From publishing to the great unknown, Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande's greatest accomplishment has been setting up her own business from scratch. Without previous knowledge of the holiday rentals industry, its connections or a even a large start-up budget, Paola defeated the odds to start the successful luxury travel company Passepartout Homes.
Ciggiano - Montaione (FI), Tuscany, Italy
Tell us a little about your background?
After 15 years working for major international publishing companies in London, I decided to set up my own vacation rental agency, primarily in search for a work-life balance and my obligations as a mother with young kids.
Holiday rentals and luxury travel was a completely new industry for me, totally unrelated to my role as International Subscriptions Marketing Manager for the magazines I used to represent. I had to invent and learn my new job from scratch without previous knowledge, besides owning a second-home myself and having a keen interest in travel and interiors.
On a personal level, I am Italian however left my country when I was 25 a week after graduating and never looked back. I have lived in Germany, Belgium, and the UK. I am currently residing in Bruges - Belgium - although, as Passepartout Homes is a UK registered company, most of my business connections and network is based in England.
What is Passepartout Homes?
Passepartout Homes is essentially a curated portfolio of beautiful holiday homes in Europe and elsewhere. Properties are carefully hand-picked for their uniqueness and I liaise directly with the owners to provide guests a luxurious and stress-free experience.
We take away the stress from clients when searching for a holiday accommodation. Our villas are carefully selected, vetted and we provide a true voice on the other side of the line.
In addition to a wonderful accommodation, we ensure guests can request enhanced services such as a personal chef, a butler or a personal driver. Local support and Concierge services are also guaranteed in case of emergency or simply if you want a member of staff to reserve a restaurant or a guided tour for you.
Furthermore, clients can opt to become “members” of Passepartout Homes and enjoy exclusive benefits such as guaranteed discounts, access to villas only available to members, referral fees and advance notice on offers and new releases.
What made you decide to start your own business, and in particular a luxury villa rental agency?
The demands and duties of a young family and work were irreconcilable. I had to either stop working all together, which I was reluctant to do, or set up a small business. I chose for the bumpier, less travelled road. Setting up a new business in the UK is a fairly uncomplicated and swift procedure.
We built a holiday home in Southern Italy in 2007 and we needed to start renting it out occasionally to cover basic costs. That’s how it all started, from one home to rapidly representing 200.
Describe your business in three words…
Challenging, competitive, addictive.
Talk us through a typical day at your office?
First thing first, I answer to booking enquiries, follow up on past enquiries, answer questions from clients or owners.
I then move to social media, whereby I spend approximately one hour each morning scheduling posts and interacting with followers.
The afternoon is usually spent updating properties and setting up new ones as well as searching for new gems.
What inspires you?
Passionate home owners, homes with a soul and character and …the sunshine! Yes, I get energy and inspiration from a blue sky!
Passepartout Homes also provides full concierge service for organising weddings. Tell us a little more about this…
We have a selection of villas suitable for weddings and other private functions and events.
We work with the Owners to provide clients with a wedding package. Depending on the property chosen, the villa may be be able to provide a professional wedding planner, photographers, catering, florists and satisfy other requests the bride and groom may have. Selected villas are licensed to celebrate civil weddings on its premises.
What sets Passepartout Homes apart?
We are a boutique operation. We remember the name of each property owners and guest who come through our doors. We treat each booking request with personal care and attention.
We are not an online travel agent such as HomeAway or booking.com.
Because we work directly with the Owners, we are often able to provide flexibility and adaptability. We do not work to rigid schemes and conditions.
We operate as well on a Consultancy basis for our clients. So if a client cannot find a suitable accommodation in pour portfolio, we search for the most appropriate ones among our trusted parters.
A few words of advice for couples when deciding on their wedding venue/accommodation?
I know I am stating the obvious, but do you homework and research. Take your time into choosing the property which matches all of your requirements. Don’t be scared to ask the owners or agency as many questions as you like, even the most obvious ones. This is our job, answering questions and ensure the property can satisfy all of the criteria.
Critical is also to enquire what legal documents are necessary when marrying abroad.
Lastly, book well in advance as the best villas are booked up fast.
Where is your personal favourite destination in the world to escape to?
Currently Bahamas and Maldives. I have a soft sport for sun and sand.
Villa Altaserra Wine Resort - Montebenichi (AR), Tuscany, Italy
Villa La Tosca - Aquitaine, France
Villa La Tosca - Aquitaine, France
Casa Fuzetta - Olhão, Algarve, Portugal
Country Relais & Spa Le Capanne - Volterra, Tuscany, Italy
The White House - Argolida, Peloponnese, Greece
The Amilla - Baa Atoll, North Islands, Maldives
Prestige Villa Concetta - Lake Como, Italy
Villa Riva - Koh Samui, Thailand
Casa Duquesa - Mallorca, Spain
Contact Paola and the Passepartout Home Team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Passepartout Homes: passepartout-homes.com