Short-term rentals in the time of social distancing

How Property Management Entrepreneurs In The Rental Area Can Stay Ahead of Coronavirus

The travel industry is bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. International travel has been disrupted, domestic flights are being cut, hotel bookings are down significantly and there’s now talk of needed bailouts to keep impacted companies afloat. The short-term rental ecosystem specifically has been impacted as well, with booking platforms reporting large declines in reservations over the next several weeks.

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So for the millions of people in the U.S. with income properties, the coronavirus outbreak is not just a health concern but also a significant business concern. Thanks to the explosion in the vacation and short-term rental industries in recent years, more than 10 million people in the U.S. now have established income properties. The industry obviously has successful entrepreneurial stories, like Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, but it’s also helped people like professional property manager Kenneth Wheeler, who builds and rents out tiny homes in Waco, TX via his company, CargoHome.

Entrepreneurs like Kenneth and others who use Guesty to manage their properties need to proactively think about ways to protect their businesses by remaining agile in order to mitigate the challenges that COVID-19 has created. In the short-term, that means first understanding the impact that the outbreak is having on bookings by comparing occupancy rates to those of previous months and years.

Catering To The New Type Of COVID Travellers

Property management entrepreneurs should ensure they are actively supporting those that are still planning on traveling. This includes catering to guests seeking 14-day stays as they need to quarantine after coming back from abroad, and wish to stay away from their families. Or travellers who wish to escape the condensed metropolitan areas they are from, and spend this time in the countryside for 2-4 weeks. Now is also a good time to consider implementing more lenient cancellation policies, so that any travelers will feel secure booking your property when they may be forced to cancel at the last minute.

But this isn’t just about the short-term - I believe the pandemic will fundamentally alter the way people travel now and also going forward in the years ahead. As individuals seek out options that work for their families, while also abiding by social distancing guidelines that health officials have recommended, private short-term rental homes will become an attractive alternative to hotels.

In fact, this is already playing out as some property management companies have experienced an uptick in reservations. For example, Wheeler has said he is continuing to see stable bookings, and even a slight uptick, as guests are keen to book private homes rather than stay in hotels that house several guests.

Here are 3 other tips short-term rental entrepreneurs on Airbnb and other platforms can do now to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and make their guests feel more comfortable:

1. Eliminate the age-old key exchange

Though a nice touch to personally greet guests by providing them with keys to their booked rental, this hands-on approach is not conducive to social distancing. It’s also, perhaps surprisingly, not ideal for guests who wish to check in outside of your general check-in hours or guests who have been delayed and must change their arrival time at the last minute.

For those reasons, consider implementing keyless entry tools across your listings. There are several reliable systems -- such as VirtualKey and Operto -- that automatically send out temporary passcodes and offer your guests an easy way to access your rentals without you physically being there. These solutions are also ideal as a safety precaution, as they ensure previous guests cannot utilize their access codes post-stay.

2. Manage Your Cleaning Staff Virtually

Every Superhost or Airbnb Pro will likely emphasize the importance of their rentals’ appearance and cleanliness when it comes to reviews and listing photos. That couldn’t be more true now. With that in mind, and understanding that you can’t be everywhere at once, you must outsource your cleaning and maintenance duties to a housekeeping service or to your staff, especially if you’re managing multiple properties.

External cleaning services, such as Properly and RoomChecking, are designed specifically for the short-term rental manager, allowing you to review all cleanings through verification photos and real-time reports to ensure that your listings are up to par with your cleanliness standards. In other words, tools like the aforementioned mean you can check in on the state of your properties from anywhere in the world, sans face-to-face interactions.

3. Optimize Operations For Health And Safety

From stocking up on approved disinfectants to being mindful of guests showing signs of illness, you need to prepare your properties — and your processes — to minimize health risks. This includes revamping your cleaning process.

While your cleaning staff should already be doing a thorough job, make sure they’re taking extra care to sterilize things that are easy to miss but often touched by guests — TV remotes, light switches, doorknobs, appliances, etc. Provide new sponges and soaps, ensure that all dishes (not just the dirty ones) are washed between guests and pay special attention to common areas in your properties.

It’s also important that you communicate effectively with your guests so they know that these enhanced cleaning procedures are being followed for their safety.

A Stronger Future For Short-Term Rentals

People will not stop travelling forever, and short term rentals are here to stay. With the above tips in mind helping businesses stay stable during this time, I believe the industry as a whole - from booking channels to hosts to tech solutions - will emerge stronger once this global pandemic comes to an end.