RIDING THE TREND

Colombia 2020 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

As the largest property manager of furnished apartments in Medellín, Casacol uses data to determine new trends and adapt its products and services.

Brad Hinkelman
BIOGRAPHY

Brad Hinkelman is the General Manager of Casacol. He left his job as a technology executive in New York in 2008 after he discovered the potential of the real estate market in Medellín. Since then, he has helped foreign and local investors place more than USD100 million in mostly ground up real estate developments. His firm Casacol focuses on projects related to the fast-growing tourism sector in Medellín, which now ranks as one of the top-rated destinations in Latin America. Casacol provides a full suite of services from asset development, acquisition, and management, to legal and accounting services tailored to foreign real estate investors.

In six years, Casacol has grown to become the largest property manager of furnished apartments in Medellín. What is the secret behind this breakthrough?
Casacol is known for its condo hotels and furnished apartments. That said, we are interested in the entire hotel and tourism industry in Medellín. Our last two projects were boutique hotels, as will be our next three projects. We are diversifying slightly away from furnished apartments and condo hotels. We now serve more than 2,500 guests per month in Medellín. We send a survey to every guest and get hundreds of responses every month. They tell us what they liked and did not like about their stay, Medellín, and their trip to Colombia in general. We review this feedback weekly because it keeps us close to a real-time snapshot of what our customers think. For example, we recently got rid of all single-use amenity bottles for products like shampoo because of guests' comments. Historically, our guests have had many problems with transportation, both taxis and Uber. That led us to purchase and lease our own vehicles, and we now have a fleet of vehicles and drivers. Having our own fleet allows us to directly control customer experience.

What is the industry's landscape like today, and what growth possibilities do you see?
Casacol is the largest tourism operator by volume in Medellín. Therefore, we collect a great deal of data about our guests and constantly look at trends. Then, we make investments and project decisions to capture those trends. One example is that less than 1% of our guests were families around five years ago, though they now average 10%, in some months even closer to 20%. Families have specific needs, so we had to design products and services well suited to them. The future of tourism all across Colombia is incredibly bright, especially in Medellín, where YoY international arrivals are growing at the fastest rate in the country. The tourism landscape is also evolving quite dramatically based on demographics and global awareness of Colombia as a travel destination. For example, at present, millennials make up more than 60% of our guests, though starting in 2020, they will turn 40 years old. We must understand and adapt to that change. Some companies will embrace that change, and others will resist, and as with every other trend, there will be winners and losers.

Casacol focuses on high net-worth investors. How do you attract them?
Our only strategy is just to do a great job, create great investment opportunities, and offer great asset management services. High net-worth individuals typically know other high net-worth individuals, so word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues, friends, and family are an important part of our relationship with investors. One of the comments I receive constantly, especially from foreign real estate investors, is that their local property manager does not even do what Casacol is doing, and we are doing this in Colombia. That is important feedback for us because today investor capital is extremely global and will go to whichever place works the hardest and delivers the best returns. It is extremely important that we compete on a global scale, something Colombia needs to do as well.

What can the government do to further boost the tourism sector?
The tourism industry has contributed significantly to Colombia's GDP, especially over the last five years. And, this is without the government even trying hard. The biggest issue is that there are at least 10-12 different government entities spread across various areas of government that think tourism is their responsibility. However, no one is truly leading the effort to promote a global brand. If the government was to consolidate all these entities and put a true leader in place to build the Colombian brand and promote tourism, that would be an incredible first step.