The Comforts of Home
Building on the trend to travel with the comfort of home, the Four Seasons addsthe extra benefit of luxury amenities to the package
Where do you like to stay when you travel? Do you prefer a hotel, a spa resort, a camper or maybe the residence of a complete stranger? Don’t think I’m crazy; people do it all the time, especially when they’re looking for a different environment with all the same comforts of home. Personally, I enjoy the freedom it can provide. When you opt for a hotel, you’re faced with forging for meals at restaurants and staring at the same four walls during your stay—unless you get a suite. Sometimes that’s not so bad if it’s just a day or two. But for a long vacation, I love having the opportunity to spread out with a bedroom, separate living area, dining room and—most importantly—a kitchen.
The concept of vacation rental rather than hotel or resort stay is not new, but it is a trend on the rise. It's something Austin-based HomeAway.com figured out a few years ago and has since found a way to build a big, thriving, high-profile business. (The company had its Initial Public Offering in June of this year and is currently listing more than 800,000 homes for vacation rental worldwide—589 listings in the Austin area alone.)
“Vacation rentals make great sense for families and groups because of the added space and privacy. Plus, they typically cost half as much as a hotel and include built in savings in the form of a kitchen and laundry facilities,” says Mr. Alexis de Bellow, Vice President of HomeAway.com. “Another great benefit of vacation rentals is they give travelers the chance to have a more authentic vacation and be immersed in the local neighborhoods.”
I’ve used HomeAway.com for a few different trips and have been more than pleased with the experiences I’ve had, but if money is no object, you make look into a completely different form of vacation rental; one through an already well established and highly regarded hotelier, the Four Seasons. I was on a business trip in Colorado and stayed at the Four Seasons Vail. I thought my reservation was for a hotel room, but upon check in I was led to a separate wing of the property to what was nothing short of a full-scale apartment residence, lavishly furnished and embellished with contemporary-meets-understated-mountain decor. The friendly bell hop grabbed my bags and toured me around the 1,800-square-foot apartment, which included two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, a large living area and a kitchen. (It’s probably worth mentioning the balcony, a veritable living space of its own, which overlooked the ski resort and looming mountains.)
Though in shock at the grandness of it all, I thanked my tour guide and settled in. I found a bucket of iced beer and a plate of warm chocolate-chip cookies waiting at the bar for me. I slipped into the plush white robe laid out on my bed and dug in.
The place was impeccable. Each bedroom had its own individual appeal with big fluffy beds and flat screen televisions with personalized welcome greetings displayed across the screen. The master bathroom alone could have equaled the size of an average hotel room and came complete with a separate shower and bath, as well as a clever pocket door outfitted with a full length mirror.
The living and dining room were laid out together, perfect for entertaining friends with two full couches and two comfortable chairs and a gas fireplace that lit a flame while you were in the room, but sensors that shut the fire down when you left the room—genius. We spent plenty of time proving that connection.
And the kitchen? Well, if you’re the type to covet the latest kitchen gadget, or if you get weak in the knees at the sight of a full commercial-grade Wolf gas range with oven and hands-free Kohler sinks, then you’ll find yourself in heaven away from home.
As far as concierge, valet, room service and even spa appointments go, they’re all a phone call away with a quick dial on the main Four Seasons phone that comes standard with each unit. As you might expect with a name like Four Seasons, excellent service is key.
It seems many hotels have taken on the trend of expanding on their operations to include a residential component. We’ve seen it happen in Austin with the Hilton and the W Hotel, as well as the Four Seasons. I recently toured the Four Seasons Austin residence with Director of Residences Lorley Musiol to find out how the two properties compared. Both feature the unparalleled service and beautiful design and decor. The Austin residences have dynamic layouts with views of either Lady Bird Lake or of downtown, and they all feature the same top-tier fixtures and appliances. The property also has a community library and separate entertaining area that includes a large dining room and commercial kitchen for residents to host large parties. There is a state of the art workout facility that allows residents to invite their own personal trainers up for private sessions.
I soon learned from Musiol that the Four Seasons has taken a three-tiered approach to their brand including hotel operations, permanent residence properties, and a handful of “Residence Club” properties that allows “fractional ownership” of a particular residence for certain weeks out of the year, much like a time share. The Austin location is solely a permanent residence property that offers every amenity that hotel guests receive with the added bonus of having the privacy and consistency of life in their own Four Seasons condominium.
“We’ve found that people who want a more urban location in Austin as well as a lifestyle of convenience have chosen the Four Seasons properties primarily because they trust the service and care we offer through our hotel operations worldwide and know they’ll get it when they make a home here,” says Musiol. “They want a familiar community as well and we achieve all of that here.”
But in particular destinations that have high tourism traffic, such as Vail, Jackson Hole and Punta Mita, Mexico, the hybrid Residence Club has allowed the Four Seasons to offer the best of both worlds. At Vail, where winter skiing is king, fractional owners can select the weeks they want to stay in a year, opting to pay a weekly rate when they are in residence. The property offers a full storage facility complete with ski footlockers. When it’s your time to come in, you simply call the concierge and they’ll set up your unit with your ski gear, any other personal items you may have in storage, and accommodate any grocery services you may have in advance of your arrival. Not too shabby considering the great hassle it can be to lug ski gear through an airport, especially with the headache air travel is these days.
And yes, with great accommodations comes a hefty price tag. Though prices vary based on season and size of the residence you’d like to reserve, you’re looking at quite a premium for the convenience. For some that may be worth it. Others may prefer crashing on an old college buddy’s family vacation house couch. For even more, the Home Away option sits somewhere right in the middle, offering the comfort of home in a vacation environment.
Although my budget will likely have me leaning towards the HomeAway.com option for future family vacations, the Four Seasons Vail and all the fit-for-a-queen comforts the Residence Club affords, is certainly up there on my wish list.