided, hey, I want to be my own boss, I want to do what I've, what I'm passionate about all day long, and create a stellar team, and a culture that I've learned across the corporate world that you want to be and potentially what you don't want to be. And, you know, corporate world to the entrepreneurial world is, I mean, it's could not be different, right? And not everybody's made for that. And I would have never thought that the age of close to 50, I would become an entrepreneur, while I was running the corporate ladder. But now, I think, you know, we I found my spot where I can drive and where I can be enthusiastic and bring value to an industry that I love. endlessly, basically.

Alex:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, your team. And I've talked to several of them and worked with you a little bit in the past. And the one thing you guys really excel at is connecting the dots, you know, and really, that makes sense over your lifetime of being able to see all these different things that it might be a different industry, but you understand how they all merge together there and Roy Clyburn are the CEO of Condor world, who just passed away a couple of months ago, one of his favorite sayings was, you know, the most complicated problems, they call for simple solutions, you know, and we all look at a lot of the issues we have in travel now and in the technology atmosphere, that there are so many different things that we're constantly running against, but really, they there are simple solutions to them. But it's finding the right people to have at the table to bring those solutions to fruition. And you're definitely one of them. Know that and my time I've spent with you?

Simon Lehmann:

Well, absolutely, Alex, first of all, first and foremost, I'm really sorry for Roy, to leave us as an industry, head and thinker and in what he's done with con the world and in the industry that you're operating in, which is remarkable. And and, you know, that sort of teaches us that experience does not come by potentially degrees on University. experience comes with age, and you know, my hair are turning gray as well. And you know, think are you still useful? Yeah, I am. I feel like a 25 year old, and Roy was was equally enthusiastic until his very end and gave a lot of people believe and trust and opportunities in the industry. And I think we want to do the same, right? I mean, we are in in such an incredible industry, we can do so much more in where we're at. And we're only at the start of it, you know, and one thing I want to start here, quickly bringing in I mean, you know, one of my best, dear friends is called share but one of the founders of HomeAway, who came to San Antonio, and, you know, we need to think about the fact that 2005 week vacation rental in the United States had 5% category awareness, right. We're now at 80. So hey, guys, let's dive in. Okay, so let's deliver. So we need, you know, as the ROI has passed, and as time passes, and we continue to keep the values and drive for people have given us in terms of experience, we need to continue to do the same. And we need to be equally passionate. And we need to be equally focused on delivering that value, and raise the professionals professionalism of vacation rental, and situations like that, as sad as they are that gray to raise and, and understand and take them to the next level.

Alex:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean that the needle keeps moving. But at the end of the day, it's just a different target now and the professionalization is so important, and something that we continue to focus on, but you look back just you know, five, eight years ago, and it was really just awareness at that point. But you know, to your point 80% exposure in the market, my gosh, yeah, there's there's only 20% More we can go to so let's make sure that that 80% is getting an incredible experience when they stay in our inventory.

Simon Lehmann:

Yeah, absolutely. I think we don't need to 20 To be perfectly honest, Alex. Yeah, I think if we if we can maintain an ad category awareness, and the latest Deloitte Report that has been created on the tailwind of for CASA going public. It's interesting that finally we see some Goldman Sachs reports. We see now some some Deloitte reports. Yes, you know, a few years ago wouldn't even know what we're doing all day long. And we're creating 190 billion industry. I mean, come on. So a Let's beat the drum here. But to your point, you're totally right. So I think we will see a lot more tailwind. But one thing that we need to be very careful about that we can you know, the suggested tailwind that the Lord put puts out that people have first rented in COVID 75% said, we want to rent again. And and that's a big number, right? So they want to come back to our vertical, but we need to make sure we can keep them. And that I still believe is one of our biggest challenges. How do we make that happen? How do we get create the guest experience? How do we keep them to our vertical because their traditional non renters, you know, let's face it, pre COVID, not 2019 Focusrite said 36% category awareness now we doubled that even more. So that means we need to make sure we can deliver a seamless guest experience. So tech, technology adoption is going through the roof. And and for our very fragmented industry, that's not an easy task. So I think we need to do a lot more on education, we need to, you know, we need to get the the property managers up to speed what is out there and technology, education, and work as a voice.

