Having spent more than 22 years within the luxury hospitality sphere, Sabrina Piccinin possesses a remarkable ability to assess the needs and desires of the world’s most affluent and experienced travelers. And with her creation of Haute Retreats in 2016, Piccinin more than meets those needs and desires by offering some of the most sumptuous and indulgent vacation opportunities on the planet.
As founder and CEO of Haute Retreats, Piccinin’s mission is not only to provide the best in accommodations the world over but also to provide the best in service. She believes that while the destination itself should be fabulous, the amenities and personal attention to detail are of equal importance.
Born and raised in Italy, Piccinin embarked on a career as an airplane pilot prior to joining the hospitality industry where for several years she served as general manager for a number of high-end hotel brands. She then spent time in Costa Rica as a villa manager before establishing Haute Retreats where her commitment to excellence is confirmed within every client review. Upscale Living Magazine recently caught up with the successful entrepreneur to learn more about Haute Retreats and why the business model has proven so successful:
What was the motivation for you to establish Haute Retreats? Did you sense a void in the hospitality industry for instance?
I created Haute Retreats because I want to have a selection of the best luxury villa rentals in one place, with one goal: to deliver outstanding services and create memorable luxury experiences! Haute Retreats is deeply committed to making a difference. A dedication to service is crucial to its culture. I decided not to list our villas and services through other OTA websites…you will probably find the same villa on 10 other websites but you won’t find our service and that is what makes us stand out from the rest.
In how many countries does Haute Retreats operate? How many total properties are within the Haute Retreats portfolio?
We operate in 83 destinations. We have 1500 properties online and 1300 properties offline that will be added soon. We select the villas through a checklist I used when I was general manager for luxury hotels and adapted to villa rentals. I managed over 15 top properties in Costa Rica in 2010 for four years.
How does a villa become part of your roster? What is your vetting process?
One of the most common questions we get is what exactly makes a location an Haute Retreat? The answer isn’t as simple as one might think. We obviously look for quality facilities to ensure that our customers have a good stay. We do more than that though. We are very strict about what makes the list of Haute Retreats. Before being accepted onto the Haute Retreats list, our experts take the time to thoroughly verify each listing. This helps to guarantee we get our listing right. A lot goes into picking an Haute Retreat and we will give you some insight into the selection process.
A lot goes into making a villa look like a customer would expect. Any villa that does not meet a high standard of appearance is ruled out of the Haute Retreats list. The location must have a personality of its own and impress with its unique nature. Failure to do this will have negative consequences on a villa. Architecture and design mean a lot too. A villa must stand out from others in the area.
No one hates going to a villa, or even a hotel, only to pay money for subpar service. In order to be considered to be an Haute Retreat, a location must meet our service standards. They put the customer first, they anticipate needs, and the staff is trained to be professional. Personalized service will also make a villa more likely to appear on the Haute Retreats list.
One of the most important aspects of an Haute Retreat is customer input. If customers don’t enjoy their time, it will reduce the ranking of a location. On the other hand, though, a location that is liked by customers is likely to succeed on our website. Customers are the reason that we run our website in the first place. We encourage open and honest feedback from all of our guests.
The old saying, location, location, location actually means something. You can’t make a premium villa if you don’t have a good location. Think about it; would you rather stay at a beachside villa or one that is a few blocks away from the beach? Most people would pick the prime location on the beach. But location also means a place that is quiet and away from distractions. A good view will often factor into making a location an Haute Retreat.
Part of the reason you pay so much when staying away from home isn’t just the location. It is the amenities. You expect to have certain benefits available wherever you go. To make the status of being an Haute Retreat, a location needs to provide amenities to match or exceed industry standards for a 5-star hotel, from fine dining to the best beds, to concierge.
Just because a villa meets the standards listed above, doesn’t mean it will become an Haute Retreat. We also speak with villa managers and ensure that everything is right with the Villa. For example, we want to make sure that maintenance hasn’t lapsed. Our vetting process is what makes our name worth something, and we work hard to constantly uphold and increase the trust that people put in the Haute Retreats name.
Are you, or members of your staff, personally familiar with each Haute Retreats property?
Yes; we work and collaborate directly with the person who manages and he/she is located in the destination. We won’t deliver a service or rent a villa otherwise.
How many employees do you have and where are they located around the globe?
We are right now seven between Italy and the USA plus the companies we hired for the site maintenance operations.
What is offered of an Haute Retreats stay that cannot be found at a hotel or resort?
An Haute Retreats offers the privacy of your own space in a special location with all the amenities of a luxury resort-like for example Ani Private Sri Lanka with the staff dedicated just to the guests that rent it the villa space.
