SmartRental Group is the response to a number of concerns about new ways of understanding housing and coexistence, such as flexibility, the desire for emancipation of young people, the lack of economic options and the aspirations to know and share life and professional experiences. Fernando Rodríguez studied Business Administration (ADE) at the Complutense University of Madrid. He combined his studies by working as a tennis instructor at the university school for several years. He also made his first steps in the hospitality sector, as he set up and managed different cocktail bars for two years. After completing his studies, he began working in investment banking for three and a half years, where he gained valuable experience. He began working in London, where he finished the last year and a half of university. Later, he received a scholarship to pursue a Master’s Degree in Economics and Finance in Madrid, at ICADE. His professional career led him to live and work in different countries in South America. He had the opportunity to work in a media agency in Peru, Bolivia, Zambia and Brazil. These experiences gave him a global perspective. SmartRental Group arose from the hand of his partner Francisco García and him, more than 12 years ago, when they saw the opportunity to offer something different due to the need of people to find a different type of accommodation than the one established until now.”In definitively, it is the solution that we would have liked to have when we shared a flat in London a few years ago,” he tells elEconomista.es.
How was the company born?
The beginnings were hard. Without a penny, only with our own savings, setting up everything ourselves, my partner Fran and I, without maintenance or cleaning staff, with all the vicissitudes you can imagine and working from Monday to Sunday because in this business there are clients every day . But with great enthusiasm and great desire. We went two and a half years without a salary, I even had to move back in with my parents!
We began to expand the team by implementing the Revenue Management Departments, Operations Department, Maintenance, etc. which made us become more professional and thus overtake many operators ‘on the left’, several of whom started long before us. Currently we continue working very hard and trying to do things well, because there are still many challenges and opportunities.
What has been your evolution today?
SmartRental Group has gone from zero to 400 employees in 12 years. It has a presence in the largest tourist destinations in Spain. We started as a Serviced Apartments company and currently operate practically all accommodation areas: hotels, aparthotels, Serviced Apartments, Hostels, Colivings and Senior Living and Flex Living, which will see the light of day very soon.
It has a presence in the main tourist destinations in our country and some outside such as Budapest. Do you have plans to increase the company’s presence in international destinations?
Yes, we have already closed in Portugal in its two big cities, Lisbon and Porto. We have just hired the head of the new International Expansion Department. Our focus in 2024 – 2025 is growth in the main European cities: France, Italy, Germany…
In their portfolio they have more than 3,000 places for hotels, coliving, apartments, hostels and even restaurants. What areas remain to be implemented within the management of tourist experiences?
We are one of the most complete operators in the sector. We have a management model that includes short and medium stays comprehensively, we range from Hostels and Serviced Apartments to the hotel line, and we are also in the Living area, both with Colivings and student residences and now a Senior Living that It will open at the beginning of this year 2024.
Today we consider that we have a broad product with which we cover all segments compared to hotel or living chains, we offer a comprehensive service.
How do you handle user feedback and reviews on your platform?
We have a Quality Department that is responsible for answering all comments, tracking both online reputation and on-site operational service and internal quality surveys in the establishments themselves. In this way, we align operations and quality. We have a software tool for metrics and KPIs
Have you noticed any emerging trends in tourist behavior or the type of experiences they seek?
From our experience, we see that there are two clear trends:
Short and medium stays are increasingly linked by the type of traveler, by the mobility that people have with teleworking and by the culture of the new generations who, being more digital nomads, move more and more, even if it is in short or medium stays.
The trend in recent years is accentuated after COVID, now we travel more, but for shorter stays.
We believe there has been a boost in demand post-COVID.
It has been going for more than 10 years. What are the prospects for this year?
The perspectives we have in the short and medium term are to set up and structure the International Expansion Department and make it grow. Continue expanding the national department and, within 4 – 6 years, multiply the company by 3 in volume of accommodation capacity, in billing and in Ebitda.
