The company building the outdoor lodging brand

Steven Loeb · March 25, 2024 · Short URL:

WeChalet curates places to stay for nature and adventure enthusiasts

Outdoor adventure travel has seen tremendous growth post-pandemic as cultural, technological and economic trends – a desire to be in nature, simple peer-to-peer technology,  establishment of the sharing economy - have surfaced up a smattering of lodging and activity options around the world. Curating these outdoor experiences and places to stay is not an easy task, though one company is making inroads. 

WeChalet, which is a peer-to-peer sharing site for vacation rentals, is building that repository of diverse outdoor lodging experiences - don’t let the chalet name fool you – starting with chalets in the mountain regions of Quebec and expanding across Canada and ultimately North and South America. 

"WeChalet has all types of properties in nature, such as a refuge underground, almost a nuclear refuge in the forest, as well as yurts, treehouses and domes,” said Dany Papineau, founder and CEO of WeChalet. “Then we have more luxurious listings, like super high-end properties, such as high-end chalets in Tremblant that can rent for tens of thousands of dollars."


Based in Quebec, WeChalet started in March 2019 with 100 properties. The Covid pandemic nearly shuttered the company given travel bans and restrictions, but Papineau stayed the course. By the time economies were opening up, WeChalet was able to absorb the demand for lodgings in nature and the supply of listings. Today it has 2500 properties.  

The origins of WeChalet

While Airbnb is the 600-pound gorilla of the vacation rental marketplaces, it doesn’t mean it can cater to everyone – particularly outdoor enthusiasts. Sure, someone may use the name as a verb as in: “I’m going to Airbnb my camper” even though they may not put their camper on Airbnb. Airbnb, after all, stands for “air” (mattresses) bed and breakfast. It kind of works for a generic name. Nonetheless, Papineau wouldn’t mind if people started using “WeChalet” as a verb for outdoor, nature-loving lodging rentals. There’s nothing wrong with that aspiration, particularly when the market for those types of accommodations is pretty open. (Note: Airbnb started very small at one point. Check out Vator's "When they were young" series a look at Airbnb, when its founders worked out of their home.)

If you want to find a place that’s off the beaten path that can help you reconnect with nature, you may not find it on Airbnb. In fact, as of 2021, only about 25% of Airbnb Hosts in the US were located in rural areas. That leaves an opening for other companies to fill that gap, and that’s where WeChalet comes in. “It's hard to own everything at some point, you need to have some expertise,” said Papineau. “It's like McDonald's: not everybody loves McDonald's so there’s been opportunities to open competing burger restaurants.” 

Papineau, who was born and raised in Quebec, spent a lot of time behind the Bromont ski mountain exploring his grandparents’ farm. He spent days with his family, milking cows, chopping wood, racing ATVs in the mud and doing odd jobs.

  (Dany fixing the cement floor in his grandparents’ barn)

That experience taught him the importance of spending time outdoors working and playing with family in nature. It was this experience and then his stint at short-term rentals in 2012 that led him to found WeChalet. In that year, after working in the Canadian film industry for about  two decades, Papineau put his duplex on Airbnb. “Airbnb was totally underground at the time; No media was talking about it. None of my friends. I was like, ‘what is it?’ and my realtor said, ‘Well, people can sleep in your bed while you go away or something.’ I said, ‘that's kind of awkward.’” But Papineau went ahead and started renting his duplex on Airbnb and pretty soon he was renting his property full time. 

Papineau eventually launched his own blog called in 2015, and then began managing properties for other people, including some properties in Old Quebec City, Montreal, and in the Eastern Townships in the ski resort area that he was born in. This led him to realize that it was very easy to fill up a calendar in an urban-centric area because Airbnb is, at its core, an urban-centric platform, but it was much more difficult to fill up a calendar with a chalet.

He went on to launch a minimum viable product in 2019 but as soon as COVID hit the Quebec government made it illegal to rent chalets for three months because they didn’t want people from Montreal or Quebec City going into the countryside and spreading the virus. It was during that time that the company decided to use this as an opportunity to revamp the site and create its current platform.

“That did help us in some ways, but it also hurt us in some ways because, in parallel, nobody wanted to invest in tourism for about two years. So, the only way I was able to make it is I had a home in the Eastern Townships and I had a duplex I owned with my sister. I sold all my real estate and I put another $350,000 of my own money in WeChalet,” said Papineau.

“Because I did that, I have a good friend Dexter Silva, who is a CEO of Lightspeed, a great Canadian company that's quite well known out there, he ended up matching me over two rounds and ended up almost matching me in investment. That's what helped us make it through. If not, we would not be here to talk about WeChalet.”

