To the discerning eye of Blagoja Hamamdziev, a tottering 100-year-old mud and straw ancestral house in Macedonia was something more.
Where others saw a wreck, Mr Hamamdziev and his family saw a boutique hotel. They tore the place down and remodelled it in keeping with local Ohrid architecture, in a town renowned for lakes and castles.
If things work out, it might even show up someday on Mr Hamamdziev's other big project: the luxury hotel-search website TravelerVIP, which he began last year in Dubai.
Websites for savvy travellers abound in the ether, but those like Mr Hamamdziev's are expanding the niche area of luxury travel.
Among the first of its kind in the Arabian Gulf, TravelerVIP, which offers research on four and five-star hotels, secured more than US$1 million (Dh3.6m) in one of the region's largest seed funding rounds in December.
A travel website is what came most naturally to him, he says.
Mr Hamamdziev, who came to the UAE four years ago to work for Majid Al Futtaim's strategy department, started investing in online start-ups two years ago. One of them is MarkaVIP, an online shopping portal in the Middle East offering exclusive access to private sales events with up to 85 per cent discounts on designer wear and accessories.
"This is when I saw that the e-commerce market here is booming, growing by double digits," he says. The Macedonian has lived in several cities for study and work, including Prague for college and Madrid for a business administration degree, along with London for work.
"Once I saw the opportunity for travel and tourism in Middle East I decided that I will take [it]," says the co-founder and chief executive of TravelerVIP.
With John Fohr, a 33-year-old American, he cofounded TravelerVIP in January last year and launched the website in April. Currently the website, which is free to sign up to, has 50,000 members and a database of about 1,000 hotels. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Tokyo lead the list of cities with the most hotels, having at least 10 each.
"I have personally stayed in eight of them, and among the team we have stayed at 80 hotels," says Mr Hamamdziev, 32. The website now employs 15 people. The second round of funding helped to recruit seven people.
Curating the hotels by at least three reviewers on online travel forums is what differentiates TravelerVIP from other hotel information aggregators, he says.
The company charges the hotel a commission fee each time a booking is made through TravelerVIP.
The initial investment of $250,000 from an angel investor in Dubai went to build the website and relationships with hotels. The founders poured 15 per cent of the total amount invested in the enterprise so far.
The company raised $1m in an investment round that closed in December. Of that amount, Beco Capital provided $800,000. Angel investors included Soha Nashaat, the former chief executive of Barclays Wealth Mena and Turkey, and Jakob Beck Thomsen, the chief executive of SaxoBank Mena and Turkey.
"We are very keen on travel," says Dany Farha, the chief executive of Beco, a venture capital investment company in Dubai. "It is a top three category in Google and Yahoo's revenues and produces approximately a third of internet traffic."
The biggest challenge for such start-ups are building early partnerships and creating early adopters in suppliers and customers, Mr Farha says. Beco, which started in the middle of last year, invested in three companies in 2012.
TravelerVIP initially marketed itself through word of mouth. National Bank of Abu Dhabi promoted it to cardholders. The online company is in talks with five more banks on partnerships. It expects to touch 20,000 bookings per year in the next couple of years.
As almost 80 per cent of the website's users are from the Gulf, the company is Arabising the content. "Our goal is to provide information such as availability of halal food in the hotels in the next couple of months," Mr Hamamdziev says.