Post by Rimi
First off, a huge THANK YOU to you all for spreading the word, sharing our posts, and inviting friends to check us out. Thanks to you, we’ve had 30 guests so far this summer and have been booked since July 3 and up until August 23 – with more bookings in the fall. While we spent over two years planning for our business and read books, articles, and made detailed spreadsheets… there is of course no experience like the real thing! Here are just a few of the many lessons we’ve learned so far…
1) Attract the ‘right’ people; know your audience
We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to our first season and soft opening in these few months of beta-testing. We have been lucky in hosting friends, or friends of friends and have been fortunate to attract like-minded folks who enjoy being a traveler over a tourist, and being hosted, versus lodged. What we’re building here doesn’t yet exist in the Azores so we’re “on an island” charting out new territory;-)
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately…) we have had one unpleasant experience of hosting guests who simply weren’t the right fit. I think we learned more about our target audience by witnessing first-hand those who are not. While it was a disappointing outcome (both for them and for us) we walk away with some incredibly valuable lessons.
Our quinta is not a luxury hotel. quinta minuvida aims to capture the best elements of a boutique B&B farmhouse and an ecolodge. We want to give you the insider’s view. We want you to feel the Azores, not just go through a checklist of things you heard you should do here. We aim to introduce to you to the authenticity of the people, the stories behind the food, the history behind the views.
So we learned. We’re not for everyone. So we have a process (those who know me shouldn’t be surprised!). We interview guests through a survey designed to “get to know” our guests, and their preferences. We can’t curate things for people if we don’t know them and what they like to do. Plus, it’s a way to gauge whether someone is the right fit. If they are not, we suggest a great hotel or resort and share whatever answers and suggestions we can based on their responses. We can still be helpful and let them know we may not be the best fit for them. Now we know…;-)
We then send suggestions and recommendations based on people’s preferences stated in the survey. We include in our rates a few “signature” host-led activities such as João’s cooking class or his dinners offering creative takes on Azorean classics. Or my outdoor yoga classes or meditative nature hikes. And we tailor additional host-led experiences based on our guests’ preferences, such as an intro to food and agricultural industry on a trip to the local farmers market. Or a hike to a volcanic vent where we’ve prepared local meats and veggies that have been slow cooking for 6 hours, offering a delicious picnic after the hike.
Here are a few shots of our host-led activities:
Joao removing the cover from the volcanic vent to remove the pot of meats
The slow-cooked results!
The spread we prepared for the wine tasting
Soon to be full glasses;-)
Yoga classes on our roofdeck
2) People really appreciate what we’re offering
Almost everyone who has stayed with us has experienced the Azores as a traveler and not just as a tourist. They learned about the food, the culture and connected with the natural beauty. They did things they would not have otherwise known about and gained a greater appreciation thanks to (mostly João’s! I’m still learning it…) incredible knowledge of the history, geology, and vegetation on the island.
For one family whose adult children were visiting from Haiti, where they work in community development, we arranged a visit to a local non-profit that connects youth to Azorean culture and heritage. The Azorean community leaders, along with our guests, shared ideas, lessons, and walked away with new insights.
Another family has a strong connection to agriculture, having spent time working on farms and growing much of their own food. We arranged for them to tour an organic farm with the owners just walking distance from our quinta and afterward they enjoyed a farm-to-table dinner, savoring the Azorean foods and flavors and taking home some ideas for their own garden.
A couple for whom we hosted a hike and volcanic cozido lunch (slow-cooked meats in veggies in a volcanic vent) raved about their experience – getting to see the pot coming out of the volcanic vent and then enjoying a picnic lunch we prepared and enjoyed with them. They were kind enough to write a Trip Advisor review in the Azores forum (we are not yet but will soon be set up formally, for reviews).
3) When you’re doing what you love, it just works out
Of course we ran our analysis and knew going in that this business was NOT about making a ton of money. João and I laid out our metrics for success both personally and professionally and I can tell you we both gave up a lot in the way of “traditional” metrics.
When I look back and test our actual vs. budget I find myself making up my own financial analysis methods.
What is a “payback period” when you’ve made an investment to live a life more aligned with your values? What is a “return on investment” if you’re living your return right now?
My aim of course, is to ensure our operating revenue exceeds our operating costs, and I look at the initial investment as the cost to make this huge, risky, and yet incredibly awesome transition. I am grateful to have the freedom to try and do what I really want to be doing, and somehow things are slowly but surely falling into place to support that.
4) Make time for ourselves
This is one I had read about quite a bit but never came to truly appreciate until now. As our offering is different from traditional lodging, we give a lot of ourselves to our guests. And thus we need to be grounded, rested, and recharged to give our best. We found we each needed to solidify our routine to make all the magic happen. João needs his coffee and Azorean breakfast in the morning. I need my morning meditation time. We need time to eat meals together, and enjoy some time on our own.
Before we start our renovations we don’t yet have our owners quarters. We have lived in almost every room and suite on the property at this point, moving ourselves around as we’ve had guests and entire families on various parts of the property. At this point Eskimo has given up on where he sleeps and has taken to the outdoors and enjoys sub-tropical nights with the other kittens on the property.
Sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between hanging out with our guests, and “working”. It’s a great feeling to even have this challenge and realize your work doesn’t feel like work, but it’s also even more important to know when and how to give ourselves what we need to recharge.
I often hear colleagues back in the States “brag” about how much vacation they haven’t taken or how many work conference calls they had while “on vacation.” I always believed recharge time is necessary for us to give our best at work, and have found it applies to all aspects of life.
We have since developed a schedule of our host-led activities, i.e. yoga classes offered Mondays and Wednesdays, dinners offered Fridays, etc., so we can build in time for ourselves and our guests can better plan the rest of their trip knowing when things are offered.
5) Stay connected to the why
Last but certainly not least. I’ve found it easy to lose sight of why we’re doing this when I get caught up in feeling the pressure to respond to inquiries within 24 hours and it’s already midnight after a long day… or when I think about how we haven’t “slept in” since July 3, before we had guests.
But sometimes when we have the property to ourselves again and João and I are enjoying a glass of wine watching the sunset, I realize we’re actually doing what we set out to do. I’m teaching yoga three to four times a week, both to locals and to guests. And they love it. João is leading hikes and sharing insights on his homeland. People are experiencing and learning.
We are helping people foster a deeper connection with themselves and their world. Of course things are still stressful. And there are now just different things to worry about… but I can tell you I’m a far better person here, being able to really do what we spent over two years planning for, and in many ways looking back on my life’s path – was simply meant to be.