How Supporting The Community Was Key To White Spider’s Success Amid COVID-19

October 05, 2020 |
How Supporting The Community Was Key To White Spider’s Success Amid COVID-19

From A One-Time Gig To Hundreds of Listings 

Mel Hignell is the Founder and CEO of White Spider, a vacation-rental design and management company with hundreds of Airbnb listings across several US cities including New Orleans, Portland, Palm Springs and more. We’ve previously featured her founding story here. Long story short – she turned one San Francisco listing into a successful property management company coupling handcrafted design and unique locations with stellar guest services.

What we mean by unique locations: White Spider-managed properties include an old insane asylum, a building that was previously a synagogue and penthouses across Portland. Included among those rentals is an old bunker that went untouched since the Cold War and was filled with hundreds of white spiders, ultimately inspiring the name of the company.

Swiftly Pivoting To Navigate COVID-19

With COVID-19 causing uncertainty in the short-term rental industry, Mel dedicated her time and resources since March to two new business ideas that support the needs of guests, hosts and homeowners, as well as positively impact local communities. This included experimenting with new marketing strategies to generate income while using properties to provide shelter to frontline healthcare workers.

Housing Frontline Workers To Supplement Local Nursing Shortages

Nurses from all over the US traveled to New Orleans due to the city’s nursing shortage. Coming from a physician’s family, Mel recognized that these individuals would need safe, comfortable and affordable accommodations. She began offering discounts on properties (at times up to 75% off), mainly determined based on the nurse’s budget. For owners, properties that may have been sitting empty were generating revenue again. 

To ensure top-notch health and safety, White Spider put a 72-hour waiting period between each frontline worker’s stay. Mel re-trained her staff on how to properly disinfect homes based on CDC and WHO standards. And masks are always required. 

Inclusive Marketing Tactics To Support Local Communities

Mel made a conscious decision to host events that positively impact the community. She began marketing her properties for different events to generate new revenue streams for her homeowners, such as utilizing them as outdoor spaces for photoshoots, gatherings, or even a socially-distanced women-only pool party. For example, she hosted a Women of Color photoshoot on her half-acre property outside of Portland to raise awareness for prejudice against underrepresented communities in the city.

Tech That Streamlines Operations

Mel began using Guesty prior to COVID-19, and continued to do so amid the pandemic in order to streamline the daily operational needs that accompany the challenge of managing hundreds of listings. 

The two features Mel’s team relies on the most are Guesty’s Unified Inbox and Automation Tools. The ability to respond to all incoming guest messages via one central platform gives the White Spider team control over all guest communication, saving them hours every week. With this time saved, Mel was able to put more of an emphasis on creating great guest experiences and giving back to the community. 

The Results

Mel’s unique tactics of capitalizing on her properties that boast significant outdoor space for local, socially-distanced events, coupled with domestic travel starting to bounce back, has resulted in White Spider being able to bring its team back to almost 100% capacity.

A few other trends that Mel noted while navigating COVID-19 include:  

  • Her guest demographic changed rapidly – guests are now booking longer stays. In fact in the US, Guesty saw a 19% increase in the average length of stay from June through August 2020 compared to the same time period last year
  • Mel’s properties in rural areas are outperforming those in metropolitan ones. Case in point:  her home outside of Portland is demanding 4x the amount of revenue compared to her city rentals.
  • Mel predicts that revenge that when travel fully returns, short-term rental hosts will see significant upticks in bookings.

With the state of the virus changing constantly, each day brings a new trend in travel. White Spider is a prime example of how being agile and experimenting with new tactics can ensure business stability amid a pandemic. For more stories about how other property management companies have navigated COVID-19, go here.

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