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The Future Of Travel: “The next generation will not want to spend a week on the beach and go back to work for the rest of the year” with Jeremy Zick and Candice Georgiadis

I think knowledge is power and as people realize these opportunities and experiences exist they will have a fundamentally changed view of travel. I expect that the next generation will not want to spend a week on the beach and go back to work for the rest of the year when they know they can live and work and enjoy a stimulating community, while they travel around getting to know places, setting up business, and leveraging likeminded people skills and connections. It is my great hope that Lifeafar plays a fundamental role in changing the entire outlook on a vacation by providing homes away from home with elements that take the securities from home and the excitement and personal growth opportunities presented by travel and investment.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeremy Zick. Jeremy currently serves as President of Lifeafar. Jeremy has spent the last nine years serving in various roles in growing the Company from a four-person team to the 100-plus person, multiple-city, operation the Company is today. Jeremy built the Company’s architectural design and construction departments from the ground up where he was Lead Architect, Construction Manager, and the Director of Design-Build Services. Jeremy assumed the role of President when he was tasked with restructuring the Company, refocusing and recruiting talent and developing systems and processes to improve delivery throughout the Company’s departments. Jeremy holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design from the University of Colorado in a program geared toward sustainable and green architecture. His early hands-on experience in design and construction coupled with the experience gained through years serving the organization, give him a uniquely in-depth perspective on real estate development.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Shortly after I graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in Environmental Design (architecture) the 2007–2008 recession hit. It was a terrible time to be looking for work in my field, and I found myself forcing my way into several meetings with firms who all said they were letting people go and were not hiring. At that point my brother and I decided to travel by car through Central America to Colombia where we had heard good things from those who had gone before. The trip was enlightening and I landed in Medellin where the economy was wildly different than the one I had left behind in the US. I had been reading a lot about real estate investment, with my degree and construction experience and I decided to look for opportunities in a city that I had fallen in love with. I landed with my current company Lifeafar in its infancy, as it was still primarily a real estate sales and very small property management company helping people buy property and rent it out while they were away. At the time Airbnb did not exist and there were no property management companies who dealt in short-term rentals so the hospitality component of Lifeafar was developed almost by default! I soon discovered one of my strengths was that I could motivate and automate the teams, allowing myself to use my management and leadership skills to focus on overall company strategy and direction. I quickly rose through the ranks and soon was elected as President.

Since then I have focused a great deal on leadership and development of our management and executive teams. I find myself often doing a round robin when dealing with the biggest opportunities for improvement or growth throughout all of our divisions (Investment, Hospitality, Design, Construction, etc.). We grew out the investment portion of the business with our packaged real estate deal to investors. As the business scaled, we took on more investment projects and the Airbnb effect took hold in the vacation rental industry, so we then focused more on the ever-important hospitality portion of our business, which is really the beating heart of our business. Now we have hundreds of properties under management, and we are armed with the knowledge that we need to remain ahead of the curve in hospitality to successfully deliver better than expected investor returns. This is a particular passion point for me, as in a lot of cases our investors are people who have chosen to put their retirement money or children’s college funds etc. with us. I do everything possible to exceed their expectations.

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

The most interesting story may be watching the transformation of Lifeafar from a small startup to a medium size business where growth continues to accelerate! Early on it took so much force to grow the business and it felt like we were constantly pushing uphill against all kinds of resistance. Others and I were deeply involved in the day to day, and each of us did everything the business required. There was a specific turning point that occurred about six months ago where for the first time I realized that this business is growing itself. It is no longer the early group of people pushing it forward against all odds to create a workable business. That was an exciting revelation and super fun to see how it happened and see the greater potential that Lifeafar has as it continues to build momentum, which is to say we have an amazing team all pushing the business forward simultaneously at a faster pace than any of us early participants could have imagined.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It is hard to find humor in some of the true mistakes, but one that I made while scaling up the Design and Construction portion of the business was taking on too much work before expanding the team. I was very optimistic that we could scale slowly as we went. This created a difficult period where team members were stretched thin and we were not able to work proactively in that scenario. I definitely learned to scale the team a little ahead of a big push to ensure everybody will be successful.