Annie:

So that actually brings me to a question. We talked about the professionalism, we talked about changing the industry and making the industry better at what it can be. And I think that professionalism is a big piece it's missing. But the one of the biggest things that I've noticed, just on my side of the equation is the technology, the technology is continuing to change. And so for vacation rentals, they were kind of stuck in. I will say though, the dark ages of technology, but definitely not moving as fast as like the hospitality hotel sector was and so COVID exacerbated the need to have the technology in place and the adoption of technology. And so I would ask you, from your 30,000 foot view of the industry, what do you think are the biggest pieces of technology to change it going forward? Like where do you think the industry is gonna go with technology?

Simon Lehmann:

Great question me, and I'm happy to come down to 5000 feet even less than that

Alex:

airline operator.

Simon Lehmann:

So let's go for landing lands lands. Landing is going to be a constantly datian. And I think, you know, this fragmentation has been absolutely unbelievable. And it's not sustainable, especially when you look at the virtualization. You know, one thing I want to point out, and which I pointed out many, many times is that, you know, the value proposition that vacation rental has is actually very simple. We're connecting guests with owners. That's all we do. Right? Yeah, I mean, that's I mean, it I mean, can't be simpler than that. It's like me going to the farmer and buying my eggs. That's that's the simplicity. Right? And why don't we all make it so complex, and everybody tried to get a niche of the verticalization. So if we look at the verticalization, between organising guests, we talking about potentially 25 verticals. In between that channel managers, PMS is revenue management systems, you name them all. House automation, additional services, photograph furs, whatever. And, you know, it's clearly we see two things a material, any trick question is one is hotel companies will come into this space without a doubt. SiteMinder has just become a unicorn. So everybody would dream if they would not come into our space. Cloudbeds is not far behind. So and then we have muse who is super well capitalized. So the hotel companies have finally realized especially younger hotel hospitality, like software companies have realized there is a space that we need to take because they have taken the growth from 2019. Literally, I mean, it, you know, the data shows that, you know, yesterday, I was at the World Tourism forum in Lucerne on a panel. And then the final question of the moderator was, you know, when do we recover as a travel in travel? And he looked at me, and I said, Well, we've already covered so, you know, 2021 has seen higher numbers than 2019. So where is your question? We have recovered, we have recovered. So I think in terms of technology, I think there is aggregation, those consolidation happening. So people, companies buying others, there is private equity capital coming into the space, and there is hotel software companies coming into the space. So we see three different dynamics that coming into the space and the ones who cannot make it they will fall out at the bottom. So we have a lot of fragmentation as our industry is fragmented anyway, in terms of PMs and smaller tech companies, but the larger ones will either potentially raise more capital and expand the value proposition, or they're being acquired by companies who are coming down the hotel space. I mean, let's face it SiteMinder, after they're going public IPO in Australia has now $600 million on the bank account. And and, you know, it will be mad to believe that they will not think about the vacation rental industry to start investing into the tech space. Right.

Alex:

Right. And it's interesting, because it's like, there's two completely polar ends of this, that I see the new software companies that are coming into vacation rental market that when we were at vrma, we went around, we did a demo of just about all of them. And the newest ones that have the most funding that are the shiny is that, you know, they've got 30 developers standing there. To us that actually use the software and we have our own proprietary software, a lot of the things just didn't make sense. And maybe that's just us. But you know, going, having a legacy company that's been around for 35 years, the way that we use our software is how it's truly made to be used by operators. And I think that's one thing that I worry about, for these new companies that are coming in, it's easy to get sidelined by how nice it looks and how, you know, up to date, everything is but at the end of the day, the functionality just is off on some cases. And that's one side of it. The other side of it is the true entrepreneurial side of our industry, that there's a lot of operators out there that are making their own solutions, that they are one offs that work for themselves and possibly for others, but they've got that core, you know, backbone and foundation of what is truly needed to run the business. And you know, somewhere in the middle, there's where it needs to be from a software side.