How WeChalet works

WeChalet is a two-sided marketplace, helping both hosts and travelers, though another way it distinguishes itself from Airbnb is by being more property manager-centric, giving tools to people that list multiple properties, unlike Airbnb, which has become more traveler centric and has, in Papineau’s view, abandoned the needs of the hosts.

Currently, the company has many different types of properties available for rent, including a nuclear refuge in the forest, which is also the cheapest rental on the platform, as well as yurts, treehouses, domes, and low-end chalets. On the other end, it has more luxurious bookings, including a $25,000 booking for a high end chalet in Tremblant. It also has condos, specifically in mountain areas, and it also plans to allow boutique hotels into these areas, because it's about connecting people to nature. 

In fact, just about any type of rental can be added to WeChalet, as long as it helps people connect to nature, Papineau said.

“It'd be amazing to have some cool youth hostels in the Rockies or in BC that would be on WeChalet for students that do want to travel for cheap. And these students, if they like their experience, at some point, they enter the workforce and they might rent something else on WeChalet at the other level. I want to be able to offer everything that we can on the platform, ultimately.”

As an example of how one customer who benefited from using WeChalet, Alain, an early adopter of the platform, embarked on a hosting journey that transformed his modest venture into a thriving hospitality business. Starting with just a few listings, Alain's utilization of WeChalet's platform enabled him to expand his portfolio to 11 chalets over the last few years

Among the challenges he faced were limited exposure for his chalets, making it difficult to attract guests and maximize bookings all year round; difficulty  maintaining marketing efficiency, requiring effective marketing strategies; and competition from the proliferation of more and more chalet rentals saturating urban and hotel centric platforms.

As a result, Alain was forced to strategically differentiate his listings, which meant expanding his presence on WeChalet to tap into a wider audience of nature-oriented travelers, recognizing the significance of diversification in maximizing his reach. He also prioritized enhancing the guest experience, offering personalized amenities, impeccable cleanliness, and responsive customer service to garner positive reviews and encourage repeat bookings.

Meanwhile, the WeChalet team helped Alain optimize his listings for free with up-to-date photos, detailed descriptions, and competitive pricing to attract guests, while also showcasing several of his properties in its blogs and marketing initiatives, driving increased traveler interest and bookings his way.

As a result, Alain achieved hundreds of bookings, demonstrating substantial growth in revenue and occupancy rates.

“Alain's journey exemplifies the transformative power of leveraging WeChalet's platform and implementing strategic initiatives to scale a hospitality business successfully. From humble beginnings to becoming a leading host with 11 chalets and hundreds of bookings, Alain's story serves as an inspiration for aspiring hosts seeking to navigate the competitive landscape of nature oriented vacation rentals,” said Papineau.

“By prioritizing guest satisfaction, embracing innovation, and adapting to market dynamics with WeChalet, Alain has not only achieved remarkable success but has also established a blueprint for sustainable growth and prosperity in the hospitality industry.”

Building the outdoor brand to help people get back to nature

Reading WeChalet’s blog is like reading a wine list with illustrative and arousing adjectives for each bottle of wine.

“Nestled amidst the scenic Eastern Townships of Québec, Sutton invites visitors to uncover its rich historical roots, vibrant cultural scene, and thriving artistic community. As you delve into the town’s intricate tapestry of stories, traditions, and creative expressions, you forge meaningful connections with both the land and its inhabitants” reads one of its blog posts about a place called Sutton.

It’s these types of blogs that do attract like-minded outdoorsy travelers. Ultimately, the vision for WeChalet is to not only be a place for people to book their travel experiences but to be the global brand that helps people get back in touch with nature. The blog posts describing the appeal of each property helps to achieve that. In many ways, WeChalet wants to embody the outdoors. Its blog posts convey that brand to visitors, just like the stories do on the Patagonia website. Indeed, Patagonia is one of the big inspirations for Papineau.  

“It's a high-end brand; it's expensive; but there's people in the city wearing it because they love the brand,” said Papineau. Patagonia’s brand is so tied with nature that it is actively promoting environmental organizations. In like vein, but with a much smaller impact of course, WeChalet has its own efforts to save the earth. For each reservation, WeChalet plants a tree. Papineau expects the company to plan 10,000 in 2024, up from the already 6,000 planted.  

“We want to be part of a community that embraces nature, culture and adventure,” said Papineau. “This is where we want to position ourselves in the market.”

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Dany Papineau

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Tech entrepreneur who loves nature, electric cars & travel.

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