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12 Months Later: What We’ve Learned a Year after Lockdown, Part I

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since large parts of the world went into lockdown…in part because 12 months later some parts of the world are in or are entering their 3rd or 4th lockdowns.  But we’ve learned a lot in the past year about how the short-term rental market has changed and what hosts have had to do to adapt and continue to earn revenues during this time period.  We’ve learned so much, in fact, that we’ve had to break the lessons into two different articles!  Let’s get started!

Flexibility Matters

With governments making decisions on a week-to-week basis, guests are no longer able to book trips far in advance.  Guests are looking to book just a few days to a few weeks in advance, at the most, and are looking for listings with flexible cancellation policies.  While it’s true that listings with more generous cancellation policies attract more visitors, it’s also true that those same guests may take advantage of the cancellation policy and cancel at the last moment.  Individual hosts will need to make decisions based on what they know about their local market and their own listings.

A New Look at Cancellation

Airbnb is still dealing with the fallout of the decision they made to override the cancellation policies of their hosts worldwide during the earliest days of the lockdown. They made a decision to offer free cancellations to all bookings made before Mar 14, 2020 and that had devastating effects on the income of hosts. While Airbnb went on to set up relief funds for hosts and Superhosts, there was damage done to the relationship with hosts, as they were not consulted in any way about this decision.  Airbnb is no longer offering this generous cancellation policy, leading to some guests taking it out on hosts when the cancellation policy is enforced.  While each case varies, hosts should consider being more flexible with guests and/or listing on other platforms rather than relying on just one.

Focus on Local

With airline travel in irregular shape, many travelers are focusing on more local travel.  Airbnb at one point reported that the majority of domestic US bookings were within 300 miles.  People aren’t taking their traditional vacations and are choosing closer-to-home “staycations.”  If you’ve been used to serving out-of-town guests, you might consider promoting your listing through various local websites and resources.

Cleaning Standard Step Up

Airbnb created a new 36 page cleaning guide in consultation with experts and has it available for free in many languages.  Not only did Airbnb offer a badge to early adopters that accepted the new cleaning standards, which included social distancing and mask wearing when interacting with guests, but they set a deadline of November 20, 2020 for all hosts to comply or lose the right to continue hosting.  While not all vacation rental platforms did this, hosts who featured their listings on Airbnb had to comply, and clean listings, always a driver of bookings and revenues in “normal times,” came under even more scrutiny.  We’ve always known that guests show a marked preference for high ratings in cleanliness.  This has only become more pronounced during the pandemic, according to The Economist.

Guestbook Refresh

You may have taken many hours to put together an awesome guestbook for your visitors, showing them the best local attractions and restaurants…except that many of those places are possibly closed at the moment, and some, unfortunately, are closed permanently.  Take the time to create a different version of your guestbook that takes current conditions into account.  That may mean calling restaurants or attractions to see if they are open and if so, what the conditions are for accepting guests.  It may also mean highlighting some virtual experiences that are still locally-focused.

There are plenty more lessons to share, but we’ll save those for Part II!  For now, consider applying these lessons to your listing(s) so that you can increase your bookings (and revenue) even as the pandemic continues.

This article originally appeared in our Guest Book newsletter.

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