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Alex Allison of D. Alexander Capital: The Future of Travel in The Post Covid World

Flexibility is the future. Expect to see more and more travel companies incorporate new, flexible policies into their offering. If there’s one thing COVID-19 highlighted for brands in the travel space, it’s that people want to be able to shuffle their plans based on their ever-changing lifestyle. How you get to your destination, control over where you work, and lodging to support living and schooling are the primary drivers behind fixed travel dates.

As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Allison.

Alex is the Founder and CEO of the pioneering destination hospitality brand, D. Alexander, and the Founder and Managing Partner of D. Alexander Capital — together, a vertically integrated real estate fund that owns and operates destination homes and delivers a consistent, flexible and tech-enabled experience.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My father was a contractor, so I grew up around residential real estate and home-building. He built my childhood home in his early 20s, and there was always a project going on in our household for as long as I can remember. My mother was an early team member at a tech startup where she still works today, 31 years later. I spent many late nights at the office with her as she worked fiercely to wrap up the day. Looking back, this combination of real estate, tech, and entrepreneurship had a big influence on my interest in building from the ground up. My brother later became a real estate agent himself, and soon shared his vision with me of launching an online platform that would bring real estate transactions online. We set out to change the way that real estate deals get done, officially launching the Dotloop venture in 2009.

We sold Dotloop to Zillow in 2015, and I stayed on until 2019. But by then, I was increasingly preoccupied with behavioral shifts in how people live and work, leading to a different form of homeownership, investing and access. In my own life, I was becoming more mobile and working remotely in various locations across the country. And I saw that instead of buying primary residence “forever homes,” consumers were moving towards buying properties as investments, and prioritizing flexibility and mobility in their own lives instead. I felt like home ownership and hospitality were converging, and became fascinated by this idea of owner-operated destination rental brand. Which brought me to D. Alexander, and where I am right now.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’m a bit of a nomad myself — maybe it’s the distance runner in me that constantly needs to be on the move. I enjoy taking unique trips to different destinations around the world and I seek opportunities that provide me with the flexibility to work from anywhere to enable this level of nomadic lifestyle. In fact, D. Alexander came out of road tripping. I was driving down Highway 1, where I made stops at various remote locations and a family member’s vacation home that happened to be vacant. During these adventures, I was always on the search for a place to stay that provided consistent standards that aligned with what I was used to as from staying at hotels. This search always fell short, and I began to wonder about the future of living, and whether or not I was alone in this craving for a more nomadic lifestyle or if it spoke to a larger movement — it was the latter. So, I founded D. Alexander, an elevated destination hospitality brand that caters to the new kind of traveler: the digital nomad.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We talk often about creating customers for life, and long-term thinking. Recently, the pandemic tossed a world of change at travelers and operators alike across the hospitality and lodging sectors. One D. Alexander customer that was impacted by the pandemic left a review without even staying at one of our properties: “We ended up having to cancel our reservation due to covid-19 but wanted to leave a ​review about customer service because it was so phenomenal.​ The team’s response times were super quick, they answered a million questions I had about the house and about different precautions as the covid situation evolved. They even went out of their way to find us extra​ cleaning supplies and paper products like toilet paper given we had a shortage in our hometown. Once we had to cancel they continued to give us personalized service and were completely understanding of our situation. W​e look forward to getting back to a D. Alexander property.”

Our brand values — patience, empathy, elevated service — are built into the very core of our business model. Being human and putting people first is at the heart of everything we do and it’s one of the reasons why our company stands out.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Find your off switch, which can be a compilation of strategies or tactics. For me, that’s continuing to work from a dedicated workspace during the day and running, calling friends or family members in the evening, while limiting email/notifications. The challenge of separating work from home has grown over the years as we become an increasingly mobile society with connectivity at our fingertips. For many, “the office” or process of going to and from a workspace became a vehicle that reduced burnout — the on/off switch in other words. That’s no longer the case, as our world changed overnight. There is no longer a physical separation between home and office, and a primary residence isn’t typically designed to support dedicated, focused work. Destination homes in remote locations can be one of the best solutions for remedying burnout.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My family and my childhood were very influential to me. My mother is a big personality, who taught me to love what you do, approach every situation with positive intent, and not sweat the small stuff. My brother had high influence on me, too. He’s a fierce entrepreneur, and has the drive and perseverance to see anything through.

