I begin this article by disproving the value of words alone. This is especially surprising as I am a writer by profession.
But the age-old lesson of ‘words mean nothing without action’ springs to mind here. If we lived in a world where human beings believed all the claims and promises of others (without question), then you can only imagine the kind of people we’d have leading the country, educating our children, and serving us our morning coffees in-between exchanges of small talk.
You see, there is one such thing that underpins all the important decisions in life. From an employer offering their team member that much-anticipated job promotion. Right down to the everyday choices such as a guest using the biodegradable shampoo provided to them at their short-stay accommodation, instead of their own.
The key factor here, is trust.
For hospitality businesses, trust is oxygen. Silent and invisible – yet powerful enough to override competition and conditioned fears.
And while so many understand the importance of ‘having trust’ (be it from guests, customers or clients), so few make an active effort to acquire it, ethically.
It’s common to get caught up in the daily grind of business and lose sight of the important things, outside of making money. I can certainly relate. If you’d have asked me five years ago, my priority was always generating sales, rather than generating trust.
All until I met a hospitality leader who not only changed the trajectory of my business, but the entire scope of the short-term rental industry.
He goes by the name of Chris Maughan and he is without a doubt, a pioneer of trust within the STR industry.
Normally, I would write such reports up and refer to the main (human) subject by surname. Mainly because that’s the general practice in journalistic writing.
However, over the years Chris and I have become good friends. This seems to be the case with most people who cross paths with Chris; you realise from the get-go that he has worked in hospitality, as he is such a natural with people.
But to say that Chris has simply ‘worked in hospitality’ would be the understatement of the century. The self-made entrepreneur relocated to Cannes over twenty years ago. This was following several years of senior hospitality based positions with other companies; and more importantly, after Chris noticed a huge gap in the market, in this part of France.
Chris built AES Accommodation and Events from a tiny studio flat in France, and has since transformed it into a successful luxury short-term rental and events business (for corporate clients), which was worth a staggering £18 million in 2019. AES’s client portfolio includes the likes of MTV, Google, Disney, and Spotify – to name just a few.
The colossal growth of AES happened during a time when social media and paid Google advertising didn’t exist. Not only this, but Chris not once relied on online travel agencies (OTAs) to generate bookings for his properties; and instead used his earliest methods of trust marketing to ethically attract the right clients.
So successful AES Accommodation and Events became, that Chris invested a quarter of a million euros of his own money, to create I-PRAC. A global verification and membership platform, which has revolutionised the STR sector, for the better.
You could say, that the title ‘I-PRAC Approved’ itself, has become synonymous with the word ‘trust’.
Whether property owners and managers invest in I-PRAC accreditation or not, there is no denying that this business has taken the concept of trust and proved with conviction, that trust is no longer something that is ‘nice to have’ in the industry – it is an absolute necessity.
With I-PRAC, Chris has introduced a meticulous verification process that guarantees 100% protection from rental fraud. Thus helping both legitimate operators, as well as worldwide travellers. The platform is the first of its kind; and as such, has put the wheels on ‘trust’ and driven its value even farther.
Reflecting back is just as important as looking forward. Sometimes, it is even more important because this is where the biggest life lessons come from. So, while many dive into the business bustle of the new year, I thought it’d be worth looking back at 2021 and analysing how Chris Maughan has consistently helped to rebuild our industry – under the flag of trust.
Between the period of the last week of December to the first week of January, the internet is usually filled with New Year’s Resolutions posts, as well as elaborate lists of people’s biggest wins.
This, without a doubt, is a joy to see.
However, I have deliberately taken more time in putting this piece together. The scope of positive work that Chris and I-PRAC have put in for the STR space over 2021 (and even before that) has been so vast, that I have needed to pause to catch my breath – and lean on the support of other industry professionals.
One such professional is Will Plummer, CEO at Trust My Travel Group and all-round ambassador (and respective leader) of trust tools.
Trust My Travel Group provides risk management solutions to travel merchants, consumers and service providers to the travel trade via its three successful brands: Trust My Travel, Trust Protects and TMU Management. As Chris and Will have naturally shared a common ground, professionally, Will has been more than willing to support Chris’s work in the short-term rental industry. He says,
‘As travel starts to reopen after the impact of the pandemic, trust is at the forefront of people’s mind; and Chris is the guy leading that trust campaign. I know he was motivated by personal experience of clients being let down but he is relentless in championing how important trust exactly is, in our industry. I love hearing Chris’s passion for trust, as well as his commitment to it. It’s always a pleasure to learn from his insights’.