Simon Lehmann:

But it's a great point to raising Alex and you know, my question back to you when was on the world founded in

Alex:

1985 1985.

Simon Lehmann:

Okay, wow. Okay, so, there we go. You makes me blush. You know, you know, my daughter was born a little bit later than that. But let's leave it to that. That's, you know, that's already explains the answer, you know, in terms of where was con the world at that time? And what do they need? You know, it's interesting to say, to the point that you raise is that if you look at the US market, and you look at the European market, you know, European 50% of of property managers have proprietary PMS. Yeah. They're sick, because the business is so much older. And you know, not to your age, not to my age. Yeah. It's just the nature of the industry and how it is evolved. This is crazy. And this is something that I've found that very early, when I looked at US market that you have far less propriety technology, because the industry is literally younger now. And that's right. So but first of all I need to mention to the audience, ladies and gentlemen, vacation rental is older than hotels, because we shared our caves with our fellow colleagues when we were hunting mammoth. So

Alex:

we didn't just start with Airbnb.

Simon Lehmann:

No, no, Brian Chesky. did not. I am very loud about this. And I will continue on that. But we don't have time for that. So no, going back to technology. Alex, is this an interesting point? And I think, you know, I'm, you know, to that argue to that argument? I think I would, I would, I would say the following. I think it really much depends what your ultimate goal is with your own business. And I think that's really fundamental, in terms of what you do on the tech side, right. I think there is great technology out there that you can literally take off the shelf, whoever PMS that is that serves to your purpose. Sometimes I really wonder how a certain pm cannot accept the technology from a PMS because it doesn't fit its own requirements. I mean, that's just, I mean, that's a joke, right? We need to we do the same thing we connect and guests with ours. That's all we do. So don't argue to me, my basis is different. But I think ultimately depends on the strategy. Where do you want to go with your business? How do you want to grow? What's your what is your potential exit strategy, that you say, Okay, I want to rather have a proprietary system that I can control leverage franchise, you know, there's many aspects to it, or I simply take a PMS that serves maybe not 100% but 90% of my, my requirements, it serves it I'm happy to use that and I can run my business and that's fine. I think that that's what it boils down to. So it's really you know, what, what, what is you what is your case? What is your story? What do you need that differentiates if you go for proprietary, and and and an off the shelf technology? And I would say now in In today's world, in most cases, you know, using technology that is available to you is is definitely making total ends meet. And proprietary technology is something like you get into this fear like a casa turnkey, like, once again referring to the Santonio interview set I was able to have at the vrma. Is that also something that that, how Shepard said, you know, above 1000 units he needs to start making do go proprietry Mo, this an off the shelf software?

Alex:

Yeah, absolutely. I think the type of inventory makes a big difference to when Annie and I are both from markets where the type of inventory they are condo resort on site properties for the most part, and that's different than a beach home market. And it's interesting, I know, first time I met you, Simon was at Rez fest, and almost every speaker except for you a called called all just call them homes. I mean, there was nobody ever said the word condo at that entire conference, I thought, gosh, we don't fit in here. But but that's you know, that's that's part of where the industry I think, you know, there's there's challenges when we work with a lot of resorts here that their their condo hotels, and that's what's in Panama City to where Annie is. And, you know, they operate as vacation rentals, they're owned by owners, but they, the hotel technology doesn't really work for them. And vacation rental technology doesn't really work for them. And we've built some different connections there to get some of our partners in our local market onto the vacation rental platforms, because we've got that technology understanding in the middle there. But that's that's definitely a problem I see for the industry in that specific type of inventory. And there's a lot of, especially in these beach destinations, that there's there's gonna be some big changes in the next couple years. But that's definitely one of the big ones for that side of inventory.