That said, I’m a creative at heart — and I get a lot of that from my father. He’s a master-craftsman and contractor with a small business in residential home building, and he immersed us in residential real estate when we were very young. Beyond helping us understand the industry itself, he taught us fundamentals that help excel any business. He was on a constant mission to deliver the highest quality, from the original research and methodology behind an idea, to meticulous detail in the execution. It set me off on my own quest to always think differently and execute fiercely. He prided himself on attention to detail. Those details can be the most crucial part of a venture. They’re where the real opportunities for innovation — and the difference between “good” and “great” — lie.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

The innovation at the center of our business is the owner-operated model for destination home-oriented markets, with radical consistency from home-to-home. That may not sound super sexy at a first glance, but it’s very exciting because it enables us to control the full customer experience, from booking to safety precautions to amenities to sleep experience and full customer journey. This is unheard of in destination homes, largely due to the majority of homes available in the market place being owned by individual secondary homeowners and operated by another company. This unique combination of owner-operated and a branded experience drives long-term thinking and provides unmatched controls over all aspects that influence a stay.

Our newest product offering launched in March, Destination Plans, provides guests with unprecedented flexibility and the confidence and certainty of professional cleaning, corporate standards, and protocols, security and consistency. We can ensure every home represents an elevated brand experience, from hand-selected, intentional amenities to thoughtful design details to inspiring locations with unparalleled access to nature. This seamless, almost boutique hotel-like experience is entirely new in destination homes and it’s a drive away from nearly anywhere in the country. We’re the first and only company in the space delivering this kind of immaculate experience for travelers.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

The two main pain points that inspired D. Alexander are a lack of consistency and flexibility in destination rentals. While platforms that connect independent homeowners with prospective guests play an important role in the market and are great partners of D. Alexander, the guest experience can become fragmented and usually suffers because of the lack of consistency or the challenge that comes with controlling quality. There are great operators and brands that deliver top-notch quality and protocols, but collectively, there is a high degree of variation due to fragmentation and overall structure of home inventory and ownership. It’s not uncommon across the marketplace to have a void in core, functional elements such as strong, reliable WiFi, accessibility, or a fully-equipped kitchen. We’re striving to eliminate those voids and deliver what people need 99% of the time. With D. Alexander, I wanted to create a brand that owned and operated all of its homes, so customers like myself could have a consistent, seamless experience.

Flexibility is another big part of this conversation. Life, by default, is uncertain and requires flexibility, yet there isn’t a high degree of flexibility because of the challenges it presents for operations. This has become particularly crucial in today’s uncertain travel landscape. Rigid booking models with locked-in dates and steep cancellation fees aren’t realistic for our fluid, modern lifestyle, especially right now. Because D. Alexander owns the homes, we can think outside of the norm to create a different model altogether with totally flexible booking, unique cancellation policies, moving dates or homes, or even gifting your stay. Guests purchase a Destination Plan through our website that they can use at any point in the next two years, which gives them the freedom to escape at a moment’s notice and eliminates the fear of being locked into plans that may change. Knowing that you have a reliable retreat for remote living, work, and play at your fingertips is a luxury that we’re providing. Ultimately, we guarantee peace of mind for our customers.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

I’m not sure that D. Alexander is disrupting the status quo today, so much as it’s shaping a new status quo for the future needs of travelers and households. It’s a radically different offering in the marketplace. We built our customer experience around flexibility and consistent comfort for longer-term stays because the consumer research showed that as life and work became more fluid and flexible, this is what our target customers were seeking. The market was already gravitating towards destination experiences over short term vacations; the pandemic just accelerated that trend.

While offices will return in some capacity, the work-from-anywhere (WFA) lifestyle is the new status quo for consumers, because once they change their behavior, it’s unlikely they’ll revert. Our model is specifically designed to encourage that lifestyle. So, while we were disrupting the status quo back in 2019, the new normal in 2020 has accelerated trends that align with us. Our huge advantage is that we were the first to recognize and build a model around this shift, rather than adapting a pre-existing business model to align with it. To that end, being built first around this new lifestyle gives us an edge of rapid innovation and invention. Looking forward, we’re focused on being the best version of ourselves and raising the bar on what home, hospitality and travel will look like in this new age of unprecedented flexibility. And we’re doing it with amazing partners around the table.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

I strongly believe that COVID-19 has served as a catalyst for some broader lifestyle shifts that were already in motion pre-pandemic.