Another long-standing supporter, peer and friend of Chris Maughan is Moriya Rockman of Smiling House Group, a global network of luxury short stay properties and property owners. Moriya is a very ‘present’ authority within the short-term rental industry; and remembers witnessing Chris’s generous offer to the STR industry, when the pandemic hit its peak. During a time when operators were looking to cut costs and desperately increase sales, Chris had decided to give back (enormously) to professionals; and invest in the rebuild of the short-term rental landscape. She says:
‘I remember seeing a post on LinkedIn, as it was attracting a lot of positive engagement. Chris Maughan had just invested £1 million back into the short term rental industry (through I-PRAC) as a means to help property owners and managers. The idea was to offer these legitimate and well-deserving operators free I-PRAC accreditation, to help them create a trust-based brand.
As Smiling House Luxury (part of Smiling House Group) has already been I-PRAC Approved, I understand firsthand the benefits of this accreditation, as well as the support that comes with it. I-PRAC isn’t just a bit of software and machine-led verification. The team is built (and managed) by people who are experts within their respective fields. I-PRAC not only provides accreditation, but professionals like Chris help short-stay businesses communicate the importance of trust when it comes to conversion and generating more bookings. This is where the real value lies, and this is what Chris was offering – for free. All during a time when the industry needed it most.’
As a campaign particularly close to Chris’s heart, this move was called I-PRAC’s official ‘Rebuild Initiative’ and since launching, has helped over 6000 legitimate STR agencies and property managers become I-PRAC approved.
Yet this hugely successful initiative was simply one of many.
To continue serving the STR landscape as best as possible, Chris confirmed partnerships with other industry operators, where he felt he could provide the most value . This includes Wheelhouse, a dynamic pricing and revenue management tool, Safestay – an Australian based company that specialises in audit inspection processes for STR operators; and ASSC, the leading source of knowledge on short-term lettings and holiday homes in Scotland.
The above partnerships – all of which received excellent press coverage- were created to help leverage trust and ‘trust tools’ within the short-term rental sector. Ultimately, so that property managers and owners could focus on rebuilding their businesses in a different (but impactful) way.
Outside of I-PRAC related partnerships, Chris has continued to share insights and trust-led content on his personal platforms.
In around May 2021, when the Clubhouse scene exploded, Chris founded a group on the platform called STR Professionals in Clubhouse – a place where industry professionals gather via audio messaging even today, to share their advice and experiences about succeeding in the short-term rental sector. As such, Chris has built an incredible community on this platform, which is a breeding ground for trust, as well as healthy professional relationships.
Ryan Luke, professional speaker, podcaster and CEO of Luke Capital Group (a global property management company) first connected with Chris Maughan on the Clubhouse platform; and has rapidly become an ambassador of trust marketing since. With a sound understanding of what makes a successful business, Ryan was quick to pursue I-PRAC Approval for his portfolio of short-stay properties, and communicated this to audiences far and wide.
‘I was lucky to connect with Chris on an audio-led platform, meaning that him and I were able to get to know each other from the get-go.’ Ryan has stated.
‘I recognised straight away that our values aligned (both in the business and personal realm of things) and was taken aback by Chris’s stories about fraudulent short-term rental businesses, who scheme to rob guests of every penny they have spare. As a self-made entrepreneur myself, I knew that I had to become an ambassador of not only I-PRAC, but Chris’s mission of placing trust at the heart of the short-term rental landscape.
Since becoming I-PRAC Approved, my business has reaped many rewards. But outside of the fiscal gains, I’ve found that partnering with Chris has really added to the credibility of our brand; for which I’m enormously grateful’.
As well as his community building work on Clubhouse, Chris Maughan has presented on several live and virtual stages, over the last eighteen months. This includes his second appearance as a leading speaker on The Book Direct Show, hosted by STR industry leader Damian Sheridan – who described Chris as a ‘great asset to have on the show, due to his experience in building a hugely successful short term rental business, in the absence of OTAs and solely, through hard work and solid trust marketing’. The Book Direct Show which is yet to announce its next groundbreaking event in 2022, only hosts the best of the STR scene on stage, as a means to help rental operators generate more direct bookings.
