Australian ‘pod’ hotel startup Wander secures ex-Airbnb investor

Australian ‘pod’ hotel startup Wander secures ex-Airbnb investor

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Wander accommodation

Wander accommodation on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Source: Supplied

Upmarket ‘pod’ hotel startup Wander has secured investment from former Airbnb country manager Sam McDonagh, as the accommodation innovator eyes expansion across regional and rural Australia.

Wander designs, installs, and manages WanderPods — miniature, boutique hotel suites built to bring the luxury hotel experience to some of Australia’s most scenic locales.

Far beyond simple camping cabins, the pods’ amenities include king-sized beds, full kitchens and exterior bath tubs, offering visitors the chance to take a dip while enjoying the outback air.

Since its foundation by Sydney hospitality designer Cassandra Sasso in 2019, Wander has established multiple WanderPods on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, and in Queensland’s Scenic Rim.

The business leases private and public land for its WanderPod sites, and operates under a revenue-share model.

Wander is now engaged in an equity crowdfunding campaign via Birchal, which is intended to fuel its expansion into the Grampians, Snowy Mountains, Flinders Ranges, and beyond.

Close to $600,000 in funding has been pledged so far, including backing from McDonagh, who oversaw Airbnb’s Australian and New Zealand operations between 2014 and 2019, and currently serves as managing director of swimming pool sharing service Swimply.

“Travellers and guests are looking for authentic and unique experiences, with Wander they get that and luxury,” McDonagh said in a statement.

“The most in-demand properties were always unique and allowed guests to connect with our spectacular landscape.

“Wander delivers these attributes in spades.”

While the size of his investment was not disclosed, SmartCompany has confirmed McDonagh’s involvement will extend to an advisory role when required.

McDonagh’s new stake in the business has brought a wealth of insight to the venture, Sasso said.

“Sam’s investment came out of nowhere, so discovering his vast industry experience was a major vote of confidence in Wander’s business model,” she said.

“Sam has lived and breathed short-term accommodation, so he appreciates where the future of travel is heading.”

‘Off-grid’ accommodation gains popularity

The emergence of Wander comes as part of a growing shift towards ‘off-grid’ and remote accommodations, which retain the sophistication and amenities of hotels closer to major centres.

Brands like Unyoked and Riparide have built a name for themselves on that promise, while also tapping into the ‘wellness travel’ market, which positions plush, outdoorsy escapes as a viable alternative to inner-city pampering.

Independent hospitality providers also offer their far-flung rooms on platforms like Airbnb itself.

The thriving short-stay market has also attracted the attention of the Victorian government, albeit for very different reasons.

To fund social housing development — and jostle an industry some critics say has depleted housing stock during a rental crisis — the state government in September announced a 7.5% levy on all short-term accommodations provided under platforms like Airbnb and Stayz.

The levy is slated to come into effect in 2025, and has already drawn sharp criticism from McDonagh’s former company.

Airbnb says the proposed 7.5% levy is too high, and will put short-term accommodation providers on an uneven playing field against traditional hospitality providers, like hotels and pubs, which will be exempt.



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