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

What makes Lifeafar stand out is that we offer the same guests who stay in our units the ability to invest in them and run international passive real estate investments. I have always been surprised at the various backgrounds and circumstances of our clients. I was showing one investor who was looking to invest his children’s college fund with the goal to diversify out of the dollar and earn a good steady return. For me this really hit home in feeling the deep responsibility we have to our investors. It is fun because I see this as a challenge to be the best we can be. Another thing that has us stand out in the vacation rental market is that as asset managers we control the vast majority of our short-term inventory. This means that operational decision are all made by us which really streamlines the management process and allows us to push the properties to their highest potential.

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?

On the Hospitality side the whole industry is changing so fast with vacation rental markets rising and hotel chains trying to figure out if they need to be a part of vacation rental or not and in what capacity. There is a lot of learning going on and it’s unknown as to where this all will land so there are huge opportunities for market disruption. I have a feeling that those who focus on the experiential and lifestyle components of the stay while operating at a large enough scale to promote operational efficiencies will be the ones who define the future of the space.

On the investment side the crowdfunding opportunities have equally changed the paradigm. The simple fact that anybody who wants to put a small amount of money towards real estate investments that in the past were only reserved for the big money deals, is huge! This has a similar effect on the retail level investment opportunities, and those developers who show a consistent steady track record of success will have huge opportunities as the trend continues. Our secret is that we control the operation and therefore have full control over the long-term performance of the property. This is one critical secret that we have found great success in.

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?

This statement is so true! I am most grateful to the team I work with, and I have literally learned everything I know in business from them. I read a lot and have a series of mentors but for me to date the team has been my best teacher. Everybody comes at things from such different angles, with different passions. We are lucky to be headquartered out of Medellin and have the benefit of amazing professionals seeking to live here for a lifestyle change. We have local team members who have a different outlook and point of view. I like to get people in the room and I step out of the way and let them debate and collaborate while injecting guidance as needed. All the great ideas and subsequent implementation come from the team, and I learn so much from them in the process. I feel lucky to be where I am and surrounded by the Lifeafar culture.

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?

We have been working on several fronts and have some things both in process and in the initial ideation stage. At the core we have recognized that people want to have a great experience, and often this is a hit or miss in the vacation rental market industry. For us it starts with design of the units. Amazing design is so important. Most of our clients want to feel like they are at home and we want them to have a better design than they have at home. Five years ago, we were the only group doing this in the cities we operate short-term vacation rentals, as the industry is riddled with people who throw a junk couch and bed in an apartment and try to rent for as much as possible. This leads to a lackluster experience at best. So we are working with an A+ design team that in many cases creates something that looks better than most people’s homes, which let’s face it, is part of the fun of traveling. But much deeper than the great design of the units is the service and subsequent experience people have. Again, in the vacation rental space there are a lot of subpar units that lead to subpar experiences of the guests, this is probably the achilles heel of the vacation rental market for the time being. Having consistently great experiences is so critically important for the future of the industry and something we are spending a lot of time developing and innovating. It’s our goal at Lifeafar to provide the consistency people expect in hotels but in the vacation rental market. Connectivity of likeminded guests, connectivity of guests with locals, and the ability to be productive in a location are all areas we are developing out in the hospitality space within the vacation rental market. My feeling is that these things will pave the future. Of course, our cherry on top is educating guests and investors alike on passive investment vehicles where they can fund their lifestyle with the returns they earn on projects. This is exciting and the unique connection between investment and property management has so many untold advantages for everybody involved.

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

The specific pain point we are innovating around is the lack of consistency at a high level in the vacation rental market space and the lack of accessibility and education around international investment opportunities.

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

I think knowledge is power and as people realize these opportunities and experiences exist they will have a fundamentally changed view of travel. I expect that the next generation will not want to spend a week on the beach and go back to work for the rest of the year when they know they can live and work and enjoy a stimulating community, while they travel around getting to know places, setting up business, and leveraging likeminded people skills and connections. It is my great hope that Lifeafar plays a fundamental role in changing the entire outlook on a vacation by providing homes away from home with elements that take the securities from home and the excitement and personal growth opportunities presented by travel and investment.

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?

