Sykes Holiday Cottages CEO Graham Donoghue [Credit: Sykes]

Sykes’ Graham Donoghue: How to navigate Covid-19 as a business

UK: Sykes Holiday Cottages CEO Graham Donoghue speaks to ShortTermRentalz to provide his thoughts on how a business and the the short-term holiday let industry can navigate the testing period during the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent consequences for the travel and hospitality space.

Firstly, thank you to all the customers, owners and people for supporting what has been a very challenging few weeks for everyone involved in the short-term holiday let industry.

No business interruption plan could have prepared me for what we are seeing, with every business policy that existed prior to this outbreak being tested to its absolute limit.

We are therefore seeing a huge amount of “thinking on your feet”, which again comes with risks as businesses might also be making emotive decisions over strategically objective ones, but we need to react and at the moment, it is day by day.

The impact of COVID-19 has been greatly felt across the global travel and tourism industry. As a business, we constantly try to find a balance and we find ourselves in a difficult situation as an agent who is contracted to supply a service for holiday homeowners but also a business that has built a brand over almost 30 years focused on service.

Trying to explain our role and the role of our owners has been challenging without stepping into legal definitions when, and I do not use this word lightly, we become under attack. I have definitely seen the evil side of social media over the past few weeks.

We have had to pivot, react and keep pace with the unprecedented times that we all find ourselves in. As an agent, when making decisions it has always been important to find the right balance between holiday homeowners and customers.

That balance has never been more important than it is now. What we will do as a business is to constantly work with our owners and customers to adjust and evolve as we learn more.

In times of crisis, the four core pillars that need to work harmoniously are:

FINANCE need to underwrite a solution that allows the company to survive, but with reputation preserved to owners and customers. Striking this balance of short-term pain, from that of a highly likely long-term upswing is perhaps the toughest challenge.

LEGAL need to find a way for these commercial solutions to be implemented quickly, which may mean stretching the boundaries of existing contracts to their limit, but done so with honest and open communication given these are unprecedented circumstances.

OPERATIONS need to execute quickly and clearly, ensuring that the legal and commercial complexity is delivered in a language that all stakeholders can grasp quickly.

COMMUNICATIONS people need to hear from you. Keep updating your team, owner and customers. Find a place for the one version of the truth and defend mistruths and your reputation.

In times like these, it is important for an agent to be agile and to provide options to both customers and holiday homeowners, however there are legal complexities that need to be considered. In our situation, the booking contract is between the holidaymaker and homeowner and we are working closely with them to keep them up to date on the ever-changing scenarios as their agent.

During this crisis, we have contacted our owners to obtain support during the emergency period and my teams have been building new tools to allow facilitation of credits. As an agent, we legally have to seek permission to do this. Be careful not to step into the shoes of the principle and know where boundaries lie.

My team have worked on many scenarios and how they would impact our owners, our customers, our people and our business. We are navigating this complex situation as best we can as to provide support our customers and owners.

Striking the right balance for each stakeholder group is perhaps one of the greatest challenges, however in doing so, we have aimed to keep our owners onside as best we can through protecting their long term interests and acting on their behalf as much as we can. Communicating regularly and clearly, and of course using all feedback as a gift.

Our customers have responded well to options we have provided in relation to the “lockdown” period and future periods of uncertainty, and we continue to use multiple listening tools to ensure we are getting it right. We acknowledge that a “one size fits all” does not apply here but delivering options for the majority and then addressing the minority on a case by case basis is the best approach we can aim for. In truth, you cannot please everyone and you have to pick a path.

Throughout this outbreak, I have continued to engage with my industry peers and fellow CEOs and I thank them for support. The competition “boxing gloves” have been put down for now and we have complete collaboration as its vital that we exit this outbreak in a strong position for the benefit of the industry we all love.

We are preparing a carefully positioned marketing campaign, timed for when the market and indeed the UK as a whole begins to recover, where “reconnecting” with those who are closest to you, will been seen as the highest priority for large portions of society.

On a final note, the global travel and tourism industry is resilient and I am sure it will bounce back once this is all over. However, there has never been a greater importance for agility, technology and innovation than there is in these challenging times.

For more information, visit the Sykes Holiday Cottages website here.

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