Chris has spoken in detail about trust psychology and trust tools, often using science-backed case studies and examples of leading giants such as Amazon. A simple search of ‘Chris Maughan’ on LinkedIn will bring up a plethora of content pieces that demonstrate this entrepreneur’s meticulous understanding of his respective field. So, it’s no surprise that global conference hosts and organisers see the value in featuring Chris (and his industry wisdom) at their events.
As well as the above, Chris has been interviewed by the likes of Kristian Lupinski for I Meet Hotel (the hotelier’s podcast) and US based Wil Slickers for the famous Slick Talks podcast. Slickers has recently become a leading voice of the vacation rental space in the states and has this to say about Chris:
‘Outside of the hospitality industry, whenever I hear the word ‘trust’, I literally think of Chris! He has mastered such brand awareness (with consistency) – and that is a lesson within itself. When you’re as relentlessly consistent as Chris, that message becomes engrained in your mind, and Chris has done this fantastically with the idea of trust marketing – and how it can support and grow our global industry. By pioneering such an important message, Chris has set an example for his peers and colleagues; and has gotten us all thinking about how we can too can use the best ‘trust tools’ in business, that actually work.’
It’s hard to believe that when I first met Chris, on a warm April day in the South of France, his philosophies around trust marketing were only just coming to surface.
Fast-forward four years, and now the value of trust in the short-term rental sector is taking the entire global landscape by storm. In fact when I now see other industry professionals subconsciously quoting some of Chris’s teachings, I cannot help but think that this forward-thinking entrepreneur has created quite the movement; and has a large part to play in its worldwide ‘rebuild’ since the coronavirus pandemic.
Thanks to Chris, more (and more) of us can no longer look at a STR business’s website homepage, without immediately looking for its ‘trust signals’ – such as the adequate logos, call-to-action buttons, and relevant phrases that Chris so passionately talks about.
Even the industry’s leading marketing and social media expert Mark Simpson claims that branding, marketing, and content writing professionals should all take a leaf out of Chris’s book, as ‘trust’ underpins everything.
Mark is a podcaster, author, and founder of Boostly – a company which provides hospitality owners the tools, tactics and training to increase their direct bookings. He has worked in the short-term rental scene from (literally) his childhood; and recognises the best marketing strategies, even before they’ve been fully actioned. He says:
‘If you think about what marketing actually is, then it’s basically getting your ideal customers to warm up to you. To get to know you, to familiarise themselves with you – and ultimately, to trust you. When I train members of the Boostly Academy in social media, email marketing, and website content creation, it’s all to help their guests trust them more; and therefore, make that direct booking.
The truth is, so many of us rely on trust marketing, without even knowing it. However, what I love about Chris is that not only has he created a product and service that solidifies trust in our industry (I-PRAC); but he personally shows up every day, educating people about the psychology of trust marketing (and all its layers). He deep dives into the most insightful details and has set an example for us all’.
To echo Mark Simpson’s words, Chris is indeed, a long-standing example to us all.
As we navigate in an industry which was grossly under threat less than two years ago, many of us are keen to generate as much business as possible. The irony of the fact that among the complicated abbreviations, strategies, and corporate formulas, the ultimate answer is as simple as ‘trust’, takes me back, even today.
But if you remind yourself that human beings make purchasing decisions with emotion (and justify with logic); and that ‘trust’ is an emotional brain state according to psychologists, then it can only make obvious sense to place trust at the helm of any business. Surely, in the context of the STR sector, trust, safety and security prioritises lists of property amenities, flashy websites, and regurgitated high-res photographs that fail to tell guests the right story, nor provide them with peace of mind.
Of course, proving the irreplaceable value of trust to the STR industry is only half the battle. As Chris Maughan himself claims, ‘There is still a lot of work to be done’ yet this can only happen when we work collaboratively, and with the same mission in mind.
While we cannot predict what the pandemic and other worldly affairs have in store for our sector, we can sure-bet that it is now far more resilient than before, thanks to the leadership of professionals like Chris Maughan. This entrepreneur has committed himself fully to flying the flag of trust and absolutely deserves to be credited for it.
On behalf of the entire short-term rental sector Chris Maughan, we thank you for your leadership, your contribution and your desire to innovate and introduce new ideas – when the landscape has needed it most.