Will the virus subside once the weather warms up, how should you approach guest cancellations and what’s the best way to drive bookings in these trying times? Rentlio brings you the answers to these and other pertinent questions.
Global travel restrictions, flight cancellations, and a general sense of panic caused by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis are putting a tremendous strain on the tourism and hospitality sector.
Among the hardest-hit economies is the short-term vacation rental market, with most destinations averaging about half the bookings made earlier this March compared to the beginning of January.
Figures which I am hardly surprised to see, considering my property is suffering a near-threefold decrease in reservations so far this year on Booking.com, compared to 2019.
And that’s after crushing last year with an average 9.6 guest review.
Naturally, as bookings nosedive, property owners, 24% of whom rely on hosting for their livelihood, fear the ongoing pandemic.
Fear is a normal, healthy response, as long as it doesn’t morph into panic, which won’t damage the virus, but may damage our economy.
Let’s keep our composure then and ask ourselves those questions that will help us play our part in preventing this viral spread — all while keeping our vacation rental business up and running.
1. Can High Temperatures Stop Coronavirus Spread?
Coronavirus, just like the regular flu, appears to be highly sensitive to high temperatures, prompting many to pin their hopes on summer to silence the pandemic.
But experts warn the virus may continue to spread in a range of climate conditions, pointing to its rapid growth in China’s southern Guangxi Zhuang region and Singapore as a testament to their claims.
Mike Ryan, the chief of World Health Organisation (WHO), advised the public not to rely on high temperatures alone to suppress the outbreak.
He said: “We have to assume the virus will continue to have the capacity to spread.”
It’s a false hope to say, yes, it will disappear like the flu … we can’t make that assumption. And there is no evidence,” he added.
Still, many countries and health bodies presume coronavirus will lose some of its potency once the spring and summer months arrive, and the warm, humid conditions kick in.
But we shouldn’t by any means depend on these presumptions.
2. How Can I Protect My Property?
First and foremost, you need to approach hygiene more seriously than ever.
This means disinfecting all surfaces your guests may have touched during their stay, including door knobs, kitchen appliances, light switches, taps, TV and air conditioner remotes, chairs, tables, counters, and other items.
Laundry and dishes should be washed at high temperatures and it’d be smart to get mattress and pillow protectors for all your beds.
Keep a few bottles of hand sanitisers (over 60% of alcohol content) at hand, preferably near the entrance so that you and your guests can clean their hands as they come and go.
Notify Your Guests About the Safety Tips
If you haven’t already, now is the time to update your house rules with actions your guests should take to avoid contamination and spread of coronavirus.
Sending a private message prior to their arrival is also an effective way of informing your guests about key preventive measures you have or are about to take.
You can use Rentlio’s email templates to automatically send predefined advice to your guests, urging them to:
- Wash hands frequently
- Avoid human contact and maintain social distancing
- Avoid touching their face; primarily nose, eyes, and mouth
- Cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
- Open windows to allow air circulation
- Seek immediate medical attention if they show flu-like symptoms
- Disinfect commonly used items such as laptops, phones, wallets, etc.
By following this advice, your guests should be able to better protect themselves and others from contracting coronavirus.
3.How Do I Increase My Bookings?
Disclaimer: If you are located within one of the quarantined areas, it’s advised you contact your local authorities and health organizations regarding the best steps you can take to protect yourself and your business.
The coronavirus has heavily impacted travel already, wreaking havoc on the market and causing virtually all travel-related stocks to dwindle.
The outbreak may be a harbinger of a new recession, and if coronavirus triggers one, expect a reduced number of bookings in the upcoming months as travel gets pushed down the priority list for a majority of people.
The best way to avoid an empty calendar is to start targeting domestic travellers, and show international guests you’re prepared.
Let your potential guests know you’re aware of the current pandemic and have taken all steps to ensure their safety.
You can list the precautionary measures in place at your property on your OTA listings, social media pages, website, and other digital channels, prompting guests to book directly and get in touch with you should they have any concerns in mind.
As far as pricing goes, European hotels have seen a 50% drop in nightly rates, and while many vacation rentals have started to offer massive deals to fill their rooms, it may be wise to observe how the situation pans out before slashing your rates.
Panic sell is the worst thing you can do right now. Remember, the drop in demand is highly localised — mostly in areas affected by the virus — and a vast amount of vacation rentals are expected to recover come early summer, but the true impacts are yet to be seen.
4. How Should I Deal with Cancellations?
As they often do, OTAs such as Booking.com and Airnbnb have sided with guests on this one.
Both sites have introduced policies through which guests can cancel their reservations and receive a full refund depending on their check-in date, the country they’re coming from and the country they’re visiting.
Read the policies thoroughly and you’ll know when you’re obliged to grant a full refund for a cancellation and when you can reserve the right to deny it. None of the cancellations resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak will negatively impact your score as a host.
If your guest doesn’t meet the above criteria but is claiming they’ve contracted coronavirus, ask them for a medical note or other proof of their illness before refunding their stay.
5. Should I Be Worried About My Guests’ Pets?
On March 12, the WHO said there was no evidence showing animals such as cats and dogs can contract coronavirus.
The following day, that statement was gone.
The update follows news of a dog in Hong Kong that tested positive for coronavirus, despite showing no signs of the disease.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to forbid your guests to bring pets with them, as Jonathan Ball, University of Nottingham Professor of Molecular Virology, says: ”We don’t need to panic — I doubt it could spread to another dog or a human because of the low levels of the virus. The real driver of the outbreak is humans.”
Where Can I Find More Information?
The following resources will help you protect yourself and your guests from coronavirus and contain important information you should closely monitor:
- World Health Organization (WHO) – coronavirus information
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – coronavirus & travel
- Harvard Health – coronavirus resource center
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) – National information resources for the public on COVID-19
- Booking.com – important information regarding coronavirus
- Airbnb – coronavirus updates
People will continue to crave new experiences and our inherent desire to travel will never vanish. Once this whole ordeal is over, it’s travel and tourism that are most likely to get back on their feet first.
Right now, we need to listen to healthcare professionals and obey the measures imposed by our authorities. Stay prepared, stay smart, and you’re bound to keep yourself and your guests safe.
Originally published May 1st, 2020