There’s no getting away from it: the travel industry has taken a hammering during COVID. Bookings are down. International flights are flying at a tiny fraction of the rate they did this time last year. And the quarantine measures being implemented by governments around the world are stifling demand still further.
As vacation homeowners, I know that you have experienced for yourselves just how different 2020 has been as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Homes that were booked back-to-back for months on end are suddenly experiencing booking rates that have dropped through the floor. For the first time I can remember, we’ve got homes with availability over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with less than two months to go.
However, there have been some success stories too. We’ve managed to keep on going, supporting you right through the pandemic, checking on your homes, and keeping things ticking over. The best results have been achieved by homeowners who’ve been willing to be flexible about how they market their homes and the rates they achieve. So I think its useful to spend some time considering how we can learn from these experiences and help every homeowner to be successful moving forwards.
The new travel trends
Earlier this month, luxury travel magazine Conde Nast Traveller published its list of the travel trends that will become the new normal.
- The staycation surge: there’s been a huge rise in the number of people staying in country for their vacations this year.
- Sustainability paradoxes: less travel means better air quality and more space for wildlife, but how long will it last?
- Wilderness seeking: we’re all longing for the great outdoors after months of lockdown and this is being reflected in our holiday choices.
- Isolation holidays: the trend for quarantine hideouts has to count as one of the most surprising of the year, but parents seeking quiet places to work and locals desperate for a change of scenery are also driving up demand for short-stay isolation.
- Dream trip planning: Conde Nast are predicting a huge surge as a result of pent-up demand for travel after the drawn-out restrictions we’re all dealing with right now.
The great news is that in Central Florida, we’re really well placed to capitalise on all these types of traveller demand.
Adapting to the new types of traveller
In terms of staycations, this is our biggest market right now. Many people inside Florida are looking for a change of scenery. The idea of lounging by the pool while observing social distancing restrictions is a real win for our homes. We’re also getting bookings for people travelling from outside state who are attracted to Florida for the same reasons and the warmer weather.
In terms of sustainability, we will have to wait and see how this affects demand. Governments around the world are keen to get the airline sector operating fully again because of its contribution to their national economies. Conde Nast suggests that when things do start to reopen fully, carbon offsetting is going to be the solution.
Florida is amazingly well placed to capitalise on the wilderness-seeking trend. Many of our homes look out onto conservation areas and there is plenty of wonderful wildlife spotting opportunities to be enjoyed right on their doorstep. Florida has the fifth largest number of state parks of all states in the country, with 191 parks statewide.
Isolation holidays are on the up. Tales abound of hotels replacing their revenues by accommodating worn-out parents during working hours who need a quiet place where they can practice social isolation and get through their workday. There are opportunities for vacation homeowners here too. Investing in a home printer, upgrading the WiFi and adding a desk into one of the bedrooms can all make a big difference to your home’s marketability to this growing segment of customers.
Then there’s the dream-trip planning… the Disney dream family vacation is right up there for dream trips. We need to continue to market to our customer base so they keep pushing their dream Disney holiday to the top of their wish list. We have some bookings for 2021 already and, with the Master Cancel guarantee we are now offering on all holidays booked through our booking partner Ellis Exclusive Villas, we can offer considerable peace of mind for guests.
What can vacation homeowners do on a local level?
While it’s interesting to note these changing trends – and Conde Nast’s list certainly aligns with our own experience – what does it mean in practice? How can Orlando vacation homeowners adapt to meet the demands of these new markets?
Number one: be flexible. Things are in flux right now. And even though news of a vaccine is really positive, things are still very fluid. Homeowners need to be prepared to adapt. This might mean relaxing rules about the types of bookings you’re prepared to accept. Or it might mean being flexible about the rates you offer. It’s a buyer’s market out there right now and you don’t want to lose out on a four-night booking for the sake of $30 a night.
The local market is different. People travelling locally may want to stay for shorter periods. The two-week or three-week vacations of European travellers just isn’t going to happen at the moment. While Europeans, on average, enjoy 25 days paid vacation leave per year, their American counterparts are lucky if they have 10 days – and many aren’t expected to take advantage of it, either. Understand that local travellers who are desperate for a change of scenery or just want to laze poolside for a couple of days are only going to book up for two or three nights. At the moment, these bookings don’t raise the same red flags about house parties they used to and this does require a rethink.
Parents might want to book a home with a pool for a special weekend for their child’s birthday. If parties are out, a day in the pool looks like a great option. Or couples might want a night away together – with restaurants closed, the prospect of a poolside barbeque a deux sounds staggeringly romantic. There a plenty of good reasons to accept single-night bookings, so let’s celebrate them!
The ultimate endpoint of this rethink is to be open to letting homes for just a day. We’ve successfully let a couple of our homes on day rates for businesspeople who wanted to use them during the day. These guests pay the same cleaning fees, so homeowners haven’t lost out and the homes were immaculate when we went in to clean. This is so contrary to the usual market in Florida, it’s a little hard to get used to at first. But in this market, we all have think a bit more creatively.
Attracting business guests is a great idea. Plus, if you can add printers and office equipment, it makes it a lot easier for isolating families to decamp to your home. Parents can continue to work, while the kids have a pool and games room to enjoy.
Another way to increase bookings is to widen out your market to include pet owners. Local travellers are more likely to bring their pet with them, so marketing your home as pet friendly gives you a big advantage in the local market.
If you’d like to speak with our team about different approaches to take when marketing your home, please give us a call. We’re always happy to talk through the experiences of other homeowners and how we can learn from them in the way we market or let your home.
Alternatively, if you have any thoughts or advice you’d like to share with fellow homeowners, please share them here. It’s always great to hear about what’s worked – or hasn’t worked – for you.