Simon Lehmann:

Yeah, I agree. You know, the, the question is, Alex, when when are the changes happening? I think the changes are happening slowly. Right. And they're happening all the time. So I think, you know, I wouldn't want to predict massive changes immediately, I think we have seen how the environmental take is starting to evolve. It's a matter of capital, it's a matter of market reach, and many other things and what is happening to, to the industry in itself in terms of its fragmentation. But you know, I wouldn't put a timeline to it. It's just happening. And it's happening slowly or faster. And when it's happening, we will see.

Annie:

So on that the advancements in the technology and kind of game changers, I think you announced about a week or so ago, your involvement in a new blockchain travel site or travel channel, maybe you can explain it called D travel.

Simon Lehmann:

D travel. Absolutely thank you any to pick to pick that up. And, you know, I'm so enthusiastic about it. And you know, this is not a Steve Milo bashing OTA session here, in any shape or form. But what it is, is is about understanding what is happening to the industry. And one thing that AGL and myself have been always very strong about this to talk about margin compression by the OTS who's taking our margin, and who delivers the value proposition, you know, who cleans the toilet? Who cleans the oven? And who does what needs to be done in a property? That's not the OTAs. And I think we could agree on that. And it's not about OTA bashing, but it's about, you know, we're taking a margin from actually operating. So this is, you know, this is the 100 billion dollar question me and I can go for about three hours on this. But let me let me try to phrase this for a second. So, so one thing that we're bad at, and I made a lot out here that a detour a few a few weeks ago in Spain, to say we're still doing a shitty job of promoting our value proposition to homeowners, because people don't know what property managers do, right? They just have no clue. Because we do so much for their properties for the guests for everything that is around it. And we need to get better that that's point number one. Point number two is that we need to make sure that our margin does not compress further, because otherwise we can't make money and then which will result we become the glory flied cleaning companies of Airbnb. And nobody wants to do that. Right. So who wants to be called a glorified cleaning company for Airbnb or booking.com or Expedia? Rebo. They'd all do a great job. They're giving us demand 80% of property managers in the US using third party demand, but they pay for it. And it's expensive, because the owners get smarter to the owner say hey, why should I pay you? 30% If I can list on Airbnb for five. So you know, this is a challenge. And then we are bad at communicating our value proposition to tell them, hey, but we do this, this this, this we do customer care, we do the check in the checkout we do we take care of all their inquiries, we do get screening, we do insurances, we do everything. And you don't want to pay for that. Well, what is the future, that is blockchain, blockchain will disintermediate, anybody who is in the middle of taking something that they don't really add value to. So one thing that I'm so strong about, we need to be extremely passionate about the fact that we are not becoming the Kleenex of this industry. If somebody says I did an Airbnb, well, we become the Kleenex of this industry, because of the Hoover or whatever. And that is something that we cannot allow to happen. Because it's the property managers, it's the one who do the guest experience at the last mile that delivers the service. That's not it, that the distribution channel, so we need to disintermediate our distribution. So we can not let OTAs take it all half of our margin or even more, while we deliver 90% of the experience and the value that is being generated in booking property or condo, whatever. So I'm a huge fan of new technologies. And that's why I got engaged with the travel, which is the first decentralized autonomous organization in vacation rental, that builds a technology on blockchain, where you can list your property, and you connect directly to the guest without any fees whatsoever. You have a say in the business, you basically determine everything that goes on in that business. And because you you're part loaner, I mean, that's the future blockchain technology is the future. And in travel. Interesting enough, you can see a lot of different travel cases, you can see airlines, you can see cruise ships, you can see rental cars, and everything else. But the vacation rental Interesting enough, is actually the most obvious use case for blockchain technology. Because you disintermediate the connection between guests and hosts. And that does not reduce that to property managers, of course, because you control that unit. So I mean, this is a perfect type of this intermediating, how you can connect to guests without having to pay the middleman, who, at the end of the day, I mean, let's face it, literally creds not that much value, because what they do better, they create an engine, they spend money in Google in Mountain View, get a higher ranking, that's where they're listed. And that's where your booking is coming from. I mean, that is not ultimately a sustainable business model. And, you know, as we love the OTAs, and we do business with them, they need to reinvent as well how we can make this more effective. But blockchain technology is here to disrupt that distribution space heavily. Because you can do that at zero commission, you add the supply, you bring you to the consumer, and there's no commission and to be in between.

