The Wire Interview is a continuing series of interviews with players in the corporate housing industry.
This week we present a special chat we had with Andrey Kamogari, owner of Kamo Housing, an interesting company working within three different sects of the temporary housing industry, namely, corporate housing, homestays, and shared apartments. KAMO Housing is self-described as specializing “in international student and corporate housing in the San Diego area.”
Can you give a brief description of what your company does and why it is unique in the marketplace?
Kamo Housing specializes in providing temporary housing primarily for international students in the San Diego area. We are unique because we understand the needs of the international student market greater than any other company. To elaborate, our competitors generally fall into two categories: they are either large, impersonal corporations, or very small one-person operations that lack the structure necessary to accommodate a market of this size.
How cost-conscious are your clients?
We work with a high-end market comprised of clients who are very demanding and who expect a certain value from both their housing and their experience — a high standard which Kamo Housing shares. And although our prices are not the most inexpensive of the market, they do, however, afford our clients a product of the highest quality in the greater San Diego area.
How much of your corporate housing business is from a) independent travelers, b) corporations and other companies, c) relocation companies or services, d) booking agencies like Nomad and Travelers Haven?
The breakdown of our clientele is as follows:
– Two to three percent are from corporations, relocation companies and booking agencies.
– Five percent are independent travelers.
– Sixty percent are international students from the languages schools that we have contracts with (the latter of which have contracts with travel agencies).
– Thirty percent are international exchange students studying at local universities.
What is the optimal experience you want your clients to have when staying in your a) shared apartments, b) homestays, and c) temporary furnished apartments?
Depending on the type of accommodation, we provide our residents with different experiences.
For the shared apartments: We want the residents to not only have a place ready for them to live (with generous amenities offered), but to also learn from the experience of sharing an apartment with people from other countries and with diverse backgrounds. It is an independent living arrangement with a rich cultural experience.
For the temporary furnished apartments: We expect our clients to really enjoy their stay as if they were on a vacation (indeed, sometimes they are). Regardless of whether they are relocating or in town for business, we want them to have a care-free accommodation, which is why we take care of everything for them: from all the cooking utensils to all the bills, everything is included. Additionally, all the companies we work with are located in the prime San Diego areas and have resort-like amenities, such as swimming pools, Jacuzzis, tennis courts, gyms, etc.
For the Kamo Housing homestay program: We want our clients to have the comfort of a home, as if they were in their own house, and at the same time to benefit from the experience of American culture. The homestay program is exclusively for international students who are placed with American host families. Our families provide both breakfast and dinner for the students seven days a week. How much of your business is generated through your website?
Our website generates approximately 35 percent of our business. This has decreased by 25 percent since 2008 when we first opened our business. Presently, most of our business comes from housing contracts with international language schools.
What is the average stay of your a) corporate housing renters, b) shared apartment renters, and c) homestay renters? Do any of your renters stay less than 30 days?
The average stay of a corporate housing resident is two months, the average stay of a shared apartment resident is about six weeks and of a homestay resident is about 30 days. We have a minimum of one week of stay for all programs.
What do you like to call your a) corporate housing clients, b) homestay clients, and c) shared apartment clients?
We call the corporate housing clients simply ‘residents,’ and the shared apartment and Kamo Housing homestay program clients simply ‘students.’
How do you refer to your units? Do you, for instance, refer to your corporate units as corporate rentals or furnished residences?
We call the corporate units ‘corporate apartments’ and the shared units are refered to as ‘shared apartments.’
How do you use the Internet to promote your business?
We use Craigslist daily, Airbnb occasionally, and we are always expanding our online marketing (SEO, social media, etc.) to promote our business.
What is your opinion regarding sites like Airbnb? Are they a valuable tool? Do you have an opinion about the controversy surrounding Airbnb’s so-called “illegal” listings?
Airbnb has been a helpful tool for us to fill the “gaps” that we have between clients.
You have a roommate-matching system for your shared apartments. Can you explain how this system works?
Usually the students that choose to live in the shared apartments are signing up to live with people they do not know, so it is our job to match the residents the best way as possible in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to enhance their experience while they’re here.
The first criterion for matching the students is gender: we have separate apartments for males and females. The second criterion is the school which the student is attending: we try to place students from the same schools together so they can carpool, do homework together and so on. The last criterion is the student’s nationality. The goal of most of our international students when they come to the US is to learn English, so they request not to be placed with students that share their first language. This allows them to practice their English and experience other cultures.
It is very interesting to see the feedback from the students on their experience in San Diego and also on living in a multicultural community such as Kamo Housing. Their comments are considered closely as we continue to expand our services.
How important is creating a sense of community among your student renters?
It is important for the international students to adapt to living in a new country. Having an open mind and a willingness to adapt to local customs is crucial in order for international students to thrive in their communities, which Kamo Housing facilitates with comfortable, diverse networks of students and young professionals, whether the student is living in a shared apartment (which are located within apartment communities with many local residents) or with an American host family.
Any future plans or developments for the business?
We are planning to start working with two new apartment complexes this year in order to meet the demand for Kamo Housing in San Diego.
Our Kamo Housing homestay program continues to offer a unique experience for students in the area, and we are presently focused on working with new exchange-student summer and winter groups and affiliated San Diego schools and, specifically, community colleges. This has been a recent development in Kamo Housing, a particularly successful one, and one we look forward to expanding. In fact, we have a group of 25 Chinese students who arrived this month who are attending one of the community colleges on a vacation program for 30 days, and we have them all placed in homestay families in the Oceanside area. This is an area that we will be exploring more in the next couple of years.