• Consumers look to homestays

Early indications suggest that consumers are favouring homestays over hotels, in the post covid-19 booking marketplace.
Data from the US market, pulled together by AllTheRooms Analytics, suggests Airbnb is a major beneficiary from the trend. As of the last week of May, it detected Airbnb 90 day forward bookings having risen 18.3% over a month. Despite listings having grown year on year, it said the volume of bookings was only 15.6% shy of the same period in the previous year.
The trend first took hold in US states where lockdown was eased first, such as Georgia, Arizona and Texas.
The trend is echoed in further data compiled by AirDNA, which noted: “The theme here is pretty clear: markets rebounding the fastest are primarily leisure destinations in states pushing for a swift snap back to reality. Rentals near the beaches of Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and the Carolinas are the first to benefit from a travel-starved population.”
Forward-booking information suggests there could be a return to relatively normal reservation activity by September.
Elsewhere, it is Australia and New Zealand that is leading the hospitality sector out of hibernation. AirDNA figures suggest more than 132,000 holiday rental bookings have been made in New Zealand via Airbnb and Vrbo apps, for dates between June 8 and July 13, a figure up 8.4% on the same period in 2019. “Everybody has broken out from their homes, they’ve got cabin fever. It’s not all doom and gloom,” one hotel operator told the New Zealand Herald.
In Europe, borders are starting to reopen, with the Spanish tourist spot of Mallorca receiving its first German tourists, and Greece opening its airports to tourists. Spanish hotels will run at 50% occupancy, while infra-red cameras will check the temperatures of visitors.
In Scandinavia, borders have also opened between Finland, Denmark and Norway, although not currently with Sweden, where concerns remain over levels of coronavirus infection.
“Whatever comes of social distancing protocols, it’s clear that vacation rentals have a leg up on hotels. People are looking for space, safety, and comfort, even in the most crowded of urban cities,” said the AirDNA report.
Cris Tarrant, CEO at BVA-BDRC, in a recent blog, commented: “Hotel operators may be able to distinguish themselves from the homestay market with a scrupulous approach to hygiene as this will become a critical consumer decision factor. The new world order also will demand changes, so that the operation of hotels becomes much less ‘touch and share’.”
“A challenge for hoteliers will be convincing guests that their property ticks the boxes without this specific message drowning out the long-term communication about the market positioning of their particular hotel or brand. To this end, we advocate the adoption of a cleanliness certificate to serve as a brand mark shorthand to provide the necessary customer reassurance, so more of the marketing effort can go into promoting what makes a given hotel a unique proposition.”
BVA-BDRC’s covid-19 sentiment tracker, a weekly update of UK opinion conducted with consultancy Alligator, notes a strong uptake for leisure attractions that are opening up once more. But with concerns over UK outbound travel, and hotels not yet permitted to reopen, “there is a sense that the public are waiting for announcements and evidence that UK domestic holidays are an option this year.”
Around half of consumers are missing their holidays – suggesting that once the market reopens, there will be good potential to convert intentions into bookings.

HA Perspective [by Chris Bown]: We’re in interesting times. Governments are easing lockdown, under increasing economic pressure to limit the massive costs of supporting their economies. Yet the easing depends on being wary, and stamping quickly on any fresh outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Families that have spent weeks together at home are bound to want to strike out and visit somewhere new. So will they really be so scared about mingling with others, that they will only book somewhere with its own front door? Hotels are betting on persuading them otherwise – but it’s a fine line between assuring guests they’ve reduced risk, and pointing out to them how easily they might be exposed to the still-mysterious virus.

Additional comment [by Andrew Sangster]: Are you more likely to want a hotel room or an apartment when you next travel? What I think few people will want is a hosted stay – a stay in somebody’s home where the host is present.
The decision is between a serviced apartment or a hotel. Airbnb believes that its apartments are more attractive than hotel rooms because guests are worried about coming into contact with other guests at hotels.
On the other hand, hoteliers argue that guests are most concerned about cleaning standards and want to stay with a reputable brand that can offer reassurance that the cleaning has been carried out properly.
Airbnb is attempting to counteract the advantage of hotels in the latter area by offering its own cleaning protocols. The problem, however, is that hosts are simply self-certifying that they are following the protocols. Airbnb is not inspecting any properties and is instead relying on guest feedback as to whether they have been done.
While hotels are not perfect at ensuring brand standards are maintained, they are significantly more effective at it than relying simply on guest feedback. There is in place significant resource to assist franchisees in implementing procedures and for delivering the assurance directly at managed properties.
The winner here looks to be branded serviced apartments. While branding in this niche is in its infancy, the coming months and years look set to drive consolidation in this area and the likely entry of the big hotel brand companies into this space.
On a separate note, we have previously discussed the balance of power in the OTA relationship so it does not warrant repeating now. However, it is worth putting to bed one particular canard that has cropped up: that the French government is launching its own OTA.
The French Government is not launching an OTA. It is investing in a digital platform to share tourism data that it hopes will give its domestic tourism businesses an edge over US-listed booking platforms like Airbnb and Booking.
The rumour had taken some legs given the previous French dalliance with Minitel, an early rival to the internet which the French persisted with even as the internet took hold globally. It lasted until 2012, having launched in 1980, well ahead of the internet which was only fully commercialised in 1995. The rule of first mover advantage clearly did not apply.

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