When we started in Switzerland back in 2016, we saw an opportunity in the housing market for short-term rentals in ski resorts.
Going back to our university days, we can still remember our professor of Economics in Tourism talking about the widespread issue of cold beds in Swiss ski resorts. This phenomenon is not only common for Swiss ski stations, but for many tourist destinations worldwide that are “crazy busy” during the season and dead once the holidays are over. This is a phenomenon we witness all too often in Crete Greece, where part of our business is located. The season runs from March until the end of October, and as soon as the last direct flight stops, the season officially ends, and the island enters sleep mode for five months. This is a long time, and it means that people who make a living out of tourism must overcharge during the summer to survive the whole year based on seven months' income.
Something is not right with this business model.
Back to Switzerland. The houses we decided to run had a similar business model: they were extremely expensive for the 8-10 weeks a year that they were used by tourists (only 8 weeks! How short is that?!). This meant that for 10 months a year, they were empty, resulting in cold beds.
When we started, we decided to keep the expensive weeks for tourists (you’ve got to pay the bills, right?), and fill the other weeks with digital nomads - a group of tourists that doesn’t follow the same rules of seasonality as families with school holidays. We knew that the best time of the year to ski was in January, but our houses were traditionally empty during this month. We decided to transform them into a coliving space and market them to digital nomads instead. Challenge accepted. Seven years later, January is our busiest month with nomads, and our winter season now runs from the time the slopes open until they close, and we have an average occupancy rate of 90% in winter.
When we entered the world of coliving, we quickly understood that this is a new touristic product in the accommodation sector. It is not a hotel, and cannot be priced as a hotel, nor is it long-term accommodation, such as classic rentals in cities with one-year contracts. We are in between the two: our customers stay on average for three weeks and need flexible rental contracts. We have to think in terms of monthly stays and price accordingly.
The opportunities we see with coliving are endless. But to name the most important one: it fills in cold beds and lengthens the season (or removes the idea of a season altogether). From our own experience in Switzerland, the houses that used to be empty ten months a year are now full for ten months a year (yes, we still see seasons, but less and less). We are bringing longer stays for people, mostly a young crowd, to small villages that benefit from having tourism in low seasons.
However, our initial guess, 'we will run the coliving with digital nomads the whole year,' wasn't entirely correct. We started attracting more and more team retreats for companies who usually work remotely. We also hosted several team outings for universities or Swiss corporations who wanted a change of environment.
We truly believe that coliving offers a unique opportunity for the tourism industry to address the issue of cold beds and lengthen the season for destinations that are typically busy only during certain times of the year. By attracting digital nomads and all sorts of audiences who are not constrained by the traditional school holiday calendar, coliving can help fill in the gaps and bring more visitors to destinations during the off-season. As the tourism industry continues to evolve and adapt to changing traveler preferences, coliving could be a key component in creating a more sustainable and diverse tourism ecosystem.
How do you see coliving shaping the future of travel and tourism?