Does Staying In A Luxury Villa Make You A Target For Sleeping Gas Robbery?

Inspirato is a subscription-based homesharing business that is about to go public in a $1.1 billion SPAC deal. It was launched 10 years ago, and in 2013 American Express took a stake and has marketed it to cardmembers. The idea for customers is you stay in uber-luxe residences and get white glove concierge treatment the whole way.

The company promises “certainty, care and value” However like any vacation they can go bad. But since they’re super high end, it seems like anyone staying in one may draw greater attention to themselves than the average hotel schlub.

That appears to be the story, at least, of the lawsuit Blume (et al) vs. Inspirato LLC – 1:2020-cv-01894 working its way through the courts. As it’s been described to me,

A few days after arrival, in the middle of the night the [Tuscan] villa was broken into by a professional gang, that injected some sort of knock-out gas into the ventilation system, so none of the occupants were woken up…

The occupants were robbed of a good deal of cash, jewelry, and personal items, and when they woke up in the morning the local police took a report. A number of them were quite ill from the gas, and have had medical issues that lasted for a very long time after returning to the U.S.

They were told by local authorities this type of attack had been happening semi-regularly recently, and the police had little clues about the criminals …The group of people that were robbed immediately contacted Inspirato in the U.S., who reluctantly moved them to a high-end hotel I believe in Florence, but Inspirato would take no responsibility for the loss.

…,[I]t was learned the specific villa had been robbed before. Further Inspirato and its local Tuscany based agents advised the group to bring a good deal of cash, as the people employed at the villa (cooks / housekeepers) and local merchants preferred that method of being compensated.

I’ve reached out to Inspirato and asked them to comment on the security of their guests and whether staying in especially high-end accommodations makes one a more visible and attractive target for professional thieves? Their Executive Vice President of Marketing simply told me, “Our policy is to not comment on matters involving pending litigation.”

There are other similar stories online (not involving Inspirato specifically) about renting villas in Tuscany and being the victim of thefts at night, even involving possible gassing of those in the villa.

This is apparently how it went down in Sardinia:

The scheme is common enough that a detector for the gas is even sold specifically to alert you to robberies, though I’m not sure being alerted to the gas is better. The criminals want to knock you out to prevent confrontation and so you don’t see them. Seeing and confronting them could be worse.

When you travel it’s important to be alert to tourist scams. It’s also important not to draw too much attention to yourself as a good mark. I’ve certainly written about crimes that take place at hotels, though for this particular risk staying in a hotel may be better. . Maybe the lesson is ‘you can’t trust seemingly reputable players when their advice makes you a mark.’

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Must have been a Marriott Bonvoid property hoping guests would sleep through their elite breakfast benefits

  2. Very interesting and would be interested in hearing what became of this case since it was remanded to State Court in Colorado over a year ago. These are incredibly scandalous allegations, and would like to know if any proof of the allegations has come to light. Anybody have access to the Denver County District Court to know where this stands now?

  3. Unless they happen to be a board-certified anesthesiologist, that is way too dangerous. They should be charged with attempted murder in addition to the other charges.

  4. I remember my first overseas trip for business that I had to have a briefing before my trip to Hong Kong. This was the good old days of travel before 9/11. I was a young professional getting ready for my first overseas trip with business class on Cathay Pacific and will be staying at a Intercontinental Hong Kong. The company’s justification for all the luxury accommodation was safety. My company actually pays a premium for access to airlines lounge and dining in hotel as much as possible for safety reason. At least in those days, 5 star hotels came with certain level of protections. We were informed to check in at the airport right away, and go to airlines lounge for safety. When I represented a large company while travel overseas, I could be a target for ransom. That was also why I was chauffeured around too. I was reminded of my part in safety. I personally have been to HK many times and fluent in Chinese, but on official capacity; no personal wondering and shopping. Ever since then, I always pay attention safety, including hotel location, nearest hospitals, police station, and US Embassy/ consulate.

