Without question, we’re now face-to-face with a global health crisis that not only took us by surprise, but for which there is also no rulebook or roadmap. While almost every industry is feeling the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the travel industry is at the forefront of the economic downturn, and naturally, that is a daunting prospect.
However, the young short-term rental industry has experienced explosive growth up until now thanks to a robust mixture of agility and innovation — and I believe those qualities will continue to help property management companies and other members of the travel community through this challenging time.
The impact of an economic crisis, while painful, can also breed creativity and long-term growth. Although hard times are ahead, I’d like to share the following four ideas to help you start thinking about how we can support each other and our businesses:
- Look for New Opportunities
In times of economic uncertainty, it can be tempting to avoid change, but now more than ever is the time to look for ways to adapt your business. As players in the industry have started to notice, coronavirus is giving way to new types of travelers, from city-dwellers looking for a local retreat to practice social distancing, to people seeking alternative work-from-home solutions, to those who need a place to stay while their families are in quarantine or while they wait for travel restrictions to lift.
While they might not be the international travelers you’re used to, now is the time to consider how you can make adjustments to better accommodate these guests — from introducing a more stringent cleaning protocol to adding amenities to help make time spent indoors more pleasant, to rethinking pricing and minimum stays. In fact, adjusting length of stay to 30+ days for some properties can help accommodate new guest profiles while staving off some of the day-to-day uncertainties.
Future guests are another segment that requires more attention than usual at this time. Send messages to offer a discount to those who choose to extend their stay or keep their summer vacations booked, and use the opportunity to reassure them of the precautions you’re taking to keep the property clean and safe. You might also consider reaching out to guests who’ve already canceled and/or add a new step to your cancellation flow offering these would-be guests a voucher for future reservations to help solidify your bookings down the road.
By encouraging future business, you are helping to ensure that as the economy returns to normal, you’ll be leading the charge. In the same vein, as travel bans lift, consider targeting your marketing efforts at businesspeople, who will be the first to leap back into international travel.
- Make the Most of Technology
Travel tech has been trending toward streamlining human interaction in favor of convenience for years. Given the need for social distancing at this time, it’s a good opportunity to invest in upgrading your tech stack to ensure you’re well-equipped for our new reality.
For example, consider implementing self check-in and keyless entry systems, so your guests and your staff alike don’t have to worry about the possibility of contagion. Use automated task checklists and operations tools to set up new, more stringent cleaning protocols to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. And, you can also benefit from using automated messaging to do some of the guest outreach mentioned above — for example, scheduling auto-messages to offer future and canceled guests discounts for new or extended stays.
If you’re experiencing a slower period now, it’s a great opportunity to spend the time assessing which of these tech solutions is right for you as well focus on implementing and optimizing them.
- Support Your Professional Peers
There are virtually no businesses unaffected by the impact of coronavirus, but it’s your partners in the tourism industry who most need your support. Local restaurants, cultural attractions, and shops that your guests enjoy could use your patronage, whether in the form of purchasing gift cards or offering donations. Some arts and music organizations are even offering virtual concerts, which you can also suggest to your guests.
When regulations lift and more guests come your way, you can even offer them the gift cards you purchased as a way to elevate their travel experience. These efforts not only help alleviate the strain felt by local businesses now; they also will contribute to increased occupancy and return guests down the road.
- Stay Healthy, Optimistic and Informed
Tourism trends are already forecasting towards recovery in China, so while no one can say what’s to come just yet, it’s a good reminder that this period of economic uncertainty is temporary.
Moreover, tough times have historically been a catalyst for invention and innovation: Sir Isaac Newton came up with his most famous theories while practicing an early form of social distancing to avoid contracting the Great Plague of London. This period of intense creativity would later come to be known as his “annus mirabilis,” or his “miraculous year.”
When travel restrictions lift, both business and leisure travelers will be rushing to make up for lost time, and the short-term rental industry will see a spike in business once again. In the meantime, the most important steps to take — even more so than adjusting your business — are staying on top of the latest advisories from bodies like the World Health Organization in order to stay safe and healthy.
By Michal Freier, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Guesty