Even though I do luxury hotel and tour reviews all the time for Luxury Latin America and admittedly get to frequent some pretty swanky places, exclusive membership clubs are not exactly my typical hangout. Let’s just say that if more were like The Clubhouse in Buenos Aires, and run by someone so likable and non-pretentious as Parker Stanberry, I could happily hang out in them all the time. In my opinion, Parker is one of the kings of high-end tourism in Buenos Aires – his rental company, Oasis Collections, rents out incredible apartments and houses that make the designer in me drool. The Clubhouse throws amazing parties, and the poolside bar is the place to see and be seen – not an easy title to win in fashionable Buenos Aires. But Parker isn’t exactly just passing the time sitting poolside with a martini, living the good life. He is a hard-working entrepreneur juggling a business that is so ambitious that it includes tourism, real estate, event planning, a membership club, etc. Did I mention that he does this not just in Buenos Aires, but in numerous other countries?
Let’s get some basic things out of the way. Where are you from, and where are you currently living?
I grew up in Houston, studied in North Carolina, then lived in Manhattan for 7 years. In 2006 I decided to make a move and came down to BA, and have been based here since.
What drew you to Argentina?
I’d only been here once, for a couple of days, prior to moving down, but during that trip I said to myself that if I ever moved abroad, this was a city that I could definitely see myself living in. My reasons are the same ones that you’ll hear from a lot of the ex-pats around here – great weather, low cost of living, culture that blends European and Latin American influences.
Tell us a little about what you are working on…
4 years ago I started a boutique hospitality company called Oasis Collections, which offers a fresh take on the short-term property rental concept. Essentially it is a high-end, high-service version of Airbnb. We go into a market and seek out design-oriented apartments and houses that are sitting empty most of the time (either investment properties or second homes), create a portfolio of those properties, and then layer in all of the services that one would typically expect from a hotel, like 7 day-a-week support and concierge. We also have a social aspect, in which we offer our guests access to exclusive private members clubs, so they are connected to the fabric of a given destination during their time there. This is essential to our ethos, which is to act as that in-the-know friend that you wish you had in every city in the world. We are now in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio, Bogota, with vacation home portfolios in Punta del Este, Florianopolis and Cartagena, and plan to open in Miami this year.
In doing this, I realized that Buenos Aires lacked an urban private members’ club, so in 2011 I founded The Clubhouse, which caters to a small group of local members as well as providing that social outlet for the guests in Oasis properties. So that’s been a fun side project, which we plan to take to other cities in South America soon.
Argentina is a wonderful country that I love with all of my heart, but to be honest it doesn’t strike me as the easiest place to do business, especially coming from the US. What have some of the greatest challenges been for you in Argentina, business-wise?
Haha, yes, that would be an understatement. It’s been incredibly challenging. The two biggest issues are efficiency and stability. It is extremely difficult to deliver a high-end experience if the internet in one of our properties drops out every few hours and it takes us 48 hours to get the service provider out to the property to take a look. In terms of stability, the last 12 months have been particularly challenging due to the inflation (30%, which means you are having to adjust salaries and other overhead costs every couple of months) and the bad press that the Kirchner regime has generated, which has had a strongly negative effect on tourism and investment in Argentina. Luckily our business is diversified, so the positive momentum of countries like Brasil and Colombia has balanced out the issues in Argentina.
Do you think the fact that you are a foreigner makes it easier or more difficult doing business in Latin America? In what ways?
Both, depending on the situation. On the negative side, there can be a cultural barrier that makes certain situations or behaviors difficult to understand or read. On the positive side, I think I bring an international perspective that allows me to see opportunities that locals might miss.
Do you feel that higher-end tourism is going to grow in Argentina? Why or why not?
As I mentioned, we’re in the middle of a general decline in tourism due to higher costs and bad press. That being said, my overall outlook is positive, particularly for higher-end tourism. For the past decade Argentina has been primarily a budget destination, but tourism/hospitality infrastructure has really improved, and a city like BA now has some really excellent 5-star hotel options, some cool little design boutiques, as well as some really inventive chefs working here. The rest of the country will also continue to gain more notice I think – places like Mendoza that have always been terrific destinations are layering in more high-end offerings.
If you knew back when you arrived to Argentina what you know now, what would you do differently?
Wow, good question. Well, I spent my first two years here focused on investing in properties. I wish I would have started Oasis right off the bat, so as to capture the front end of the tourism wave that happened here in 2005 – 2008.
You also work in Brazil and Colombia, no? Are there major differences in doing business in those countries? If so, what are they?
Yes. Brasil is equally or more difficult, but in different ways. People are extraordinarily friendly but also very untrusting, and it is very nationalistic from a business perspective. Colombia is actually a total pleasure compared to Argentina and Brasil. The people are amazing, the work ethic is much closer to what I was used to in the states, and there is much less bureaucracy and red tape.
Any plans to branch out into other countries?
Yes, we’ll be rolling into the good ol’ US of A this year, first to Miami and then we’ll see what other destinations make sense for us. Really any international destination that attracts both leisure and business travelers and where we can add value with our insider knowledge and access is a natural Oasis market.
And to end: share a memorable ‘this would NEVER happen in the US’ moment…
Ahh, so many to choose from…How about a minimum of 1, and usually 2, three-day weekends per month?
A funny story that didn’t happen to me but is 100% true is that a girl (friend of a friend) got her phone stolen, and later that day the thief sent her a message on Facebook asking her out. That’s pretty classic.