Be Our Guest(y): Preparing for an Uptick in Domestic Tourism and International Travel
As several regions worldwide begin to recover, a new surge in domestic travel and “staycation” destinations has emerged. In response, Guesty caught up with distinguished online travel agency, Vrbo, in a virtual fireside chat to explore the best ways property managers can optimize their businesses in light of current travel demands.
Throughout the virtual event, Vered Schwarz, President and COO of Guesty; John Suzuki, Global Property Manager Evangelist from Vrbo; and Melissa Mehaffey, Partner Success Account Manager at Vrbo shared tips on marketing to new traveler personas, repositioning listings to attract more bookings, and preparing for the return of travel.
Vered began the discussion with a few words on COVID-19’s impact on the short-term rental ecosystem, including data Guesty has gathered on reservation and booking patterns in the new normal. She then shared some tips on the many ways property managers can support contact- free stays including self check-in tools, keyless entry services and automated messaging tools, such as Guesty’s Whatsapp messaging feature.
John followed with insights into what travelers are currently looking for in their vacation rental accommodation. Two of the most important tactics hosts should keep in mind are implementing flexible business models to earn more bookings in the long-run as well as making sure to get high-star reviews for cleanliness across all properties. John then took the audience through a discussion on vacations vs staycations, introducing Vrbo’s newly-launched “Staycation is Still Vacation” experience that calls attention to rentals that are close to potential guests and provide that home-away-from-home environment.
Melissa then presented Vrbo’s COVID-19 Market Insights Report that shares key data metrics to help property management companies optimize their operations and improve performance. The report is updated daily showing insights around a user’s specific market, including traveler responses to listings, traveler origin, and booking windows. To get detailed insights on where to focus your resources and specific recommendations to draw more travelers in your area, be sure to connect with Melissa and the Vrbo Partner Success team at GUESTY_VRBO@expedia.com.
Up next, we began our exclusive fireside chat to explore how Vrbo responded to COVID-19 and their new initiatives to support property managers during this time. Here are some of the key insights that were brought up:
Changing the Focus
In light of COVID-19, Vrbo had to alter its operations quickly to better meet the changing needs of its users. As a majority of Vrbo travelers plan to travel with families, our panelists urged hosts to start capturing this market by thinking like a vacation rental traveler and featuring amenities that they themselves would want to see in their home, like WIFI, board games, and indoor/outdoor gathering spaces the whole family can enjoy.
Adapting to New Business Models
In response to recent cancellations, Vrbo has taken great strides to ensure those affected would be compensated fairly. That’s why its first plan-of-action when the pandemic hit was refunding all service fees to users and letting the hosts themselves decide what to do regarding refund policies with guests. By giving property managers the control to adjust their policies as needed for business stability, Vrbo noticed that in the end, many property managers decided to adopt a more relaxed approach to cancellations. This in return, resulted in a higher guest return rate and stronger customer relationships.
As always, we invited those tuning in to contribute questions throughout the event, which we then addressed in a Q&A session. Here are some highlights (edited for clarity):
Q: Have you found a great way to advertise the cleanliness standards of your rentals and have you found a way to incorporate faster turnover with that?
Melissa: To help give travelers’ peace of mind, you might want to consider avoiding back-to-back stays and instituting a policy to allow 24 hours between each guest. This will help minimize the likelihood of contamination by allowing enough time for cleaning and disinfection.
Keep your properties up to local regulatory recommended standards for cleanliness and be sure to let travelers know in your description, listing headline and cleaning section on Vrbo to ensure they will be receiving a worry-free stay. Vrbo has also launched new cleanliness attributes to help property managers demonstrate their commitment to cleanliness by adding it to property descriptions that will be shown on our sites and mobile app.
Q: Do you have any tips on how to attract people to stay with you despite the huge disproportion in demand towards rural escapes?
Melissa: Cleanliness and flexibility are the most important factors that travelers will consider in light of COVID-19 when booking. Consider adopting flexible or moderate cancellation policies—properties with more relaxed cancellation policies can earn 30% more bookings on average, and we’ve seen an increase in travelers using the “free cancellation” search filter on Vrbo.
Vered: It’s recommended to cater to the key traveler personas that are appropriate to your properties. There are many audiences interested in urban rentals, like frontline workers and those looking for work from home environments. You just have to adapt your business models, by repositioning your listings or incorporating extended stays, to better attract those traveler personas.
John: For those folks in the urban areas, keep a close eye on the supply-demand curve because eventually it will go back to normal, so the idea now is figuring out different business models and pricing strategies based on the supply and demand for your markets.
Q: What are your predictions for the future of the STR industry in this challenging time?
John: In the entire 16 years that I’ve been working with vacation rentals, this industry has been growing. I don’t see any reason why that would change in the future. There is still a very large audience of people that had never experienced vacation rentals and right now they are starting to. So, because of that, this industry will be more important than ever moving past COVID-19.
For more tips, visit Vrbo’s Discovery Hub to read 10 ways to help protect your business during COVID-19. Thank you everyone for joining and we look forward to seeing you at our upcoming virtual events!