Online travel agents – major changes post COVID

These comments are designed for online travel agents ‘OTA’s’ Airbnb, Booking.com, Tripadvisor etc – any online agency where you can’t speak to a real person on the phone, about a booking.

So here are our reasons for being really careful with listing your house on the big booking engines, Airbnn, Tripadvisor and HomeAway.

  1. 1. Trust.

  2. It’s a really really big deal now. Their entire system is set up to withhold owner contact and protect their commission. It is not possible to speak with a guest because they block all guest details including phone number, and email address. Their algorithms are very good at it. We know!
  3. Millenials and low risk groups will still book stays with Airbnb, but the majority of larger groups (above 5 people) will not.

Trust on cleaning issues, privacy of the property, local community etc are key. Added to that, if things do go wrong, it’s not like a guest can leave and rely on complaining afterwards and leave a bad review. If the place isn’t clean, they will have to clean it. If it’s not private, then their family safety is compromised but if they leave they can only go home – so no holiday at all. The stakes are much higher. Guests need to know that these issues won’t occur and this is based on trust.

2. Transparency.

People do not trust the large booking companies to handle them fairly if things go wrong or they need to be flexible. The larger companies are slow at adapting to crises and have been clumsy too many times. Smaller companies, like ours, can treat each case on it’s own merits and work with people to find solutions. We managed to find 4 long stay guests for our owners and those guests made the houses their primary residences and stayed at slightly lower prices for the duration of the lockdown. For our guests, our T&C’s were not set up to cover a pandemic. We worked with our local lawyer to find a solution, He suggested we ask our guests to cover our ‘reasonable costs of sale’ and therefore ask them to make a voluntary 10% contribution to cover our admin and marketing time. Rachel phoned every guest over a 2 week period and discussed their situation. We gave them the option to move their stay or refund. 95% of guests agreed to pay us the 10% contribution, some gave more. It was very humbling and emotional. The result was that they felt like they were treated fairly, trusted us more than before and many of them have already come back to ask for a stay already. We communicated weekly to our owners, suggesting ways to recoup funds from grants.

3. Cost.

People have less disposable income now. Airbnb charge 18% more than an agency will do. So people will literally save £100’s by booking direct.

4. Cleaning

OTA’s have no guarantee that their cleaning advice and guidelines will be followed. They simply cannot check even 1% of the houses.

5. Companies are struggling.

Vacasa, a huge booking company (like Booking.com but in Spain) had done a 100mEuro fundraise a year ago for developments, now they have raised £25mEuro to keep the doors open.

AirbnbLuxe has closed down and laid off all staff.

Guests who pay through an OTA won’t be protected unless they have booked a package holiday. Guests are ‘wising up’ but many will still get caught short.

 

So what are NFE doing about these issues? 

Well we’ve certainly upped our game and in particular we’ve got better at communicating the things that we’ve been doing for a really long time that we thought was normal, but have now realised isn’t.

1. Communication

We call everyone who enquires, back, usually within 24 hours. That way we can prove that we’re ‘real humans’ and that we know our stuff, are accessible and friendly and can help. We’ve been doing this for years…

2. Trust

We’re promoting that we know the area and we’re locals. We’re developing a few new parts to the website that  will help people understand that we’re real and we’re on hand to help. Not like so many companies who say that they’re ‘here and will help’, but that we’r actually live in the New Forest, that we’re always on call, and that we often answer the phone at 9pm and 7am  and frequently answer emails at 11pm at night. That if there is an issue we’ll drive over to see the guests during the stay and either work with the owner to sort something out, or do it ourselves.

3. More trust

Whilst we have some video footage already, we are going to develop our informal ‘walk through’ videos so that people can see for themselves what the inside, outside and local community is like.

4. Even more trust

During COVID19 lockdown we have used the time to write plenty of new blogs on where to go and find peace and quiet, either on picnics, bike rides, beaches, etc. We’ve interviewed all sorts of locals who have interesting stories and angles to add about the forest. All to help people understand that we live here and we’re knowledgeable.

5. Clarity

Our property pages have been given a facelift and communicate the booking policies, cleaning procedures and in house support we offer to guests.

6. Humour

Our brand and illustrations have been updated across the site. We use these specifically to help people smile and know that we are different to ‘big corporate’ or even ‘big / small self catering company’. It seems to work. We do get cut through and people often tell us how much they love our website and that it makes them smile… that’s the first goal ticked!