Alex:

Right And and I think we're already past that point, or a lot of companies are that they fall into that trap that guests just look at them as it is just an Airbnb, and whether they even booked it on Airbnb or not, it doesn't matter, but that they have become the Kleenex. And, you know, I think there's still room to to change that. And as more attention comes into the market. So I think there's room for that to continue to turn back to the property managers and the brands that are servicing those guests. But it definitely takes a concerted effort to do that. And in any industry, you you, what's the saying don't build your house on someone else's land. I mean, that couldn't be more true here that, too, for these newer companies that depend on Airbnb and VRBO for their entire revenue source, you know, or, you know, 80 90% That is such a dangerous position to be in. So I just I hope that companies start understanding that that's, that's not something that can continue, and I think most of them do, but where where do you see the future with D traveling and what are the next steps? And I think the value proposition is there 100% And it makes a ton of sense. But what are the next steps to continue to grow that?

Simon Lehmann:

Absolutely. I like to think it's its education. Its educational aspects, you know, get people familiar what blockchain is, what Doa is, what is it these decentralized autonomous organization? What does that mean? What is a token? What is blockchain? What is cryptocurrency? Get people at ease and what disease models provides you I think education is the first piece that we need to put a lot of effort in for people to understand and you know, the point that you raised, I could not agree with you more. But I think the problem of our industry overall, on top of what I just said, is, we need to start become proud in what we're doing. We need to raise the voice and make sure we communicate the value proposition to our owners. And what we really do. Because people have no clue what property management does, there is no education for it, there's no university for it, we did it by accident. And now we're passionate about it. But we need to get better at communicating our value proposition to make sure people understand what the value is, once people understand what the value is that we create, to owners and guests, then we have the ability to use different types of technologies to go that way. But we need to start first in grouping together as, as an organization, as a vertical in the industry, and make make a voice we have laboratory issues we need to face we have a lot of different issues we need to face, but we're so disintermediated we so we so fragmented, because we're all trying to survive and do our best thing that we can, but we need to become an industry voice that we can raise that create a vertical and then we can provide blockchain solutions that allows people to own and rent properties at free commission, because you can go directly to the source. And, and so there is a lot of work we still need to do, besides professionalization, and technology adoption, and then many other things, but we need to be proud of what we do in our industry, make that aware to the to the stakeholder and, and communicate that accordingly to everybody out there in the world. So

Annie:

I one other thing that I think I Arby's all of our guests, you're you're very present in the industry, and you present on a lot of panels and go to a lot of conferences, and I think there is a conference that was going on or just wrapped up in Switzerland that you are at the World Tourism forum. Maybe take us through that and what that means to the industry.

Simon Lehmann:

No, absolutely. I think my my job adverts was in forum was to basically tell their opinion leaders in World Tourism to tell that vacation rental is the vertical that has recovered the fastest by all the travel verticals, and that we're here to stay and we do anything to professionalize that vertical. So that was an incredible you know, we talked about cruise, we talk about hotels, we talk about airlines, that's what No, this is all fluffy, nice to touch. We love cruise ships, we love hotels, but a vacation rental does not is still but still doesn't enjoy the attention that it should, at a high level of of, you know, travel conferences, and whatever. And the World Tourism Forum has started to understand that vacation rental is is here to stay and has reached 80% category awareness. And now we need to deliver because people want to enjoy the product. So I mean, that was incredible to mingle with. You know, I was in a panel with the CEO of tui cruises. They have 12 cruise ships, you know, on the ocean, we all smile, cruises wonderful. And then we come at vacation rental. And when I walked out and say goodbye to her after panels, she says, you know, let me know when you want to have vacation rental on a cruise ship. And you know, that was a great finishing line to see that all travel verticals will have to come closer together to create value and to the consumer at the end of the day. And I think everybody has realized what did he you know, post COVID, everybody has understood what my dependencies are in terms of running my business. And I think we've become far more open and liberal to talk to each other to create value to the travel world overall. And vacation rental sees this massive tailwind and to be honest, with the expertise and everything that we have, we will struggle. So we need to partner with other industry verticals like hotels, to actually help us to accelerate the success that we had.

