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An insider's view of Tuscany

Raymond Lamothe Facebook



What you should know about the pros and cons of holiday discounts.

After 29 consecutive years working as a Tour Operator renting Villas, Farmhouses and Residential complexes through our Tuscan Enterprises Travel Agency, I believe that I have seen practically all the discount gimmicks and ploys that have been invented by operators in this competitive holiday rental business. With the recession, boundless amounts of creativity have bloomed and flourished.

The first company ever to apply discounts was Cuendet, Located here in the Chianti Classico and for years the undisputed leader of all types of vacation rentals. Their approach was straightforward already some 25 years ago: if you booked your holiday accommodation before December 31st, you got a 5% discount on the price – be it a small apartment in a dingy old farm or a magnificent independent Villa. It was 5% and that was that.

For many years, this system drew return clients to the company and it also made sure it was the first one out on the market with its printed catalogues. Do remember that when we and the other “historical” Tour Operators started the Villa rental business, the most we had to work with were basic computers, phones and the first fax machines. Forget the internet and websites. Tons of multilingual catalogues were produced by each of us and we vied to see who came up with the most original design and cover each year.

Today the rental war is up and running and several tricks are being used by some of the big operators. They will offer you a 7 day holiday at the price of 6 days. This is the most absurd kind of false discount as it is simply a total ruse: what they are doing is taking the normal weekly price and applying it to the 6 days, making the 7th day appear as an extra. That 7th day is then used again when they switch to false discounts, where they will offer reduced rates ranging from 10% to 20% if you book by a certain date.

Here, one of two things are done: the first is to start with a higher base price quoted on the Villa you are going to discount (which means that you are selling it at its real price anyway); the second is that famous 7th day cost being presented again as a discount. Simple calculation: if a Villa’s real price is 6000 euros per week, and it is offered at 7000 euros instead, then each day is worth 1000 euros. If you get 6 days at the price of 7, you are paying 6000 euros and the full Villa price. If, instead, you are getting, say, a 10% discount, it accounts for 700 euros, and the agent is ahead by 300 euros on the discount accorded to you. Win-win for the agent and owner, right? But it does give you the impression you are getting a good deal.

Recently, a new false discount, but offered in a more refined way, has been to include a dinner or a lunch for your party when you book a certain Villa. Consider that a normal meal for 8 persons served to you will probably not cost more than 250 euros. Again, this is added to the weekly fee by owners and agents when prices are drawn up. Conclusion? You are paying for that meal anyway.

There are only a very few discounts that you can consider honestly legitimate:

1) The first is when you are booking 3 or more weeks in a Villa. By all means do ask if a discount is available. Generally, both owners and agents will reduce prices and commissions because 3 or 4 week bookings mean having a full house without the hassle of searching for different clients for the same end result. Owners especially love long bookings, as you can naturally imagine. In many cases they will even throw in the free meal or a pizza party made putting their wood-burning ovens to good use. Long-term bookers are highly cherished clients.

2) A second honest discount can be asked if you are effecting a last-minute booking on a Villa. Booking less than a month prior to arrival can be a good way to get the owners and agents to offer a discount as the accommodation will probably remain empty anyway. I personally don’t advise waiting to do your bookings at the last minute, especially if you have to find plane tickets and organize car rentals because you are going to be left with whatever nobody else wants. Your tickets may cost more instead of less, and you risk having to rent a minivan when all you need is a small car. In the end, what you save on the Villa rental will just go to pay the other costs. Not worth it to go for a second-choice holiday which is probably going to be fairly expensive anyway.

3) A third good reason to ask for a discount is if you are a return client to a specific Villa. Agents and owners are always pleased to have guests returning as it means that their offer was satisfying.

Beware of discounts shouted in large promotional messages from websites as they are just rusing you. If a Villa needs to be discounted by 20% already in January or February, it means that either the original price was too high, or it is just forlorn and empty for other reasons which should lead you to wonder about it. Discounts offered a month or so prior to an arrival date are fair game. This means agents and owners are doing their best to fill in periods that are still empty.

My personal advice about a few things you should do when booking your Villa holiday are:

1) Book your tickets early once you know your holiday dates and try to get the best price possible. You can choose the Villa after you have the tickets in hand.

2) Make sure you rent a car from one of the major car rental companies. Even if they cost more, they will provide immediate assistance and replacement cars. The obscure really cheap rental agents may leave you stranded for days on end. We have seen this too many times in recent years and it totally ruins your vacation.

3) Ask your agents/Tour Operators if they carry liability insurance that will cover you and yours during your holiday. For example, we at Tuscan Enterprises have total client coverage for anything that may happen to your family and party during your stay.

4) Another question to ask your agents is if they actually know the houses and Villas that they are suggesting to you. Hands on knowledge will save a lot of guesswork.

5) The final but fundamental distinguishing feature to look for in choosing your rental agency is to know how long they have been operating in the Villa rental business.

These are simple guidelines, but if you follow them, you will see how useful they are in helping you organize a really enjoyable holiday.


Piggy Bank

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