How to Use 2020 to Your Advantage: Key Strategies for Property Managers
In September 2020, CEO and Founder of UnderTheDoormat (and chair of STAA) Merilee Karr joined the team from Bookster to discuss the current state of play in the industry – and how property managers can continue to grow their businesses in what has been a very challenging year.
Where we are now
In an uncertain world, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what’s next for the tourism sector. However, one thing seems clear: Covid-19 has caused traveller needs and consumer behaviours to change overnight.
One noticeable shift involves a trend towards short-term decision-making; something Merilee Karr and UnderTheDoormat have witnessed first-hand. ‘In a city market like London, for example, the booking window has dropped dramatically,’ Merilee Karr stated. ‘The average used to be six to eight weeks. Now it’s seven days. It’s very short-term – and difficult to predict.’
Assessing this change is invaluable for understanding the consumer mindset, Karr went on to explain: ‘This isn’t about getting the best deal and hoping for a last-minute reduction in price. With government regulations changing all the time, consumers don’t want to commit until the last minute; and they understand that this is no longer a supply-constrained world. Of course, there are exceptions to this – availability may be more reduced in places like the Highlands, for example, so consumers might be slightly more proactive about booking in advance for those areas – but for many independent providers, this is a big change and something that must be considered in future planning.’
Traveller needs have changed hugely, too. In a post-Covid world, there is a real demand for guaranteed quality; confidence in hygiene standards; socially distant space; and authentic experiences - which, interestingly, could be very good news for the homestay industry.
‘By its very nature, when you rent self-catered accommodation or a home, you have your own space: and that’s a huge competitive advantage for our industry.’ Karr commented, adding: ‘Goldman Sachs recently undertook a study which showed that once people stay in homes, they often don’t go back to hotels.’
Homestay providers also have the advantage of knowing that they’re able to provide those truly authentic experiences, Karr continued. ‘Right now, travellers can’t go to Sri Lanka; they can’t go to Peru; but what they can do is explore their own country in a more in-depth, authentic way, and staying in a home caters for that.’
How to win in a challenging market
If property managers are to thrive (rather than just survive) the continuing crisis, gaining consumer trust is vital. There are several key boxes that must be ticked:
• Accreditation from a recognised industry body.
• An understanding that – in a sensitive market - guests won’t book unless they have some flexibility.
• Reassurance on hygiene standards.
• Quality insurance for homeowner peace of mind.
‘We’ve made a concerted effort to lead the way in all these areas, and the enthusiastic response from consumers has been palpable,’ Karr confirmed. ‘We introduced a '10 Point Hygiene Promise' back in June; and we've also been officially confirmed as 'Good To Go' by Visit Britain. This means we’ve been independently approved as following government and industry Covid-19 guidelines, and have a risk assessment in place as well as processes to maintain cleanliness and aid social distancing – which helps our guests feel totally confident to stay in our homes.’
In addition, Karr shared the following tips for property managers to consider when planning their strategies for 2021 and beyond:
• Review contracts with owners and seek to introduce more flexibility. A generous cancellation policy could make a big difference, for example.
• Consider third-party accreditation (such as Quality in Tourism, I-PRAC, and VisitBritain).
• Invest time in brand management: building a solid reputation – showing that you’re a credible company with plenty of positive reviews – is vital in increasing consumer confidence during this difficult time.
• In the light of increased uncertainty, can you ‘trim the fat’ when it comes to your business? Can you reduce unnecessary costs, like subscriptions or flexible working spaces? Can you bring tasks in-house or outsource?
• Ensure that your business finances are reviewed regularly and that you have plans in place for any additional dry spells (if tighter regulations are reintroduced, for example). Don’t forget to consider the impact of refunds, too: future bookings may need to be refunded if coronavirus measures lead to enforced cancellations.
• Put your best foot forward when it comes to marketing and distribution. There are ‘thousands of independent providers who struggle with the breadth and depth of distribution’ – particularly in the current climate when businesses are trying to operate with smaller teams and leaner budgets. Ideally, in order to ensure the best combination of occupancy and rates are achieved, you'd like to achieve a solid presence on both popular and prestigious channels, such as Booking.com, VRBO, HomeAway, Airbnb, the Expedia Partner Network and Homes & Villas by Marriott International – but this can be difficult to manage yourself. Collaborating with an experienced partner like Hospiria could be the ideal solution. An innovative technology and service package that has been designed to help short lets bounce back, Hospiria will make sure you achieve quality as well as quantity, with an expert team to continually monitor and adjust your listing on each platform in order to generate the best level of bookings.
And, finally… stay optimistic!
‘What we have to keep sight of is that we are still an industry that will grow.’ Merilee Karr concludes, adding: ‘While we might look at the next 12 months as extremely uncertain, I think the recovery in our sector will come quicker than for a lot of hotels (for example), and will be stronger in the longer-term. The profile of our industry coming out the other side is incredibly good. For the companies that do the right things for their customers over this period – such as establishing a solid reputation, maximising distribution potential, and implementing the right professional standards – the future is hopeful.’
If you’d like to learn more about how Hospiria can help you reduce time spent on administration whilst increasing occupancy and rates, please feel free to browse the website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your needs.