  5. Unless you’re in a hipster coffee shop, most vendors prefer local currency.
    In this case – If you’re traveling with $300,000 euro in bills in your travels you’re an obvious target for civil asset forclosure, let alone less obvious crooks.
    If you are worth in the billions – then you can afford to hire people with banking relationships to pay your help for you, and manage your money.
    If you are worth in the billions and traveling with valuables, you can also afford security people to protect you. Obviously the crooks knew their target and movements. Luckily they were only after possessions and not hostages.

  6. I remember reading about the sleeping gas robberies several years ago. Has it actually been confirmed that’s what’s going on? If so, it certainly looks like negligence on Inspirato’s behalf. Also wondering when I can get some of that sleeping gas over the counter. I’m terrible at sleeping on planes, even in a nice lay-flat seat.

  7. @Jason: Need knockout gas? When you fly on Spirit Airlines, if your flight is not canceled, many uncivilized passengers will freely fart in your face, which may help cure insomnia while traveling.

  8. I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as sleeping gas. This is an urban legend, based on Pink Panther movies.

  9. @Jason – If you have insomnia, just read your car rental agreement, it’ll put you to sleep in a jiffy.

  10. Actually, no urban legend, and the case is in the court system. Seems as if Inspirato never told the travelers that the villa had been robbed before-so much for high-end travel! The professionals who were on that trip posted on various websites warning other travelers–they even posted messages to the criminals asking for wedding rings back. The American Embassy received reports on the incident. There were other related incidents in that area, also. Very bad for the travelers, and sad for an economically challenged Tuscany. Seems as if the only winners are the criminals and the investors in-and financial sponsors of -Inspirato-so far. Appallng.

  11. Did I overlook this in the article? Where is video footage? Surely an upscale resort has cameras. No one heard anyone tampering with locks? Were the security bolts on doors not working?

  12. Wealthy foreign tourists being targeted for robbery does happen in various ways. And being targeted out where the police can’t quickly be expected to arrive seems like a recipe for the crooks to get away with it, especially if they have a tendency to move on and not circle back on a very predictable schedule.

    Aren’t you surprised to not hear more stories about “destination wedding” and wannabe “masters of the universe” types renting expensive venues in Europe who ended up victimized by thieves during their trip? How about those big celebrity events in southern France where all the expensive jewelry comes out — often enough on loan, hopefully insured? They get targeted too.

  13. Felicia,

    Some people prefer privacy when picking up private homes for hire; and not everyone wants security cameras all around.

    And even with some security cameras, there is no guarantee that they get used like they can be used or that they even act as a deterrent against professional thieving gangs.

  14. This is not an urban legend and has been happening for years. I have friends who experienced being gassed and robbed. This can happen in overnight accommodations as well as train cars and other means of transportation.

  15. This is very disturbing and It appears that the Italian police washed their hands of this horrendous crime. Shameful lack of response from Inspirato.

  16. This happened to friends of mine who were staying in a house rental in Durban, South Africa several years ago. They and their three children woke up to all their electronics and cash gone. Bags and backpacks had been opened and several drawers and cabinets were open as well. No one woke up. They later heard from locals that similar robberies had been reported and that the robbers set off a gas to make sure the occupants didn’t wake up. Very scary. They were living in South Africa for work and after that they immediately got a transfer out of the country.

  17. I have been an Inspirato member for almost ten years. The club was great for the first five years, and steadily has gone down hill since. Nightly Rates on the homes have tripled, and Inspirato’s business model is now not much more than a travel agency selling hotel rooms and suites (in addition to the homes). More members, less homes and hotel rates that are around the same you can book direct. Inspirato offers absolutely no benefits (upgrades, free breakfast, late check out, property credits are non existent) on the hotel programs. Now that they are going public, expect more cost cutting and increased nightly rates.

  18. Horrendous experience worsened by Inspirato’s stupid handling of case and potential complicity

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