Right now, accommodation providers, specifically serviced apartment and holiday let owners & operators face a number of challenges. The first and greatest was dealing with cancellations coming en masse. What started as a trickle as some countries around the world experienced the severity of the situation before others, has ended in a flood of cancelled reservations with some operators reporting occupancy levels below 10%.
What made holding onto revenue really challenging was when major Online Travel Agencies (OTA’s) implemented measures allowing guests to cancel for free, irrespective of a host’s cancellation policy. We don’t necessarily disagree with the decisions OTA’s made, their [appropriate] argument was they did not want guests to feel obligated to travel because they would otherwise lose their money. However, a host’s [equally appropriate] argument could have been towards a mutually beneficial policy. Perhaps OTA’s could have created a virtual voucher to use at another date or a percentage split on a host’s cancellation policy?
*That being said, Airbnb have since made a fantastic announcement of how they are financially helping their hosts out of their own pocket which will be a huge help to hosts.
Like all other UK businesses, we reacted daily to whatever our Prime Minister announced next, from keeping books open to UK residents and potential “Staycations”, to contacting all of our corporate contacts asking whether they needed work accommodation. All whilst listening intently to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the help we will receive as our calendars displayed more and more white space by the hour.
Now we knew the grant funding of £25,000 wasn’t for us as our business rates fall below £15,000. But we had applied for the small grant funding of £10,000. At the time of applying there was a lot of uncertainty on whether businesses like ours would qualify, add on the report of England being able to apply for £10k grants per property and we were left with a lot of doubt. However, we have in fact received the small grant funding and with a little creative accounting this will be a huge help over the coming months.
Serviced accommodation providers are also in a grey area as to whether we are classed as an “essential business”. Interviews with the First Minister of Scotland would suggest we are, and of course, we absolutely agree as alternative accommodation for people is more important than ever right now. There is also advice recently released by www.gov.uk with considerations accommodation providers should take before allowing guests to stay but again, this is more common-sense advice than anything else.
So, we wanted to share some of the steps we are taking to keep our business alive and offer our properties to those who really need them.
Vet all guests. This is extremely important as you cannot encourage short stays/people travelling unnecessarily. Right now, stays should be for [not an exclusive list] NHS & other key workers, people stuck out of their home, people here for work and cannot get home due to travel restrictions and people who are self-isolating from vulnerable family members.
Accept you will most likely have to drop your rates. You may hit the moral dilemma of “am I making money from COVID19?”. The answer is no. But coming back to vetting your guests, you will find these people didn’t budget for a 4-12 week stay on a nightly rate. So, remind them the price is all encompassing (utilities, broadband, sky, no council tax etc.) and cover some of your costs.
Ensure your cleaners wear PPE (gloves, mask, disposable apron) and are short of no cleaning product in their bag. The person cleaning should not be encouraged to turn the property round in a timely manner, instead care should be taken to deep clean all surfaces. We have seen a recommendation that after a guest checks-out you leave the property vacant for 72 hours before cleaning. However we will discuss this more in our next post regarding cleaning procedures.
Provide cleaning supplies & other amenities in your property. Most hosts do this as standard but make sure your guests have plenty hand soap, toilet paper, hand sanitiser if you can and cleaning products under the sink as guests will want to clean as they go.
Self-check-in. If you don’t already offer a self-check-in service now is a great time to start. Advise your guests how and where they collect their keys allowing them to let themselves in. Once they have checked out, a clean can be performed without any human interaction. Have your cleaner clean the keys before putting back in the lock box and don’t forget to give the box/keypad a wipe down also.
Market appropriately. Be sure to target your audience to the types of guests we mentioned earlier, again we are not to encourage people to leave their homes unnecessarily. Show what you have available, location of your properties and advise your potential guests of your operational procedures during this time.
Right now, is a great time to utilise social media whilst we all spend more time at home, ask your connections if anyone could benefit from your properties. We have been tagged on a number of posts where people need a temporary home for a few weeks/months and also connected to Doctors & Nurses who need accommodation.
These are just some of the things we are doing allowing us to help a number of people in need at this difficult and unprecedented time.