And in another 10 years where do you expect to see SmartRental Group?
Given the rapid growth and evolution that we are experiencing, with unprecedented national and international expansion, thinking about where SmartRental Group will be and where it will have arrived in 10 years seems like a time that is too long and difficult to quantify.
We prefer to focus on the 5-7 year objectives of multiplying the company and focus in the medium term on the capital increase. To do this, we will have to strategically consider whether it is better for us to do so through a possible exit to the capital market or with a private fund at the corporate level.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how have you addressed these challenges?
– Introduce a CEO in the company who will professionalize, even more if possible, the work that the founding partners had done.
– Set up the National and International Expansion Department and structure the company in that part.
– The retention of value in human capital. When we started, not having a brand, branding, or so many economic resources, it was complicated. We trained several profiles who left when they became professional, which made us start over until we managed to form a stable team.
– Generate an attractive and recognizable brand image for the client.
– And of course at a conjunctural and social level, COVID, which has been very hard for everyone, but with which we have subsequently grown a lot.
How is it different from other hospitality management companies?
We move away from the concept of a typical hotel company, since we focus more on operators that are emerging right now. What we try is to have a complete but simple operation adapted to the client, to provide an attractive product that is very appropriate to the needs of today’s tourist, who is more digital, more technological. On the other hand, we differentiate ourselves from a hotel management chain by offering a broader range of products and covering the entire Living part, which gives us that complementarity that we believe is very important today.
Could you mention some of the most notable experiences your platform offers?
We offer services to all accommodation levels of today’s traveler. Additionally, we have different gastronomic offers in restaurants that we manage internally in our group.
What has the group’s financial balance been like in 2023? What expectations do you have for this year?
2023 has been a year with a very positive balance, there has been a jump in quality of almost 50%. The Ebitda was around 3M and for this year we estimate to be around 6 – 7M. In terms of growth rates, Ebitda from 2022 to 2023 has risen around 50%, a figure that we expect to increase to 60% from 2023 to 2024
Within the group they have a wide variety of companies that cover even vehicle parking services. Do you plan to incorporate more companies into the group in the short-medium plan?
We already cover a wide range of products. Indeed, we also have the parking area in Madrid and Barcelona, where we provide services in our hotel and living accommodations. It is not our core business as a brand nor what we want to stand out in, but this allows us that every time we take over an establishment, we can operate it autonomously. The same happens with restaurants, for us it is not an issue like a division to grow and develop independently, but it is true that when we have an establishment we have the versatility of being able to manage it on our own, which gives us more added value as an operator. .
In a market saturated with tourism options, how do your tourism experiences differ from others?
In the group, all our accommodations are located in prime locations and we have an operation and product that is very adapted to the new client. People no longer want large hotel chains, but rather a more personalized product. We focus on providing the service that the client needs, and not those that do not add value.
How do you integrate sustainability and social responsibility into your platform and the experiences you promote?
We work with several projects, both sustainability and CSR, to name a few examples, we have agreements with Menudos Corazones, in which we provide accommodation throughout the year to relatives of children admitted with congenital heart disease.
We have established an agreement with “Aceite Solidario” through which we finance neuro-rehabilitation sessions for neurodegenerative diseases.
Our pens are made from wheat paste and we have eliminated 99% of plastic from our establishments.
You have attended Fitur. What role does this fair have for companies like yours?
You have to be present since it is the most important national tourism fair. We have a substantial player, and that is why we have to be there, see tools, new technologies, forge relationships with institutional funds. It is a good place to meet new people, get situated and get to know you.
Making synergies is important.
How do you rate your experience in this edition? Is there anything new about the fair for your business?
It has been good, Fitur has come back stronger than ever and is once again of crucial importance. We had the opportunity to give a talk at the Community of Madrid Stand to publicize the entire journey of SmartRental Group until reaching the point of success where it is currently.
In addition, we had a physical presence at the Ibiza Stand with our adults-only hotel Rosamar