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The New Sustainably Minded Travel Platform Challenging AirBnB
Smarter is a new short stay marketplace featuring many of London’s most outstanding homes. Founded by Guy van der Westhuizen to challenge the status quo set by traditional booking platforms, the brand aims to distil quality from quantity and liberate guests from high booking fees. With homes ranging from £200 to £2,00o per night, Smarter aims to cut through the noise and set a new standard as the first platform to select homes both on the basis of quality and management service.
How did you get the idea for Smarter? Following my experiences over the past decade managing short stays through my London agency, Ivy, and realising over that time that the model operated by major listing platforms wasn’t really serving professionally managed portfolios, or guests, I thought of Smarter. As global travel took a pause during the pandemic, I sensed a real opportunity to reshape how high-end managers could market their homes, and improve how guests could find and book them. It was also clear that, with Smarter, we had a great chance to improve our industry’s relationship with the environment, so we made a commitment to carbon offsetting and applied for B-Corp certification.
How do you describe what you do to someone at a dinner party? I haven’t been to a dinner party since I started developing Smarter! When I do, I’ll tell them I’ve started a new business that is aiming to change the luxury short rentals game, for the better.
Travel is a saturated market—what in your mind does Smarter offer that wasn’t already available? Saturation is precisely one of the main problems that Smarter seeks to answer. In essence, we refine choice. We distil quality from the vast quantity of listings that populate the mainstream sites. By “quality”, we don’t just mean the homes themselves, but also the quality of the service. This is really important because the service element is often overlooked—you can rent the most beautiful home in London but if it isn’t immaculately prepared, the sheets are wrinkled or nobody answers your call when you can’t get the oven working, then your overall experience won’t be great.
Guests can be sure of highly competitive value when they book their stay through Smarter, since our service fees are lower than mainstream platforms.
What are some of the elements that make a property right for Smarter? A wonderful location, comfort, style, a full and functioning range of amenities, crisp sheets, nice towels, all wrapped up with an attentive, friendly management service.
What are your plans for the future? Our next move will be overseas, but we haven’t decided exactly which location yet…
What are some of the innovations in technology that are helping you and your business through Covid-19? They’re not really new, but we’d be lost without the ability to communicate easily and instantaneously. Slack and Google Meet are my favourite. I’ve had really productive face-to-face meetings from my desk in London with people in Sydney, Los Angeles, Paris, Copenhagen and South Africa. I’m old enough that the novelty of how amazing that is hasn’t worn off yet!
What gives you hope at this moment? Vaccines and the undimmable desire to travel.
A commitment to sustainability is important to your brand and you fund carbon offsetting projects with a booking—tell me more about this side of the business and why it was important? It may sound like a truism, but there’ll be no travel without a planet. The core sustainability element of Smarter is there to address the responsibility that our industry has to the environment, and which falls on every stakeholder including our partner agencies, homeowners, service operators, guests and Smarter itself. We want to minimise our footprint where we can, for example in the way stays are serviced (including eliminating single-use plastics and reducing waste), and to offset the rest. Aviation will be the largest contributor here, so we’ll ask our guests to share their flight information, so we can determine how much we need to offset to reach our carbon negativity goals. We have also founded a charity, the Stay For Good Foundation, which will fund sustainable development, carbon offset and environmental protection projects and which will receive 10% of Smarter’s profits.
What defines a perfect short stay? A comfortable space, inspiring design, the ability to relax and enjoy yourself with family and friends.