VRS211 – Paying it Forward with Vacation Rental Owner Bob Garner

Who hasn’t dreamed of quitting the day job and enjoying life in an idyllic location, following a passion of meeting people and helping create amazing experiences?

This is what Bob Garner did in 2005 when, together with his long-time partner, Ian, they gave up their corporate careers in London, bought a derelict farmhouse in a little-known part of Italy, and embarked on a new life of vacation rental hosting.

Nowadays, instead of the stress of project management and HR, Bob and Ian spend their time welcoming guests to Casal dei Fichi; showing them the delights of the local town of Le Marche, or the nearby beaches; organizing truffle hunts and gourmet weekends, and entertaining them with Monday Pizza night.

Casal dei Fichi, Bob and Ian, and some of their guests were featured in Episode 4 of A Sense of Place – Matt Landau’s online TV show that combines his commentary on the guest experience, with an exploration of what makes a great owner or manager.

The stunning backdrop of this area of Italy delivers a good insight into the reason the couple chose this place to settle down away from the busy-ness of the city.

Bob talks about some of the challenges of starting a business from scratch in a new country and the research they did before settling on Le Marche.

He shares how they got the word out in the first place by bottling their own olive oil and gifting it to friends during a road trip around Britain. We also hear what it’s like to be an onsite host and why this may be the reason 55% of their bookings are from repeat guests.

The business of Casal dei Fichi doesn’t end with just happy guests, although that’s a great goal.

So many of the operational aspects of the business contribute to the environmental causes Bob and Ian support, and we hear how they encourage guests along the way with reusable water bottles, recycled toilet paper (yes, that’s a thing), and a tree planting project.

In Matt Landau’s words:

“I left Le Marche with a new found appreciation for how the personality of an individual can really play a big role in a vacation rental businesses success. These small gestures begin to rub off on you as a guest….. It’s almost like their small business was making me a better version of myself”.

Prepare to be inspired by Bob’s enthusiasm and enjoyment, just as I was.

Sites mentioned in this episode:

Casal dei Fichi Video (YouTube)

Creating Casal Dei Fichi (YouTube)

A Sense of Place Episode 4

Casal Dei Fichi on Home Away



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Terry Whyte

Thank you Heather and Bob. Great podcast.

    Bob Garner

    Thanks Terry. Enjoyable for me too – talking about our lives here!

Matt Elder

Great interview and a nice compliment to the Sense of Place episode – really like how you are able to take a slightly different approach to what Matt L is doing with the video. Thought was really interesting about connecting with Travel writers and people holding onto those articles for years. Any tips about approaching writers/publications, how do you “sell” the idea it will be great to write about your property?

    Bob Garner

    Thanks Matt. I am certainly no expert where the press is concerned but we have been fortunate over the years to garner quite a few articles about Casal dei Fichi.
    The first thing I would say is that the small references in a wider scoped article rarely produce anything other than to massage your ego for 5 minutes. In my opinion the articles that really make a difference are the pieces solely about you of course and where they are published in the broadsheets or some well read magazine.
    You can use an agency to get your press release out eg PR Web but I understand this sometimes does not have the same impact at the receiving end. We simply write a press release (following style guidelines you can find online) and mention the topic we think they might be interested in. Note they are looking for something different, unusual and note worthy. You may be the best in the world at what you do but they need a hook to hang the story on or it needs to be topical because of some event or activity in the area.
    Clearly the nuances of being successful with the press goes beyond this comments section but the essence is to have some topic to catch their eye (they get so bored reading the same stuff every day.) Also keep your PR really brief and analyse every word to make sure it is needed – the attention span of a journalist is no longer than ours! Good luck.

      Matt Elder

      Thanks for the detailed reply and definitely some great pointers that have made some more notes about. Checked out your website and quite liked the youtube video of the “before” – really gave a sense of how much work you put into the place. Hopefully get to your neck of the woods one day.

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