How you handle cancellations today can make or break you tomorrow.
IN COVID-19 ERA
In just a few short months, the current Coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous negative impact on travel and tourism. Vacation Rental agencies are in a difficult situation right now, with 50% or more of their bookings being canceled due to the outbreak. Many property managers are unsure of how to best navigate the surge in cancellations, as the future can feel unsettling at the moment.
With this in mind, it’s important that we do not remain shortsighted during this crisis. We must remember that this too shall pass, and it will pave the way to a new wave of economic growth and expansion. We must be ready to capture those new opportunities when they present themselves, and in the meantime, we must plan and prepare accordingly. We must also continue to serve our customers to the best of our ability. Below are a few strategies which agencies can implement to help mitigate some of their cancellation requests.
Cleaning and hygiene have never been more important than they are today. This presents an opportunity to revamp your cleaning process in which the entire property would be sanitized and disinfected. Audit your cleaning crew to ensure guest safety and satisfaction. Everything should be sterilized, including doorknobs, light switches, remote controls, countertops, appliances, kitchenware, etc. Leave no stone uncleaned.
You could then leverage your new and improved cleaning process in your marketing strategy. People are still willing to travel, they would just like to avoid airports, airplanes, and crowded areas in general. If they do travel, they want to know that they will be safe and that measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Communicate with guests and prospective travelers regularly. You should reassure them by informing them of the precautions which you have taken to ensure their safety during their stay with you.
This is also a good time to revisit your cancellation policy if you haven’t done so already. Prospective guests are much more likely to book a stay with an agency that offers a flexible cancellation policy. While most agencies probably cannot afford to offer a refund for every cancellation, now is a good time to consider being more amenable with your cancellation policy. If you refuse a cancellation request, you may keep that deposit for now, but you’ve most certainly lost a customer forever.
We must remember that this too shall pass, and it will pave the way to a new wave of economic growth and expansion.
It is difficult to determine how to handle cancellations amidst so much uncertainty. The reality is that most agencies will likely have to approach cancellation decisions on a case-by-case basis. Many factors will certainly need to be considered before making a decision, from determining whether it is a repeat guest to the number of nights for the booking. A refund, however, is not the only option available.
Rather than offering a refund for a cancellation request, agencies could offer to move the booking to a future date. This would ensure that they retain the booking/deposit, and the guest can take the vacation at a later date – a vacation that will surely be needed once this pandemic is over.
Alternatively, agencies could offer a voucher or credit for a future stay. Again, this would allow the agency to retain the customer, and it would grant the traveler the flexibility to plan another trip in the future without losing their deposit.
Ultimately agencies should work with their guests to find a mutually beneficial resolution whenever possible. Guests will appreciate the flexibility as well as the human touch that this approach would add. Happy guests leave good reviews, which in turn leads to better ranking and more bookings.
MARKET TO LOCALS
Spring break is upon us and many people are looking for a “staycation” in place of the trips they had planned, so now is your chance to capitalize on some local tourism. Include detailed information in your listings about the measures you’re taking to prevent the spread of Coronavirus and keep your guests safe. This is a great opportunity to show off your new-and-improved cleaning process.
Cabins are uniquely situated to take advantage of the current pandemic. People want to avoid crowded areas with groups larger than 6, making cabins a great choice for metropolitan travelers looking to get away from city life for a few weeks. A mountain or lake-side cabin could be the perfect retreat that families need right now. I’ve even seen some agencies offer up “Quarantine Cabins” as a place where travelers can self-quarantine.
Regardless of the approach taken to market to locals, you should include information about family-friendly activities in the area that do not expose guests to large groups of people. A family bike ride on a nearby trail or a picnic at a spacious, local park are two good examples.
LOWER PRICES AND/OR MINIMUM STAYS
Many agencies can look to fill in the gaps in their booking calendars by lowering pricing and/or lowering their minimum stay requirements. While some travelers may be looking for a place to lay low for several weeks, others may be unwilling to commit to a longer-term stay in fear of being stuck there should things somehow get worse.
Pricing is also a factor for locals. Agencies need to remember that the usual allure of a vacation property is somewhat lost on locals. That beautiful beachside villa on the Gulf Coast may be a dream getaway for landlocked travelers, but locals can frequent the beaches at their leisure. As a result, locals are much less likely to pay a premium. No one wants to lower prices, but as the saying goes “50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.”
The key takeaway here is that the needs and expectations of local guests are much different than those of non-local travelers. Agencies need to be more mindful of this fact now more than ever. Offerings should be tailored towards locals to more closely match their expectations if agencies hope to capture their business.
As I previously mentioned, this too shall pass. Agencies can take advantage and use this time to plan ahead for the Summer months on the horizon. While most predictions say things will normalize in about 3 months, people will still be hesitant to travel by air. Similarly, stays in crowded hotels will very likely be avoided by many travelers. This leaves the vacation rental market once again uniquely suited to cater to the needs of would-be travelers.
Look beyond the Summer months as well. Plan for the offseason, as well as for Winter. This is an opportunity to brainstorm and come up with fresh ideas to capitalize on new business in the months to come.2 comments