As the UK enters week seven of lockdown, it’s abundantly clear that Coronavirus has hit every corner of the travel sector hard. With restrictions on all non-essential travel in place for the time being, there has been widespread disruption to travel plans and holidays around the globe. Airlines, package tour operators, hotels, visitor attractions and booking platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia are all trying to make sense of what has happened across the industry – and cope with the fallout.
In response to countrywide lockdowns and travel bans, operators across the travel and tourism sector have issued new and ‘extenuating circumstances’ policies to try to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and provide some financial protection for guests with trips and accommodation bookings that can no longer go ahead. It’s clear that vacation rental businesses have effectively had their incomes put on ice, so initiatives like Airbnb’s $250 million support package, designed to help hosts affected by COVID-19 cancellations, are very much welcomed.
At TravelNest, we’ve certainly been feeling the pressure too. But throughout this period, our goal remains clear. We strive to be a trusted source of expertise that our owners can rely on, with a software product that fully automates the complex process of listing a property on multiple channels. We’re using this time proactively to ensure all our owners’ property listings are ready to capitalise on booking demand when the time comes.
The importance of our channel partner connections is highlighted by Ingrid Fehr, our Partner Success Director:
Across the vacation rentals and holiday lettings market, it’s been hard not to notice the difference in approach taken by some businesses. An example that stands out is Sykes Cottages, a well-established holiday lettings company with over 25 years of experience in the industry. They’ve hit headlines recently, and unfortunately, it’s been for the wrong reasons.
Numerous customers have complained about Sykes Cottages’ apparent failure to issue refunds for bookings when customers are unable to travel due to Coronavirus restrictions. Rather than being able to cancel, customers were faced with the option to re-book for dates, often at a higher price, or accept a credit note for a future booking with Sykes.At the time of writing, the Sykes Cottages Unhappy Customers Facebook group has almost 3,000 members and is full of stories from customers unable to get refunds and looking for advice. Many property owners who use Sykes Cottages to list their properties feel let down too.
Dawn Collins, who helps run the group on Facebook comments:
We are supporting our property owners and hosts in a number of key ways:
1. Implementing channel-specific guidance
TravelNest works closely with some of the best-known booking platforms including Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, HomeAway, TripAdvisor and TUI. Working with these key partners, we implemented a bookings blackout for all properties located in countries that are subject to travel restrictions. We continue to review and extend these measures on behalf of our owners in line with the latest Government and channel-specific advice.
2. Timely communication
As well as checking-in with customers by phone, we’ve also been providing regular (often daily) updates by email as the situation continues to evolve. We’ve also established a comprehensive set of customer FAQs plus helpful content to help owners cope with COVID-19.
3. Listings optimisation
Coronavirus is likely to have a significant and lasting impact on guest expectations of vacation rental properties. Our listing optimisation team provides expert advice, based on channel-specific knowledge, on how to improve listings and appeal to the post-Coronavirus guest.
4. Bookings management
Our bookings team are working to process cancellations, organise refunds and communicate emphatically with guests and owners. This removes a great deal of stress from owners as they know we are committed to deferring bookings to future dates where this suits both parties.
As TravelNest customer Gordon, owner of Craigmaddie Muir Roundhouse comments:
Our focus is on the thousands of owners who trust us to market their properties, and how we can minimise the impact of Coronavirus on their businesses. Our owners are relying on us to work with channels on their behalf and manage cancellations, refunds and re-bookings. We are also using our expertise to optimise property listings to ensure they are in the best possible position to attract bookings once restrictions lift.
TravelNest not only helps owners deal with the here and now impact of COVID-19, but more importantly, helps them prepare for the future. As Emma, a TravelNest customer who runs Solid Luxury Lodges and Cottages comments:
TravelNest gets your property seen in all the right places. We can list your property on over 30 of the best booking channels including Airbnb, Booking. com, Expedia, HomeAway, TUI and TripAdvisor.