  1. I expect platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to emphasize companies bringing on quality well managed inventory. The new travel mentality with the increased connectivity brought forth by the internet allows for people to work and live in new locations. I expect the concept of the two-week vacation and back to work mentality for many people will become an antiquated outlook on their travel. Incorporating travel with their daily lives will become more and more prominent. As such Lifeafar, and other forward-looking hospitality companies will start putting a much heavier emphasis on livable spaces that feel like home, not just a bed to sleep in, while connecting experiences with locals and other likeminded travelers. A sense of community will be at the core of the new traveler mentality as they seek to live abroad, not just visit abroad.
  2. I think hotels will promote large vacation rental buildings as their entrance into the vacation markets (already happening).
  3. Likewise, Airbnb will likely partner with more and more developers to bring large projects to market that are more sustainable and more cost effective that can also provide great experiences (also already happening). I think while Airbnb and other booking channels are focused on individual units, and that this will evolve into more curated experiences provided through larger companies like Lifeafar. This is good for booking platforms and good for guests, as quality and consistency of experience go up.
  4. I believe we will see strong unions made in the coworking environment and the vacation rental market development.
  5. Finally, I think that as people get more educated on investment possibilities and returns there will be a slow de-emphasizing of timeshare type investment opportunities replaced with more passive income opportunities along the lines of what Lifeafar creates. Again, knowledge is power and that can lead to improved lifestyle and the new connectivity brought by the continued evolution of the internet will have people thinking more like investors if they feel they want to own something overseas. I think the tendency will be to put their money with groups like Lifeafar so they can realize great returns and subsequently they will become more skeptical when approached with your average timeshare model.

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

For me it is important to have a mission while traveling. That mission will inevitably put you in contact with new unknown people and cultures which gives you the traveler a deeper enjoyment of the experience and leads to new perspective in life. This mission can be any variety of things. I am reminded of my first international travel experience which was one that I think resonates deeply with how travel best suites me. I was delivering an old, falling apart, wooden sailboat to Thailand from Hawaii. What made the experience unique is that the boat was old and constantly had components breaking down. This meant that at port instead of relaxing with the other yachties (who by the way are a unique culture in their own right), we were constantly looking for shops, looking for parts, meeting people, getting tips on who can do what in terms of repairs and where they may live so we can track them down. It was amazing how deep these searches would bring us into learning the culture and build lasting relationships with some of the people involved in helping us find or repair this or that. They would be intrigued with our mission, and we would be intrigued with their world. This would lead to invites to peoples home and generally you would get a good sense of the inner workings of that culture. This mission-oriented travel can be very rewarding and is a great premise for cross fertilization of ideas, ideals, and two way learning in any arena that one chooses to pursue.

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

I think our fundamental mission at Lifeafar is bringing good to the world by helping educate people on experiences and opportunities that did not otherwise exist. I like to think as time goes on our energies and efforts to build out the amazing experiences and connectivity will result in people rising faster to live up to their own best version of themselves. I see this a bit like I see our business. You can grow and scale only as fast as knowledge can come to the table through relationships with great people. Being that time is finite, finding ways to accelerate your ability to grow as a person or a business is critical for any person wanting to achieve their best self. In the business environment we want to be able to scale quickly to achieve the best we can in the time we have, and it is well known that through networks and people you can achieve amazing things at an incredibly fast pace. I see this equally applicable in individual life, where building a network, and aligning with fun, inspiring and vastly different people (than you) is a great place to be. I see Lifeafar providing much of this infrastructure in the coming years so that people can grow to their greater potential. In addition, to this we are trying to contribute to the local greatest good through charitable donations in the cities where we operate. We want the travelers’ impact to be a positive one that can help to bring improved change to people’s lives. We feel this can happen through connectivity and accessibility of locals to our international travelers and through contributions made to great initiatives to help local communities.

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. 🙂

I mainly covered this above with the helping people to live up to their greater potentials.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me personally on LinkedIn and I encourage you to follow the next chapter in Lifeafar’s story on Instagram and YouTube, as well as our vlogger Sam Miller on his YouTube channel.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

The Future Of Travel: “The next generation will not want to spend a week on the beach and go back… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.