We’ve been renting historic waterfront vacation rentals for years throughout the US, once or twice even renting a beachfront mansion off-season just to feel like Gatsby for a weekend. So you can imagine our joy at discovering A.M.A. Selections, a luxury vacation rental agency offering some of the finest privately-owned villas in the South of France many of which are historic architectural masterpieces.
We recently caught up with A.M.A. Selections co-founder Mariek (pronounced mar-EEK) Anselme. When we first spoke I knew instantly that our companies shared similar clients and marketing goals. Being a fellow female entrepreneur, I also suspected that we had personal traits in common. I specifically wanted to know how A.M.A. Selections came about and what inspired her to start a European-based luxury vacation rental business as an outsider from the United States.
“I’m actually French and American,” Mariek tells me. “I grew up moving around and living in many different places like Amsterdam, Paris, and San Francisco. I moved here to the French Riviera for college and graduate school and fell in love with the area. I’ve always been passionate about travel, culture, and luxury so I think it was just a natural transition for me to enter this industry––and the French Riviera is one of the best markets in the world for luxury real estate”.
Like me, Mariek is also in business together with her significant other and I had to know how the two of them started working together—and how they made it work. I know from personal experience that it’s a rare couple that can run a successful business together twenty hours a day and still have something passionate to talk about when they go out for dinner on Friday night.
“My business partner Andre is from Milan, Italy,” says Mariek. “He was a structural designer for offshore oil platforms for several years before deciding to go back to school and get a business degree. We actually moved together as a couple to the South of France and attended the same university. We started our first company while we were still in college, which failed miserably! We learned a lot from that whole experience though and I don’t think we would have started off as well with A.M.A Selections if it weren’t for the mistakes we made with our first company”.
On the topic of mistakes, I asked Mariek what her biggest challenges have been to date and what if any are her plans for growth. Mariek explained to me that there are several other big players in the market some of which have been around for more then a century. With that said, her biggest challenge initially was establishing credibility and a value-added proposition to both the owners of the properties that she rents out and to the guests staying in the rentals. At Find Everything Historic, we’re also up against big competitors in similar markets so we know what it feels like to be the new guy (or girl). Like Mariek, we also know that every existing market, especially in the real estate and travel segments, are ready for disruption through unique service offerings and being responsive to a new type of traveler and buyer.
As for plans for growth Mariek is focused on expanding geographically but keeping the same impeccable attention to detail and concierge service. “Our goal is to be an international luxury vacation rental agency. In order to achieve this goal we are not willing to compromise the quality of service we provide therefore, we are just taking each step at a time. We are currently working on expanding our portfolio in St. Tropez and are also building our portfolio of chalets in the French Alps. Hopefully within a couple of years we will also be in Paris and in Tuscany.”
If you take a look at A.M.A. Selections’ property portfolio, luxury, exclusivity, and uniqueness are what set their villas apart (some of Mariek’s properties rent for more than 150,000 Euros a week). So how does one even go about finding and selecting these types of properties knowing the high standards of Mariek’s clientele?
“We see each villa and its property as a destination in itself”, Mariek confides. So, we really try to look at the complete experience each villa has to offer. We know when we see a villa if it’s right or not for our portfolio pretty much right away. It’s based off the feeling that we have when entering the home, it’s seeing what amenities the property has to offer, its location, and the aesthetic of the property as a whole. In addition, our relationship with the property owner is just as important because we all need to agree on the fact that the clients are always the first priority.”
And what about those clients? Knowing that luxury travelers assume a high level of service, what do guests spending up to $150,000 a week really expect? The most important part is that Mariek doesn’t simply hand over a set of keys. She creates a complete experience for her clients using A.M.A. Selections’ local knowledge to offer guests ‘micro-experiences’ that are discrete, unique, and hard to find.
“We offer an exclusive range of services to make our client’s stay one-of-a-kind,” Mariek tells me, “Including a private chef, private spa treatments, chauffeurs, private jet and yacht charter, and more. One of our unique services is our live-in concierge, which is essentially having a dedicated member of our team on-site ensuring that our client’s stay runs as smoothly as possible. We are always looking to deliver beyond expectations and we try to do this by using a few elements of surprise to make our clients feel that much more special”.
One thing that is never negotiable for Mariek and her team is discretion, which she says is one of the most important requirements of her clients, and is a part of her company’s code of ethics.
In today’s travel marketplace there are many options for overnight luxury accommodations, especially with the recent proliferation of boutique luxury hotel brands. When I asked Mariek why her clients choose to stay in one of her villas versus a nearby high-end hotel, she explained to me that her clients are seeking authenticity and a vacation experience that is uniquely tailored to their needs and goals—in our real estate language it’s like building a completely custom luxury home versus living in a production mansion just like the two next door.
“A villa is so much more intimate and personal and allows the freedom for guests to swim in the pool at 3 in the morning or throw a dinner party late at night for friends,” says Mariek. “A villa is essentially a home away from home whereas in a hotel, no matter how luxurious it is, you are confined to a room and have to share the public spaces which isn’t ideal for families or a group of friends or anyone traveling for an extended period of time.”
To cater to the most discerning luxury travelers, A.M.A. Selections developed a package to offer their clients all of the comforts of home matched with the services of a five star hotel all while enjoying an authentic experience. Their Premium Package includes airport transfers, daily maid service, mid-week change of towels and linens, live-in concierge, continental breakfast, private chef, and a private jet lag massage treatment. Who doesn’t need one of those when you get off of your private plane?
So what’s next on Mariek’s wish list for her ever-more discerning clientele? She’s about to roll out the ultimate fully-immersive experience package for guests this October known as, “A.M.A Selections’ Culinary Experience”. Seeing an opportunity to further develop the experiences for their guests, A.M.A Selections recently partnered up with a renowned chef to create the ultimate sensory experience for the most discerning food and wine lovers in a beautiful 20th century chateau. Guests will enjoy hands-on cooking classes, explore the colorful market in Cannes alongside the chef, and taste regional wines beloved by locals in a private food and wine pairing.
I knew when Mariek and I first connected that we probably shared a lot in common. Clearly I was right. At Find Everything Historic we can’t imagine anything more idyllic than a week in the French Riviera in a historic 400 year old villa with a private chef and concierge. As the luxury travel market continues to grow we’d place our bet that Mariek and A.M.A. Selections are going to take off with it.