Talking business: Christopher Lovold, Vestibule Marketing

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 02 May 2017

SAN talks to Christopher Lovold, managing director of Vestibule Marketing, about the company's award-winning Elina property management system.

• Can you give us a brief career history and tell us how you came to your current position?
"I worked in the US defence industry building logistics and tracking systems for six years.  I was involved early while large institutions such as the US Navy, US Army and US State Department moved to web based applications. It is hugely exciting to be around when early adopters reap benefits from new technology."

"I then moved London to do an MSc in systems and business management from London School of Economics - a springboard I used to continue my quest for working with trail blazing web technologies. I briefly moved into the finance sector as UK director for a company delivering mobile banking (before smart phones took off), which was very much ahead of the curve before widespread adoption of suitable tech allowed it to scale. From there I was asked to join Vestibule Marketing as the technical director and co-owner. My objective was to develop a web-based solution to create what did not exist in the market; an end-to-end and web based solution for accommodation providers to facilitate direct sales and to automate business-wide operational processes."

• When and how did you first become aware of the serviced apartment sector?
"Right from the very first project with Elina in 2007, I became acutely aware of serviced apartments. This was Dunas Douradas Beach Club in Portugal - a gated community of 150 apartments and villas with a central management company run as serviced apartments by Scandinavian operators in Portugal. Elina provided digital marketing and their website, handling their bookings, owners, financials and operations - end to end. This highlighted to me the potential of the market. Together we 'won big' pursuing a direct, digital strategy from the start, finally achieving 90 per cent direct bookings. We seemed to be genuinely helping and that felt great."

• What is the story behind the creation of the Elina PMS?
"We started day one by providing services, both digital marketing and websites to help clients to get direct bookings. In doing this, we identified there was no supporting system that was there to support these direct sales - from an integrated online booking engine, through good guest communications, to all the back-office functions needed to drive repeat business with dynamic rates management. Out of this, Elina PMS was born, with development and product evolution surrounded by our talented colleagues, all with deep, hands-on industry experience." 

"So, Elina really came from necessity. Without being so involved in sales and marketing for providers we would not have felt the problem so much! Today, we are proud to be a pioneer company that is still around and helping. If used to its potential, the Elina PMS platform, makes it easier to manage and grow sales, particularly online."

• Was the system specifically created for serviced apartments or has it been adapted?
"We built the platform in response to demand - specifically driven from our initial serviced apartment clients. Over time, we have included features that are also favoured in a more traditional hotel-style operation, but what sets us apart is the ground-up, client-lead, serviced apartment focus."

"One of our clients describes it best; they say many apartments still use products designed predominantly for hotels, which then have to be 'banged with a hammer to shape them to work for apartments'. With Elina PMS, it was designed for serviced apartments and continues to improve in ways that benefit them."

"What is interesting today, as an evolution to this, is that the 'end' in end-to-end keeps shifting. This has brought us to start thinking of Elina as more of a platform, covering the core business needs, acting as a hub for data and management - and extending the 'end' by connecting with additional products, like Xero, Resdiary, Rentals United for vacation rental channels and Triptease, amongst others."

• What makes Elina so suitable for the serviced apartment sector?
"In a nutshell innovation for serviced apartments. Here are a few key features:
One log-in for all locations - as many locations or buildings can be added and managed from the one log in in the platform. This improves experience and reduces price as apartment operators scale. All rates and inventory are managed here also, meaning the operator does not have to use a channel manager separately."

"Easy, mobile-accessible calendar management - the ability to split bookings, keep bookings off the occupancy calendar whilst you juggle guests, allows occupancy to be maximised which is great for busy and in-demand city locations."

"Automating invoicing - totally flexible invoice rules, means a guest, travel agent, or corporate can each be set up to be invoiced differently, in the manner only they request - all without the need to hire a larger accounting team to accommodate them all. In combination with payment gateways Elina can fully automate what can be a complex landscape for serviced apartments (more so than a hotel)."

"Booking engine - set up to show and choose between multiple locations, view locations on maps, with rich content and descriptions, and offer add on's on any day; the features of the Elina booking engine were designed with apartment providers in mind."

"Owners Management Module - many operators manage properties on behalf of individual unit owners. This module allows owners to log in and see the occupancy and revenue performance of their portfolio, book an apartment for themselves, communicate availability and maintenance requests. It makes the operator more transparent and professional, and gives them a leg up in the battle to acquire more properties to manage and rent."

• What has been the reaction to the product and which operators are you working with?
"We often hear that the platform does 'more' and that's reassuring. It reminds us we must keep pushing forwards and listening to our client's needs. We aggregate feedback and then interview super-users to make sure we are getting product development right. When we first started (and still today) we often get a wow-reaction, but it's common to hear 'Elina PMS does so much, but do we need it?' The most satisfying scenario is when they take it and then come back later to let us know how much time is has saved them, or how it has helped them scale fast and grow their business. This is vindication for us that whether small or large, serviced apartments do really benefit from using Elina PMS through automated operational processes and improved sales and marketing."

"We are proud to work with each of our clients, regardless of size or notoriety. They include Brera, Portfolio, Staying Cool, Destiny Scotland, Flying Butler, Htel, Bespoke Residences, Edwards and Towers, Cotels, Approved Serviced Apartments, Cleyro, City Nites, My Apartments London, Still Life Global, Club Living and many others. We have a real mix between the cool and trendy and the mid to large heavy hitters."

• How do anticipate winning a Serviced Apartment Award will help spread the word about Elina?
"We are very honoured and humbled to win. It certainly helps to keep promoting the Elina brand for Vestibule Marketing. We really appreciate SAN hosting the awards and playing such a big role in the industry. There are still people saying 'what are serviced apartments' - so please keep up your evangelising and making the industry accessible. The more that happens, the more we expect to be able to connect with ideal operators and help them to run and grow their business. Almost all of our business comes from word-of-mouth and clients finding us online.  The Serviced Apartment Award is already making a positive difference!"

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