Annie:

I think that we just have so much opportunity. And I think again, where we've all everybody that we talked to and Simon, we've talked to you about this at length, you know, the COVID gave us our voice. Both I think out you know, personally, Alex and I talked about it gives our personal voice gave us our company's voice. But it's given the industry a voice that it really didn't have before. So I appreciate you bringing all of that to us. And of course sharing all of your amazing knowledge and experience. And so we're getting kind of at the end here and want to wrap up and I told you in the beginning, we wanted to throw some questions at you way or your ways and curveballs but they're they're really soft balls. I was going to ask you about what you're most passionate about. But I think there's no question about what you're most passionate about. Nobody could mistake that one. But I would ask you what is something in your career, you know, either professionally or personally what are you most proud of that you want to leave a lasting legacy for people to remember you for?

Simon Lehmann:

Well, that's probably the acquisition of inter chalet from interhome, which double their size. I think that's an acquisition that I literally worked on for eight years to make it happen. And and I think, you know, making us twice the size of intro into Shala was probably the most priceless thing that I ever did. Well, that

Annie:

certainly was it was a big game changer in the industry. So I'm going to let Alex wrap it up for us, because she's got a couple of questions to ask you.

Alex:

What's something that inspires you? I mean, when difficult times that we all get in our career, you know, what, what makes you want to keep going, what makes you wake up, even when the news is not good? And we feel like, you know, there's just that next thing that's always in the way what what keeps you motivated to continue to keep innovating? I

Simon Lehmann:

question Alex, you know, the brown eyes of my five year old looking into my eyes and says, barely get up. I mean, that's priceless, right, so So having five children get energy from all different ages, and, and how they do see them growing up, and, and what troubles that they have, and they don't have, I mean, you know, I could not get a better level of energy from the children that I have, and I love my kids to bits and, and they give me every day, they give me motivation, because their troubles are so small, and we need to you know, they're so honest, and they're so you know, truthful, it's a blessing. So that's, that's on the family side. And obviously, my wife and I were a great team, we found that this company together AGL is named after our kids. So we have a big foundation in how we believe, to drive value that we have not seen in our corporate worlds, you know, my wife and I, we had 2530 years of corporate experience. And we learned a lot of good things, but we learned a lot of bad things. And an Our ambition is to apply everything that we've learned in the corporate life to AGL and make make leadership make staff satisfaction and everything better. But last but not least, my biggest energy point is Nelson Mandela. You know, I've I've read all his books, you know, way to freedom is probably the most powerful book that I've ever read in my life. Somebody who's been in prison for 27 years for his belief is is just second to none. And I was I was in the fortunate situation to follow his footsteps. I've met him personally, I've been to the prison cell of you know, I literally went after the book, good friends of ours in Johannesburg work lift very closely to his house. So So for me, you know, Nelson Mandela is somebody that that lift the spirit that you can sacrifice a lot to actually achieve what what you believe in? And that's, you know, besides my family, one of my biggest motivation?

Alex:

Oh, that's awesome. I love all those answers in that one question. And, you know, I will mention, Andy and I were in one of your sessions at vrma, that the most, you know, authentic and wonderful moment happened while you were on stage, that your daughter called, and you forgot to put your phone on silence. And instead of turning it away, in front of, you know, had probably 75 people in the audience you picked up and you said, Hi, honey, I'm in the middle of a meeting right now and, and FaceTime with her and you showed her the audience, and you call her back afterwards, but it was there was just a really sweet moment. And just, you know, shows the, how much you love your children. And I, you know, got to know you a little bit more personally on that last trip. And it was great to hear about them. So it's we wanted I

