Interview with founder Jo Mackay
This week we're chatting to Jo Mackay of Italian Villa rental firm Bookings For You. Jo built her business from a love of her own family holidays in Italy to become a holiday specialist with beautiful villas available throughout the country and has now expanded into France.
If you would like your holiday organised by someone who realises how special those precious weeks off are and considers it of upmost importance that your time is memorable, read on!
So Jo, how did Bookings For You begin?
In my previous life, I used to work for Procter & Gamble. However, I found that the corporate world didn’t fit with having a family so I took a few years off enjoying being a full time Mum. I always knew I wanted to do something else once my daughter had started school though. Whilst I was off with the children, my husband and I bought a small holiday home in the Italian Lakes which I rented out and this was the seed for the idea to set up a holiday rental company. I have to admit, when I started the company, it was really just a ‘hobby’ business. I only had half a dozen properties on the site. The speed at which Bookings For You took off definitely me by surprise and, with over 350 villas and apartments within our portfolio now, I’ve never looked back.
Which is your favourite area of Italy, or which did you fall for first?
The Italian Lakes, and specifically Lake Maggiore, will always hold a very special place in my heart. After all, it’s where we own a villa and where we have spent many a happy holiday with our children as they have grown up. It’s a particularly good destination for families and, as the children have grown, the area has offered up different things for them to see and do. But we have also had many holidays elsewhere in Italy. Florence is probably my favourite city in Italy. And Spello in Umbria is my favourite town.... it tends to be less well known that some of the other hilltop Umbrian towns but I think it’s a really special place. And more recently, I have fallen head over heels in love for Puglia. It’s so different from the rest of the country and I love how unspoilt it is. The scenery is just beautiful and the food amazing.
Where do you find such beautiful villas?
Nowadays, villa owners approach us which is lovely. However, we have a network of people based in Italy that source properties for us too.
Do you have a favourite property?
There are too many amazing ones to be able to easily pick a favourite. But I do love the quirkiness of the trulli we have in Puglia. I quite often try and test the villas and so do have a soft spot for those I have stayed in myself such as this 5 bedroom trullo in Puglia or this beautiful 3 bedroom villa in Umbria. There are a number of larger properties that I’d love one of my children to get married in one day!! Although I am sure that they will have their own views on that!!! I am just back from viewing this beautiful luxury villa in Umbria and this one would certainly be on my list of favourites now too.
Do you have the chance to meet the owners of your villas?
Definitely! It’s really important for us to meet and get to know the villa owners. They can be a wealth of information on the area and can give us some great tips about what restaurants to try etc. However, their support is also vital in ensuring that our guests are looked after properly hence we want to have a really good relationship with them.
Have you had any interesting or funny experiences on your research trips?
Some of the trips can certainly be eventful... when you have viewed over 20 properties in a day, your brain starts to dissolve into mush and silly things can suddenly become absolutely hilarious!! I do remember viewing a property at midnight once and a bird flew in so I then had to spend the next hour trying to get it out again, all with just the light from my mobile phone as I couldn’t find the electricity switch!
What size of party, or types of villas can you cater for?
All sorts.... we intentionally want to provide a huge selection of villas and apartments to suit all group sizes, style preferences and budgets. So we have small boltholes for two or large villas for up to 50. We have anything from super traditional to ultra modern. The key thing is that they should provide a high standard of accommodation whatever the budget.
Is it true you’ve won some awards?
Yes! In 2016 we won a Bronze British Travel Award for the best Villa Company and were nominated for this again in 2017. In 2017 we also won a Feefo Gold Service Award. Both awards are based purely on customer reviews or votes so to win these means a lot to us and gives us confidence that we’re delivering on what we set out to do.
Tell us about your hashtag #NotJustAVilla?
We feel this sums up what we are trying to achieve. We believe that holidays are so important, creating lifelong family memories so a villa or apartment really isn’t just a place to stay... it can be so much more than that. People’s lives are so busy these days and a holiday can be the only time in a year that families can all switch off together and properly enjoy each others company. We want to help create the perfect backdrop for this time together.
What do your children think of their Mamma becoming such an entrepreneur?
You’d be better asking them that!! I think they like it when they see Bookings For You advertising. So Bookings For You once hosted a prize on ‘Deal or No Deal’ and they definitely enjoyed seeing the company mentioned on national TV! The nature of the business means I never have a day off and even when we’re on holiday, I will set aside time each day to check emails. But I hope that they think the benefits of their Mum having her own business outweighs the negatives... after all, it means I can always spend every day of the holidays with them and they have never had to be packed off to kids clubs which would be their idea of hell!!