Can You Rent a Village?

By Miriam B. Weiner, Staff WriterJuly 25, 2011
By Miriam B. Weiner, Staff WriterJuly 25, 2011, at 1:39 p.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Can You Rent a Village?

Yes, you can.

For more than a decade, corporations have been relying on a small company known as "rent a village" to provide a unique twist on the average business convention. Instead of renting out a single hotel or conference space, why not take over an entire town?

This unique concept is the brainchild of Karl Schwärzler, who says that the idea occurred to him in the late 1990s. At the time he worked in Brand, Austria as a hotel director. "We started renting the village of Brand in 1996 for the I.F.A.L.P.A (International Federation of Airline Pilots' Associations)," he explains. "They wanted something unusual and so we told them to rent out the whole village."

Not long after, the demand for renting Brand grew to be too much for the tiny town to handle on its own. By 2000, other parishes around Europe were lining up to join. And in 2002, Schwärzler was approached by the Liechtenstein Tourism Board, who had learned about rent a village's success after the company had organized an event for Hyundai Motors Germany. Because of the event's size, five villages (all located in Germany's Mosel region) were needed to host. The tourism board then suggested that the company have access to the entire country -- measuring only 62 square miles and located between the borders of Austria and Switzerland -- for larger events.

The collaboration between rent a village and Liechtenstein -- as well as the ability to rent the entire country for events -- came to an end in May 2011 (Sorry, Snoop Dogg). Despite the split, the company continues to thrive thanks to its partnerships with 10 villages across Austria, Germany and Switzerland (until recently there were 11 villages; the town of Bodenmais, Germany no longer participates). And though Schwärzler says he has no plans for significant expansion, he does claim that other towns have expressed interest in participating.

When it comes to new partnerships, Schwärzler doesn't take on just any town. Rather, each settlement must meet certain criteria: "First, the village has to match certain specifications like unique landscape, good touristic infrastructure, enough hotels and guest rooms with … private bathroom[s]," he says, "then we do a workshop with [the community] to make them understand the needs of corporate clients."

The service is geared primarily toward corporations looking to host conferences, but Schwärzler says there are no restrictions on who can rent a village. Cost varies between €250 and €500 (or roughly $360 to $720) per night, depending on the village, the number of expected guests and the number of extra services such as entertainment and catering. And the renter is free to personalize the village, such as by hanging company banners around town and even renaming the streets.

Schwärzler says that even the town's residents are included in the process. "Renting a village involves not only the branding of streets, houses, locations, renaming streets and the village but also the mutual appreciation between the client and the village," he says. "Therefore the mayor hands over a handcrafted iron key … and the village contract is signed in the village book. The local brass band marches and frames the ceremony, which is the beginning of the rent a village event."

Each village available through rent a village is known for its quaint atmosphere and jaw-dropping scenery. Many of the towns are prime skiing locations due to their proximity to the Alps mountain range, while others' position on lakes and rivers make them ideal for boating and swimming. You can learn more about the villages here.

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