  1. Flexibility is the future. Expect to see more and more travel companies incorporate new, flexible policies into their offering. If there’s one thing COVID-19 highlighted for brands in the travel space, it’s that people want to be able to shuffle their plans based on their ever-changing lifestyle. How you get to your destination, control over where you work, and lodging to support living and schooling are the primary drivers behind fixed travel dates. Remove these boundaries, and consumer needs are increasingly centered around flexibility (early check-in, extend your stay, move between locations, etc). Flexibility has always been key, but the industry as a whole will be forced to make swift changes to align with these requirements.
  2. Digitization is the way, support will become supplemental. We’re still used to a hospitality model where checking in and checking out of a hotel or home may require contact with a person behind a desk and a physical key. We built D. Alexander with a tech-first approach because people want to be able to access a home on their own terms. Big data is going to be crucial as the industry finds its footing again and continues to evolve. As we’re able to learn more about our customers, their likes, and dislikes, the travel industry as a whole is going to be able to deliver a pretty remarkable experience for those customers.
  3. We’re going to see the rise in the intersection between travel and health and wellness. Again, this is something that we saw a shift towards in the last year or two, but COVID really accelerated the movement. Health and wellness practices are no longer a nice-to-have — travelers have higher standards now. Consumers want to travel and live in places where nature is easily accessible, where home offices are spacious and give them the ability to truly focus, and where families and groups can coexist in a harmonious way. I think destination homes are built with this value proposition in mind, but the rest of the industry needs to take note as well.
  4. Consistency is at the core, specifically in the alternative stay and rental home sectors, we expect to see more of it. We’ve all had experiences — myself included — where a rental home did not look as advertised on the website. Maybe it wasn’t clean like you expected, or the rooms were smaller than they looked online, or the backyard didn’t have that basketball court your kids were expecting. Delivering a consistent experience is more important now than ever before.
  5. Primary homes will evolve and emerge as the new secondary home with growing consumer need and demand for the optionality that comes with a portfolio of homes across multiple geographies. New business models will emerge to help primary home owners become more liquid and leverage their assets.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Nobody succeeds alone, in life, business and beyond, and I believe that goodness comes from great people passing learnings and advice along the way. I’m always looking for new ways to support entrepreneurs, early-stage companies, and the underdogs. This can come in many forms and I’m honored to have had the opportunity to serve as a strategic advisor and mentor to a number of businesses, startups and entrepreneurs over the years across the real estate, hospitality, and marketing industries. These include Moderne Ventures and Second Century Ventures’ NAR REACH, two growth accelerators for real estate tech companies, along with Galvanize, a startup mentor program and co-working hub in Denver. I’m passionate about the early days of a startup’s journey as it’s often the most challenging step of a company’s lifecycle, yet the most rewarding.

Over a decade or so of being exposed to a wide range of people and experiences in life and business, I’ve learned a lot. One key learning is that the fastest, easiest path to increasing the likelihood of the desired outcome is through soaking up the knowledge of others. I’m fueled by sharing my knowledge with the startup community and individuals who are chasing their own innovative ventures and passions.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

The perfect vacation experience entails no agenda and being fully disconnected in an environment that has a charter and a home that’s comfortable, with adventure, exploration and discovery along the way. I’m born curious and crave an element of surprise with every new destination experience.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We’ve been laser-focused on providing homes designed to work from anywhere. As this becomes the norm, people have a greater degree of flexibility and freedom to explore the world while also continuing to build their career. I see a world where households and destination seekers alike are empowered to chase whatever they want to chase in life, without boundaries. If I could inspire a movement, it’s centered around providing a platform that allows others to experience the freedom of a digital, nomad lifestyle, ultimately, I’m a believer that adventure enhances any job.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Alex Allison of D Alexander Capital: The Future of Travel in The Post Covid World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.