Webcast: Will COVID-19 prompt a decommercialisation of the holiday rentals sector?

Webcast: Will COVID-19 prompt a decommercialisation of the holiday rentals sector?

Focus on trust, hospitality and service over driving digitalisation and yields predicted

The COVID-19 crisis will see greater professionalisation in the holiday rentals sector but less overtly commercial approach, according to experts who spoke on a Travolution webcast this week.

Merilee Karr, founder of London-based Under The Doormat and chair of the Short Term Accommodation Association, said consumers will demand higher standards and levels of trust.

She said she expects to see consolidation in an industry that has been one of the fastest-growing in travel with the like of Airbnb, Expedia and booking.com raising its profile in the mass market.

“I think consumers are going to be more cautious and looking for professionalism and standards.

“So, I think the operators who are strongest in delivering those are going to have the strongest brands.

“And I think that that’s something that consumers will look out for and those brands will emerge as leaders in the industry as we move forward.

“I think the second thing is that we will see consolidation in this industry and I think that will come in two forms. You will see companies buying each other out.

“But I also think you’ll see smaller companies looking for partners so they can be part of something bigger without having to grow their team and they can still focus on what they’re good at locally, not get lost in an OTA world.

“And I think the third thing that’s going to be really important is that both the hosts and the guests are really going to depend even more on trust.

“Trust has always been a part of what we do in our industry and so I think that’s going to be an even more enduring factor. Anyone who’s involved that’s able to create that trust is going to be far more successful.”

Karr said the COVID-19 crisis has proved to be a shock to some of the larger more commercialised operators in the sector that have turned private homes into “de facto hotels” and who are likely to go back to the relative security of year-round rentals.

“I think that will bring the heart back into the industry for companies like Love Home Swap and Under The Doormat that have always had that core of the industry in mind.

“For people who are looking at this as a great way to just make an increased yield maybe some of them have learned that this isn’t the industry to do that.”

Celia Pronto, managing director of Love Home Swap, said: “People will be looking for authenticity and arguably the personal touch, so I do think smaller potentially family run businesses will do well.

“The second thing is the impact on climate change. We have seen lockdown has had a really positive impact on climate change and that will be welcomed by many people.

“So there is likely to be a pressure to balance out our desire to travel with our responsibility when it comes to the climate.

“The third trend for me which is here to stay will be a complete shortening of the booking window. Consumers will book much later and make their plans pretty close to the point of travel, potentially even within six weeks of their arrival date.

“And then I think the last thing for me is people’s needs will become more modest. We’ve all learned to appreciate the little things in this process. And so I think the days of people expecting the grand trips will change.

“We will, perhaps, be more considerate as tourists, valuing travel a lot more and likely also to spend a little bit longer in the destinations we travel to, so perhaps travel less but when we do go somewhere, really try and explore it and understand the culture a little bit deeper.”

Deborah Heather, director of industry standards body Quality in Tourism, said: “I’d pick up on that movement from commercialisation to less reliance on digital and more on customer service, and probably back to old fashioned hospitality. I think that has a real role to play.

“It’s not just the climate it’s about being ethical and being completely responsible in terms of an operation and from that aspect bring things back to that sense almost of caring about individuals.

“It’s about wellbeing and mental health, and I do think we’re going to see a shift in society which will be reflected in the whole way we travel and what we do, which can only be a good thing.”