Small local agency or Airbnb? What and why.

Who should we use to market our property? Airbnb or local agency? Or both???? Has COVID19 changed this?

We want to support a local business, but we’re worried they won’t have the marketing clout? We want to support the local economy, but we need to make money. We want to look after the house ourselves? Or we don’t want to have anything to do with it?


To read up on how things have changed, read our Travel Trends for 2020 and onwards here. 

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Post COVID19 the behaviour of people wanting to ‘staycation’ is radically different than that pre-viral life we all enjoyed. And the fundamental set up of Airbnb is now disfunctional for many guests needs. Here’s what we’ve learned in the last 3 months…

Plus Airbnb Luxe has been shelved and the staff let go.
Airbnb itself is struggling to respond and their business model is now fundamentally unsuited to larger group bookings. However for smaller places, millennials and those who can take more risk, will still book on the platform.

Before and After – How the CRITERIA of people’s booking needs has changed. 

PreCOVID the CRITERIA for booking was something like this (order flexible depending on age and type of group):  1. Location. 2. Dates. 3. Price. 4. Style. 5 Things to do/places to go.

PostCOVID it is more like this: 1. Can I trust this company? 2. Cleaning requirements. 3. Booking policy flexibility. 4. Dates. 5. House suitability for stay-at-home holiday. 6. Price. 6. Style.

Before and After – How the PROCESS of booking a holiday has changed. 

The PROCESS of booking a SHORT STAY was something like this:
1. Go to Airbnb and search. 2. Find places and get quotes. 3. Have a basic message interaction with the owner online. 4. Try to book it direct with the owner. 5. 80% Fail at this. So either pay the full amount to Airbnb or… 6. Look around and find other options – this takes a lot of time online 7. Go to a boutique advertising channel, like Sawdays, to search. Start the process again. 7. Try to speak with someone pre-booking. If not then eventually book with the company who ticks the most boxes and has the best online relationship with you. 8. Still feel a bit nervous but come anyway and feel relief/disappointment about the stay.

The PROCESS of booking a LONG STAY or LARGER GROUP STAY was and is a lot more complicated but is less changed…

1. Search the internet for a self catering cottages company 2. Look them up on social media to see if they’re ‘real’ and are posting authentic looking content – i.e can we trust their advice? 3. Phone them and ask for help. Test their knowledge and assess if you can trust them. 4. Do this with a few companies, find a few places and get quotes. 5. Whittle down to a top 4 ish. 5. Circulate to family for feedback. 6. Call the company again and ask more questions that have come from the family. 7. Book with the company who ticks the most boxes and has the most trusted relationship with you.

PostCOVID, the experience is wholly different. The longer the stay, the more the questions… Combine the process above with massively different concerns, that were never, or mildly there before.

  1. 1. Can we trust the company who we are booking with to give us honest answers, the BEST local knowledge and to treat us fairly instead of as a commodity? This is the NO1 part of the booking process…
  2. 2. Health concerns. Is the house private just for me? In all areas? Where do I see that? How can I trust what you’re saying, you’re the seller? Is it clean? Is it disinfected? Do the cleaners know what they’re doing? Did they wear PPE? How will I know what’s been cleaned on arrival? Will cleaning materials be left out for me to clean more if I want? Is your laundry washed at the right temperature to kill the virus?

3. Booking policies and terms. What if I can’t come? What happens if you cancel on me? Or there is Lockdown again? Are the terms fair and flexible? Can I change my mind? How close to the stay date? What fees are there? Are they transparent?

4. Is the house suitable for staying in and having fun? We won’t be going out much, so what is there to do at the house that ticks the Slow Travel box? The garden: outdoor ‘room’s, BBQ’s, dens, hideouts, boules, hot-tub, a pool? Inside; a DVD player, toys, TV channels, the WIFI? A wood burner to curl up next to and read a book. If they do venture out, then lovely walks from home, quiet places to be away from the crowds. They need personal advice they can trust for ultra ‘locals knowlege’ and a nearby beach etc.

5.  What to do in the local area? What’s the community like? Will we be welcomed by the locals or are they worried about us visiting? What can we do that is relaxing and lovely? What do the locals do?

So…to Airbnb or not to Airbnb?

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. It’s a really really big deal now. They can’t deliver. 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!
  2. 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 12-16% service fees extra to our charges, so holidays through them are much more expensive than booking direct.

4. Airbnb have no guarantee that their cleaning advice and guidelines will be followed. They simply cannot check even 1% of the houses. Everyone has a bad Airbnb story… guests will be super nervous to check.

And Airbnb in the travel industry

Airbnb Luxe was touted as the major competitor to small agencies. We were really worried. But because of the lack of person-to-person contact, it has been shelved already and the staff let go. Plus Airbnb Luxe has been shelved and the staff let go.
Airbnb itself is struggling to respond and their business model is now fundamentally unsuited to larger group bookings. However for smaller places, millennials and those who can take more risk, will still book on the platform.

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.

 

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

6. 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!