For many partners, entering the travel industry is less of a career move and more of a career supplement - this much is true for Eric Burkel. Hailing from the US, Eric is now based in Marseille, France where he is Head of Strategy and Development for water conservation start-up Hydrao. On the side, he runs a vacation rental property in the town of Amboise in the Loire Valley, an opportunity he seized when long-term rentals weren’t panning out as planned.
From a career that has covered everything from making pizzas in college to giving tax advice to CEOs, what has Eric learned along the way and how has this informed his role as a Booking.com partner?
Click.: What were the key moments in your career that defined your position now?
Burkel: I can’t really say I ever had a grand game plan, aside from wanting to be my own boss. When I look back at what I have done, the circuitous path it ended up taking to get where I am today never ceases to amaze me. I guess the key is to create new opportunities as you bank different work experiences and seize them.
The first big moment for me was getting a management job overseeing 250 workers at the tender age of 27 when I left my first real job at a bank to join an industrial cleaning company: I like to think of it as my “MBA by fire”. Another was jumping from IBM’s corporate environment to the finance industry. It was like hitting the big time and for the first time in my life I was interviewed by reporters and often did TV interviews. Great fun while it lasted- the internet bubble bursting did me in!
I ventured into the travel industry as a side project, alongside my full-time job. My studio had been a long-term rental and I put it up for vacation rental after having some problems with one of my tenants. My wife had been saying for years that I should go into hosting. Things came together all of a sudden. I’d been a vacation rental user for a long time, and that gave me perspective on what a guest expects. It comes down to meeting those expectations, going out of your way to make it a good experience for your customer having been a customer yourself. Put yourself in the guest’s shoes and consider what they are experiencing.
Click.: What have been your major successes?
Burkel: Somebody coming back! Having repeat business is relatively difficult as it’s a very specific market [for the studio] with a lot of last-minute bookings from people passing through the area.
Click.: What have been the challenges (and how did you learn from them)?
Burkel: Not being on site was a pretty big deal and it was hard to manage the property from a distance. Little things like having furniture delivered - who’s there to receive it and put it up? I had split the flat I had into two - a studio and a two bedroom as that was better for the market - and luckily the tenant next door [to the studio] was really sweet and did a lot of that, picking up deliveries and so on. The real key was getting the person who helps clean the studio - originally she also met guests when they arrived but later I put a keybox in.
Click.: What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
Burkel: Each person that comes is like having a new tenant for a long-term rental. If you want to make that experience good it’s very time-consuming. That’s a challenge on top of being remote. Having process where you can automate and have templates saves time as the general information applies to each rental - and then I always tweak it to make it seem like it was personalised for that guest.
Click.: Did you have anyone that mentored or inspired you?
Burkel: A friend of mine had a flat in the same building and she was a tipping point - you could say she held my hand through the early process. She first suggested putting the apartment up for holiday rentals and she had lots of tips and pointers.
And before that, my second manager in IBM UK said during my interview that under his watch I would never work in his department. Upper management thought otherwise, imposing me on him, and we ended up getting along like a house on fire: more than thirty years on we are still friends.
Click.: What one piece of advice would you have for someone starting out in the travel industry?
Burkel: The future of this industry is dependent on preserving destinations, so make sure every single thing you do ensures their survival.
- Eric Burkel is the owner of Studio hyper-centre d'Amboise avec vue sur le château, a vacation rental in the Loire region, France
- He runs the property as a side hustle on top of his day job, Head of Strategy and Development for water conservation start-up Hydrao
- He was inspired to enter the short-term rental industry after long-term tenancy proved to be problematic, and his neighbour providing a guiding hand throughout the early days