UK: Ahead of the reopening of the hospitality [and short-term rental] sector in England on 4 July, ShortTermRentalz spoke to three business leaders to gauge their feelings ahead of this Saturday, learn about their experiences over the past couple of months in the lockdown period and evaluate how the space will play out in the coming months as bookings gradually return.
Hospitality venues in the country were forced to close their doors in late March as the coronavirus started to take hold on the world and infections were sharply on the rise. However, early last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave the green light for the reopening of establishments including holiday lets, pubs, restaurants and hotels, as well as the relaxing of social distancing guidelines to enforce a new “one-metre-plus rule”.
As businesses prepare to reopen their doors once again, we collected the experiences and insights of three business leaders whose hospitality companies operate in England.
Simon Kingsnorth, managing director of London-based Airbnb property management company City Relay, said:
“We’ve been proud to have been able to support NHS and key workers during the crisis but we’re also delighted to now be able to welcome back all guests. The industry has certainly been hard hit and we’ve had to speed up a number of planned changes to the company in areas such as technology to maintain our high operations standards, but that has had the benefit of enabling us to focus on these and deliver very strong outcomes in a short period of time. As a result during this testing time but I’m pleased to say our position as the most trusted company in London has remained true.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone of course and we need to ensure we as an industry tread carefully with how we approach the recovery. Everyone is keen to get back to full strength but doing this in a way that protects everyone is vital. We have started to see recovery both in terms of guest bookings and host appetite which is great to see but we expect it to be some time before we are back to any level of normality. It’s likely that self-contained properties will recover faster than public ones and, as such, short letting is better placed than hotels but this will be a long journey and ensuring we are sensible and realistic, whilst ensuring we work hard to deliver high standards, is the key to success.
“Whilst we are keen for business to return to normal as soon as possible, we’re also conscious of ensuring we protect our guests, hosts and staff during this difficult time. As a result we are pleased to have launched our SafeStay initiative in May which has raised the standards significantly including PPE, stronger cleaning products and social distancing measures. We’ve also been able to open our Victoria Reception Space in June with social distancing measures in place to ensure we can continue to provide our unique face to face service in London. We will continue to focus on ensuring we deliver the highest cleaning standards as a core measure of success going forwards,” he added.
Andy Easton, managing director of Cornwall-based self catering holiday retreats company Beach Retreats, said:
“The past three months have been a real rollercoaster of emotions, re-forecasting, optimism, long hours and wondering what the future will look like. The team have been amazing in helping our owners and cancelled guests, but as soon as we had the proposal of 4 July, bookings have increased to a rate we have never seen before. We are full for summer, already ahead of last year’s occupancy for September, while 2021 bookings are 330 per cent up year on year.
“Planning to re-open is challenging – essentially we have 180 mini-businesses [properties] all with their own characteristics and traits. So delivering consistency is key; in terms of the property preparation after three empty months, the safety of guests and housekeepers with new changeover procedures, and preparing the team with processes to support guests who have symptoms while staying with us.
“Cornwall has experienced a relatively low infection rate over the past few months, and there is, quite understandably, much anxiety about what the summer holds. So we’ve also done a lot of work to help guests while they stay with us; to avoid crowds and support local businesses. Health and happiness are at the heart of our business.
“It’s fair to say we are excited about reopening for the summer now and getting back to what we do best – helping guests to create special memories in inspirational surroundings. This weekend will be busy, but the processes and plan are in place.
“As for the future, Cornwall has a very strong brand and visitor offering so we are feeling very positive. Accommodation providers who can provide high quality and safe accommodation with a personal service and clear pledge to book with confidence will thrive. We will start seeing a younger visitor to the county, looking for instagrammable experiences with a focus on mindfulness and active stays, stripped-back relaxation and new trends such as the ‘workation’,” he added.
David Hosking, CEO of London and Paris-based luxury vacation rental management agency, Veeve, said:
“The last three months will have a lasting impact on how people travel. While leisure travel had initially ground to a halt, we are confident that it will be resuming over the course of the coming months, slowly getting back to the levels of 2019 next year. London and Paris undeniably remain in the top five most attractive cities in the world to visit.
“Opportunities are rising from the current situation – people working remotely and coming to cities for a few months from abroad [as they do not have to come to an office everyday] might become a more prevalent type of tourism. Private homes seem to be the best fit for these types of travellers.
“The past few months have been very challenging for our business with most of our clients looking to cancel or postpone their stay. We have been extremely flexible and have constantly kept in touch with our owners; they have been very understanding and willing to help reorganise trips for 2021.
“Our owners have been given the opportunity to participate in the NHS Homes initiatives which they have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about, offering their homes for free to key workers who needed alternative accommodation while they battled the virus in the ICUs at London’s hospitals. Four hundred free nights have been provided by these hosts.
“Looking forward, Veeve is aiming to increase its direct business with its own booking platform that was launched in March of this year, supported by content rich marketing and SEO. This is in addition to offering the best booking conditions possible and remaining flexible, given the current circumstances.
“Veeve, and the vacation rental sector in general, have an important role in enabling people to resume their lives, and travel is a big part of it. The priority must be around allowing people to travel in a safe way, respecting the social distancing rules; as such private homes that do not have a lobby or common areas are the ideal solution.
“Our current offering to guests includes extras such as private airport pick ups with cars that have safety screens, and fridge fills before arrival in order to avoid going to supermarket. We have adapted our in-stay services for example in-stay cleaning, giving guests the option to have fresh linen and towels delivered without having additional people entering the property.
“Health and safety has always been a priority for Veeve and we have adapted our cleaning programmes in London and Paris to reinforce existing procedures in line with official guidance from WHO [World Health Organisation] and Public Health England,” he added.