As I write this, we are in our fourth week of near-global ‘lockdown.’ In the last month, everything has changed. By the time you read this, everything will have likely changed again. There is no longer logic in presumptions. There is no room for well-meaning assumptions or industry predictions. All we currently have is speculation and hope. And we have tons of both. Hope that things will improve and speculation on how and when that will happen.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought much of society, and almost the entire global short-term rental industry, to its knees. We’ve seen big, ambitious companies in the industry literally crumble and we’ve been shown very clearly the vulnerabilities of celebrating revenue, growth and potential over unit economics, profit and sustainability.
During this crisis, we have also seen extraordinary displays of unity, resilience and service by those in the industry. Homes have been opened up to frontline workers and vendors have reduced costs and fees to support beleaguered managers. Many are hoping that they have cut enough costs and made the correct prudent decisions, to not only weather the storm, but to also have the resources to come back ‘fighting.’
You don’t need me to tell you about the impact on running a business in this industry when there are no guests.
The fact is: resilience, curiosity and above all, an innate desire for growth and new experiences are hardwired into the human psyche. Travel and social connection are key to this. Recovery may well be tentative. It may be unevenly balanced for a while and it may take a little more time than we hope for—but it is inevitable. Just like after 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008, SARS and every other catastrophe to have impacted travel and tourism, recovery and growth will happen.
"The fact is: resilience, curiosity and above all, an innate desire for growth and new experiences are hardwired into the human psyche. Travel and social connection are key to this."
It is clear, however, that conversations that we were already having as an industry pre-COVID-19 around increased professionalization, standardization, profitability, sustainability and the use of technology to ensure Smart Stay experiences will now need to be notched up a gear (or three).
The vacation and urban short-term rental industry have many elements that are in its favor as the lodging option of choice moving into a post-pandemic world. However, instilling trust and confidence in the travelling public will be paramount for attracting back guests and also ensuring asset owners don’t switch to longer lets, which may appear less risky in all senses.
But what the industry doesn’t have that hotels do, is the implicit quality and trust factor of a strong brand behind most property management companies. We don’t have a universal and recognizable standard rating that everyone understands. We have many ‘amateurs’ operating within the space and we have very few regulations to weed out the bad apples and allow our stakeholders to differentiate between those that put guest comfort, safety and experience first. And those that don’t.
It seems clear that in order to build on the maturing of the market pre-COVID-19, and ensure that individual property management companies and the entire industry is in the best ‘health’ to broadly welcome guests back when the time is right. A focus on a ‘guest first’ mentality and ensuring their expectations for comfort, cleanliness, hygiene and sense that their well-being is being ‘taking care of’ will be crucial. We can only do this at scale through collective industry action.
"A focus on a ‘guest first’ mentality and ensuring their expectations for comfort, cleanliness, hygiene and sense that their well-being is being ‘taking care of’ will be crucial. We can only do this at scale through collective industry action."
Finally, in the UK, where I am based, we have a former WWII veteran called Captain Tom Moore. Capt. Tom, is 99-year-old and has raised almost $30 million (to date) for our health charities through an act of service by walking 100 laps around his garden. What he has done is inspiring and has captured the hearts and minds of many across the world.
However, the other gift that Capt. Tom has given us is a message of hope. This man who has lived through much in his near-century, said on completion of his challenge, “We’ve all got to remember that we will get through it in the end. It will all be right. It might take time, but at the end of the day, we shall all be okay again. For all you people that are finding it difficult at the moment. The sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.” This is good to remember for all of us.
From Issue 2 of Arrival, 2020.
JESSICA GILLINGHAM is the director of Abode PR, a boutique public relations and content marketing agency partnering with clients operating in the international short-term rental, hospitality technology and PropTech space. www.abode-pr.com