But you do also offer villas that are located within resorts. How are these properties vetted and selected?
Yes, we do offer villas within resorts. Our latest additions were One & Only Portonovi, a new resort with stunning private properties. We select the villas within a resort taking into consideration the facilities that are going to be dedicated only to the guests. A private pool, a private fully equipped kitchen, for example, and dedicated staff.
What is one of your favorite Haute Retreats properties, and why?
That is a tough question… There are so many properties I can list, but I can ensure that more than the properties themselves, I believe it is the people that create the whole experience for our guests. I can name Casa Tau in Punta Mita,…or our team in Miami is absolutely the best especially when it comes to last-minute bookings.
What is the profile of an Haute Retreats client? What are their expectations and desires?
Our guests look to enjoy their vacation and to experience the villa with their families or friends. They care very much about their food experience; right now with Covid protocols, they are very attentive to service and if there is someone available all the time for them for last-minute changes or requests. They are high profile clients from different parts of the world, the Middle East…The USA etc. We are very happy to say we have American guests who choose our services for their vacations in the USA.
You are able to assess a client’s vacation wishes, and then recommend the perfect villa to meet those wishes. How do you and your staff make that assessment and thus guide your client to their perfect vacation?
We schedule a phone or video call unless the client has already chosen a villa, and we go over their wishes, such as the view from the bedrooms, if near or not a city or a beach. We note the interests of all participants so we know which destination we can suggest. Right now we also take into consideration the restrictions and requirements depending on where they will depart so to avoid quarantine or other Covid related requirements. After that, we will send a list of properties and we go from there.
What are some of the special amenities that you and your staff are able to arrange?
Haute Retreats can host and create a wonderful vacation for our guests. We create chef-hosted dinner on the beach, a private tour at night of the St Marco Cathedral in Venice, a private tour of the Uffizi, set up high-speed internet in the remote locations in a castle in the countryside in Italy for a business retreat. We can do anything for our guests that are legal 😉
I recently stayed at a New York City hotel that was nearly completely digitized with very little personal interaction. Haute Retreats prides itself on the complete opposite: personal assistance. Why is it important for you and your company to go several steps beyond in offering personalized bespoke service?
My career started in the day when there was not a PC at the front desk. The check-in was the most important part of the stay. There was the booking planner, pencil and rubber…and that is it – me and the guest. I come from that school. I believe everyone desires a personalized greeting. You can have a digitized approach to other things, for example, such as a restaurant search. But asking your concierge for the best restaurant can result in the truest information. When I was 17, my first manager told me to practice calling people by their names, and I can ensure there is a huge difference in the approach. I taught and passed this lesson through the years. I believe in hospitality. Human beings create hospitality; it cannot be replaced.
The past year and a half have well illustrated the value of a private vacation residence where crowds are few. Many have taken the premise a step further to request a private island. How many such properties do you oversee and why specifically is this a great option for travelers who continue to practice great caution?
Private islands have been always a popular vacation experience, with Covid even more so. You will leave your place by private jet and reach the private island not seeing or being in contact with any other people.
You could live anywhere in the world, but you’ve chosen to make your home in the region in which you grew up. What is special about this part of Italy, just outside of Venice?
I’ve lived in many beautiful places. I was, let’s say, my own ‘pioneer.’ I have always wanted to travel since I was a child. As a child, I remember playing with the suitcases and acting as if I was leaving and checking in to a new place. When I was 16, I decided to take private flight lessons. I did not have my driver’s license, but I wanted to reach the sky. I took my first solo when I was 17 and I felt I could do anything in life. I was not sure if I wanted to become a professional pilot but I wanted to travel, so after graduating from hospitality and tourism school at 18, and applying for my H1B Visa, I ended up in St Louis, Missouri at the Hyatt Regency St Louis. The building reminded me of Italy and how much I was missing my country. I felt the USA was the land of freedom and the best country in the world. I eventually got my commercial pilot license and then lived in Costa Rica for many years. I met my soulmate and decided to create a family…he is Italian also and we both agreed the best place to raise our children was Italy. After traveling and living so many years abroad where I lived to my full potential and learned so much, I believe my town Pordenone was and is a great place to raise my children near my parents and my family. I missed many moments with my family and now since they are getting old it is nice to be near them and see them. I still travel for my business or leisure..but I like to come back. I still believe after seeing so many great places and living in Boston, or other beautiful cities like Miami, that Venice and Rome are the best cities in the world. Being able to drive to Venice in 30 minutes makes this place perfect.