Simon Lehmann:

think for Alex blows that sorry to interrupt you. I'm very sorry. That summarizes it. Its authenticity. Yeah, you know, that's what I want to be, you know, I'm a human being, I'm tired. I've got gray hair, I'm getting fat, you know, things are changing in my life. But I want to be authentic. I want to be I want to be what people see and what that people get. And you know, that call for my daughter, once again, was totally unplanned. It was totally coincidence. I mean, I told the audience, turn off your mobiles, and I get one. Because you I knew for my wife before I got on stage, I was really homesick. She was in a writing class, a writing camp, and she was her first camp away from home. And she was super homesick. And she didn't know where I was. So I took that. And it was it was not a PR gig. It was not staged, it was purely authentic. And, and the reaction was just mind boggling. Because that's what life is all about. And I think we need to make sure in our lives, that we let we allow life happen, and we have space for that, right?

Alex:

Absolutely. Yeah, authenticity is a big thing. And that's definitely what Andy and I have tried to do with this podcast is you know, be our authentic selves and bring our ourselves to the table every day as we have these interviews and I know today was was one those days. So we appreciate having you and you opening up to us and telling us a few stories that maybe haven't been heard on some of the podcasts as well as the flan. org. And, and share some of the big news too. I mean about D travels is so exciting. We can't wait to watch and see how that continues for you and for that team. But any anything else

Annie:

we need now. Now again, I mean, humbled as always, Simon, just appreciate your time because you are busy man. But we are grateful and very blessed and fortunate to be in your orbit. And thank you for all of your guidance and support and friendship, first and foremost. So when if anybody is interested in reaching out to you and your company, what's the best way for them to get ahold of you?

Simon Lehmann:

Great question. LinkedIn, Simon Lehman, le H Ma, double n at LinkedIn, you'll find me Simon dot Lehman at AGL atelier.com is another one great to reach me. And, yeah, I mean, you know, we're out there, we're visible. I think ajl affiliates, the best way to contact ourselves on our web page. And I want to thank you both for your initiative for, you know, trying to like being different in our industry and having a good approach in where you want to get to in terms of your questions and, and putting the human aspect at the forefront of what we are in this industry. I think that makes it very special. I want to thank you, Alex, and Annie for taking the initiative to do so. Once again, I would love to be at a woman's summit as well. And hope you have a great conference there as well. I thank you dearly for having me on your on your podcast. And yeah, I love to be in this industry and continue the conversation.

Alex:

I hope we'll see you at vrma Chicago in the spring. Will you be there?

Simon Lehmann:

No comment at all. Yeah. We've just expanded our organization in the United States. We have now you know, we've we've expanded our footprint. And now I can maybe reduce my travel a little bit. And last but not least, I'm really sorry about my background. But I'm sitting in Switzerland. It's now very dark outside. So my lights,

Alex:

oh, no, we can still see. We can see. Well, you'll have to let it maybe Annie and I we need to go international. We'll come over there and go to one of your events, if not over here, but thank you again. And we'll include Simon's contact information in the show notes. If you want to reach me and I can go to Alex and Annie podcast calm and that links to all of our social media and contact forms. So thank you again, Simon. It's been a pleasure and we look forward to connecting with you again soon.

Simon Lehmann:

Likewise, thank you ladies. Bye

Simon Lehmann Profile Photo

Simon Lehmann

CEO/Co-Founder AJL Atelier

Simon is one of the world’s foremost experts on short-term rental and vacation rental. He leads AJL Atelier, a specialised vacation rental and business consultancy while also advising multiple companies as Board Member and Executive Chairman.
A sough-after speaker, panellist and moderator, Simon loves to broach high-level and technical topics alike, from the future trends of short-term rental to the specifics of online distribution in the top 5 OTAs.

Previously, Simon was the Co-Founder & Chairman of Vacasa Europe, former President of PhocusWright and ex-Board member of HomeAway, to name but a few. He’s also an accomplished operator, having led Interhome as CEO, Hotelplan Group as Deputy CEO and Swissport as EVP.