With coronavirus cases rising across the United States, thanks to the spread of the more transmissible “delta” variant, the rebound of the travel and tourism sector has slowed in recent weeks, especially in Florida.
In these challenging conditions, we thought it would be useful to provide all our homeowners with an overview of the current conditions in terms of the virus and its spread in Florida right now – and what this means for the local travel and tourism market.
The current state of COVID-19 in Florida
Florida’s COVID-19 situation has attracted a lot of attention in the national media, largely thanks to the controversial stance of the State’s Governor Ron de Santis. Whether you agree with the Governor’s anti-mask stance or not, as a vacation rental homeowner in Florida, you’ll have noticed one important result: bookings have dropped off a cliff.
Inevitably, there are also concerns about the return to school and work and the effect this might have on increasing the spread, especially as more people mix indoors as we move from summer into autumn.
Although we aren’t headed back into lockdowns, there may be some new restrictions on how we meet. For example, at the end of last month, McDonalds recommended to its franchisees that they close indoor seating in counties where COVID-19 cases exceed 250 per 100,000 people on a rolling three-week average. There are currently no counties in Florida below this threshold. In fact, the average rate for the USA as a whole is 276 per 100,000 people.
However, there is some good news: vaccinations are up – with 53 percent of Florida residents being fully vaccinated. The picture is mixed, though, with Southern Florida and the Atlantic coast having higher rates of vaccination than Central Florida and the Panhandle.
The market fights back
In response to concerns over COVID-19 infections in Florida and the subsequent drop in bookings, the theme parks have aggressively promoted their services, with many offering huge discounts on stays.
This has a knock-on effect on the rental market. Because we position ourselves as a cheaper alternative to the park hotels – with added benefits such as private space, a private pool and games rooms – their discounting has an impact on the prices we are able to charge.
If we’re going to remain competitive, we need to be willing to drop prices too, so that we are at least commensurable with what’s going on elsewhere in the market.
This makes it absolutely urgent that you complete the marketing contract that we notified you about earlier this week as soon as you can. We know exactly where we stand in terms of discounting each property if we are going to win back business from the parks.
What we offer that is special
There is no doubt that during the pandemic, the ideal of having your own private space and your own private pool has taken on greater significance. This is one area where staying in a vacation rental property beats the big hotels hands down.
We’ve also implemented stricter housekeeping routines in response to the pandemic, which helps to set us apart from other vacation homes in the area.
We think these things, together with competitive pricing and by leveraging tools such as our dynamic pricing algorithms, we can compete with the theme parks and maximise bookings for you.
However, even with these advantages, we must recognise that for the next few weeks at least, bookings will continue to be slow to non-existent.
One of the most successful markets for us this year has been local residents who want to upgrade to a home with a pool while their kids are home schooling and they are working from home. This type of renter has generated a lot of business for our homeowners this year. However, with schools reopening fully without the option for remote work, this market is also drying up for us.
Our reading of the market means we think it might be Halloween – always a busy time at the theme parks – before bookings pick up again in a significant way.
Making use of this fallow time
Our traditional advice in quiet periods is to use the time wisely. This is the time to schedule any big maintenance jobs, to complete any health and safety checks that we haven’t been able to access the property to do, and to schedule deep cleans to ready the property for when the market picks up again (which it surely will).
Our advice is no different now: Don’t panic. Let’s use this time wisely.
Through the pandemic so far, we have bucked the trend through our proactive marketing and AI-powered price promotions. Many homeowners have been busy with local bookings throughout the year.
That’s why now is a great time to do the deep cleans you’ve been putting off and schedule any maintenance or work that you would like completed on your property. If you do have jobs like this, please reach out to our team in the usual way and get them booked in. Let’s make the most of this quiet period!
Bookings later in the year
The UK Government has been making positive noises about travel to the USA. If President Biden relaxes the rules around foreign travel, we expect there to be a hug rush of demand. The UK is an important market for Central Florida and its theme parks and we think there is huge pent-up demand in the UK for Florida holidays.
Travel from the continental United States has sustained us for most of 2020 and 2021 so far. We think that, with vaccination rates rising in Florida, it won’t be long before the state sees a turnaround in its fortunes, especially when set against the national picture. Many other states are behind Florida in terms of vaccination rates.
Local guests are our best market right now. We always see a big rise in local bookings around October and November as people travel within state on short-term bookings to enjoy the festivities of the season – whether that’s Epcot’s Food and Wine festival 2021, Disney’s Boo Bash at Magic Kingdom, this year’s alternative to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, or Universal’s Horror Nights, which this year celebrates its thirtieth year.
We are also exploring ways to tap into the business travel market and attract bookings from firms who may be attending corporate events in the area and want to give their staff the benefit of a safer and more sanitised space than they would have in a hotel.
We realise it’s hard to see bookings drop off after the rebound most of our homeowners have experienced this year. However, we must encourage you to be patient. We will be keeping an eye on the overall market conditions and we will continue to keep you informed.
Of course, in the meantime, our team will continue to work hard on your behalf to promote your homes, to keep your guests safe, and to get your home ready for the next surge in bookings.
If you have any concerns, comments or queries, please contact our team.