Community Spotlight - A Women Only Alternative for Vacation Rentals
It was not Victoria O'Connell’s original intention to be an entrepreneur in the travel industry, but it might have been fate, dictated by her life story. Plus plenty of hard work.
Victoria is British, her mom Maltese. She spent much of her childhood growing up in Saudia Arabia while living on an American compound. Her family also resided on the island of Vanuatu in the South Pacific. She visited family in Malta most summers, graduated from a Scottish university and later studied computer science in south Florida. There is even more to her eclectic background, but the one constant is an insatiable appetite for travel.
This itself did not inspire her to create Golightly, a private club that provides a vacation rental and home-sharing platform for women. Her motivation stemmed from a desire to find a solution to issues she experienced with other home rental companies.
Renters From Hell
In 2017, Victoria rented her London apartment to several men who booked through a major home share site. Within a few days they trashed the home and stole everything from electronics to cleaning supplies.
Although the experience was jarring, it sparked an idea. Victoria began asking people she knew if they would stay at the home of a friend of a friend while traveling. The resounding answer was “yes.”
“It just grew from that,” she said. “We took the idea of Airbnb meets LinkedIn, but added more connectivity and made it for women.”
Creating a Safe Space For Women
Golightly is an invitation-only network with an application process that includes an interview with Victoria and her team. Properties are vetted before they are listed, and everyone knows who invited whom to the platform.
“You know that you're connected somehow, and there's a level of accountability there,” Victoria said.
Although only women can join Golightly, they can travel with whomever they please. “The idea is that you feel safe having a connection to someone you're going to stay with, within this female-centric environment,” Victoria said.
The idea is working. Citing safety and security above all, members say that Golightly is the only vacation rental platform they will use.
“We've had survivors of domestic abuse who say we've opened up a world of travel to them,” Victoria said. “We've had women who've gone into retirement, lost their husbands and wanted to feel safe traveling on their own.”
Getting Started In a Pandemic
Golightly opened its virtual doors in January with about 200 members who were mostly friends and family. The platform launched in eight cities— including Miami, New York, London and San Francisco —touting that Golightly would be geared towards professionals looking for safe, comfortable places to call home during long business trips.
The platform quickly grew to approximately 2,000 members. Then the pandemic hit, and would-be travelers were stuck at home. Victoria feared it would cripple her business, but, remarkably, it had the opposite effect. Membership nearly tripled in the months since the pandemic began. Golightly now boasts 6,000 members with rental properties available in more than 80 countries
“We've been very lucky that our community support and the growth in the numbers has just been amazing….The growth has been more than we could have expected, given the circumstances,” Victoria said, adding that membership numbers are even higher than her pre-pandemic projections.
While still oriented to female business travelers, Golightly recently expanded its scope to include vacationers and families. Travelers are also booking longer trips, and combining business with leisure by choosing to work from their vacation home, Victoria said. The platform has bookings through August 2021.
“People seem to be looking for more accountability and more trust these days, especially with everything going on,” Victoria said. “You want to make sure that somebody [you’re renting from or to] is trustworthy, clean and safe.”
What also separates Golightly from other vacation rental and home share sites, Victoria said, is a sense of community and connection.
“A lot of the platforms now are removing that level of connectivity, so you don't even really get to interact with your host or guests that much. We want to keep that community spirit to support [our members].”
Throughout the pandemic, Victoria and her team have focused on finding even more ways for members to connect. Meanwhile, users can browse others’ profiles, send messages, and search the database for specific characteristics like location, industry and colleges and universities.
Community is the heart and soul of her business, Victoria said. She relies on her members for feedback and adapts accordingly. She knows that without them, there would be no Golightly.
“I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur as opposed to someone with a mission,” she said. “People believed in it, and I was able to build a community around that.”