The Houst response to the coronavirus crisis

We’re providing updates on how coronavirus is affecting the homesharing industry, your property, and Houst’s response. We’ll update this rolling blog with new information as and when we have it.

UPDATE – JULY 4TH – AN UPDATE FROM OUR CEO

I sincerely hope that this update finds you and yours well. 

I wanted to provide some clarity about these last few months, the shape of the market today, and some very good reasons for optimism about the future of home rentals. It’s slightly longer than our usual updates, but it’s been a fairly unusual time so I hope you’ll forgive me!

How COVID-19 Affected Houst

The entire travel industry has taken an almighty short-term hit. Houst were no different. We were, I think it is fair to say, unprepared for a global pandemic and lockdown. Cancellations were up 650% year-on-year and bookings reduced by 85%. I am all too aware that behind these statistics lie your listings, your money, and perhaps your livelihood too. I feel your pain acutely, and I look forward to better times ahead for all.

Many of our staff were placed on furlough and our response times have lengthened as a result. For that, I am truly sorry. It was a move we were very much forced to take, but one which ultimately saved scores of jobs and the future of the business.

I’m pleased to say that the introduction of a 24-hour live chat has been successful, and we’ll be keeping this helpful feature for hosts as we emerge from the pandemic and our service returns to normal.

The Current Picture

Many of Houst’s cities are emerging from lockdown. Though bookings remain reduced year-on-year, we’ve recorded a 54% uptick in demand over the last week alone. Cancellations are no higher than usual for this time of year.

We’re confident this is the start of a sustained and strong recovery, and we’re delighted to be welcoming many of our staff back from furlough.

The Future of Travel

Coronavirus is changing the way we travel and home rentals will emerge even stronger than before. Here’s why:
 

Behaviour shift. Health concerns will linger. The industry is already seeing huge demand for holidays, but more people are choosing self-contained homes over busy hotels for the first time. This trend is currently most prominent in the countryside, but as theatres, museums and attractions reopen urban rentals will catch up fast. After switching once, we know that guests are unlikely to go back to hotels. The explosive growth of short-term lets won’t just continue, it’s about to accelerate.
 

Changing workplaces. Jobs are undergoing nothing short of a revolution. But why WFH when you could WFA (work-from-Airbnb)? I’m confident the wider travel industry – especially budget airlines – will be advertising hard for extended city-breaks: work by day, explore at night. 
 

Flexible letting. Consider Zipcar, Rent the Runway, and various bike-sharing schemes. Whatever the commitment – whether it’s transport, fashion or jobs – the trend has long been for greater flexibility. Accommodation is no exception. The locked-in, annual tenancy just doesn’t work for everyone anymore. We’ve seen a huge spike in demand for lets of just a few months, which previously have been widely uncatered for. Find out more.

Enhanced Cleaning

One change to world travel will be a demand for higher cleaning standards. In a recent survey by Airbnb, guests said that concerns about cleanliness were the biggest barrier to making a booking. So it’s vital that our cleans meet raised expectations. 

Recent Airbnb updates on cleaning give our listings a real chance to stand-out. By committing to Airbnb’s new standards, properties will have an ‘Enhanced Clean’ badge prominently displayed on their listing. We’ll also ensure all listings highlight that the property is professionally cleaned.

To make sure we can meet the new requirements, cleaning fees at all properties will increase by £12 per booking for all bookings made after the 4th of July. As always, this difference will be paid for by guests during the booking process.

Thanks again for being a valued member of the Houst community. We’re all looking forward to exciting times ahead.

UPDATE – MAY 26TH – CONTACTING HOUST

Due to Covid-19 we are operating a reduced service and prioritising urgent and critical requests. To help with this we ask that customers contact us through either of the two below methods:

Live Chat: The simplest and quickest way to contact us. A Houst team member will be available to chat from 7am to 6pm and then 8pm to 10pm BST. Live chat can be accessed here.

Email: You can email us either by using the form to the left or by emailing us directly on support@houst.com. We will respond to all enquiries within 72 hours.

UPDATE – APRIL 3RD – HOW WE’LL MANAGE MEDIUM-LENGTH LETS

As part of our response to coronavirus, in the UK we’ll be advertising for medium-length lets (one to six months) at all host properties, where calendar availability allows.

We’ll process these medium-length bookings slightly differently to before, and closer to how we handle holiday short-lets:

  • Our Pricing Analysts will optimise monthly rates.
  • We’ll complete a full guest verification check.
  • We’ll negotiate and accept bookings on your behalf, unless you’ve asked us to contact you first.
  • You’ll just need to digitally sign the contract once everything’s ready.

All listings will be live from Friday 10th April. If you do not wish to be listed for medium-length lets please let us know by opting-out here.

Long-lets with Houst

With a full-time team of seven Lettings Agents, we’re ready to help find longer-term (six months or more) tenants too. In fact, flexible letting – a mix of short, medium and long-term lets – could earn you more than just holiday-letting. Read more about flexible letting here.

To get listed for long-lets too, book a call or drop us a line on lets@houst.com. Together, we can develop a lettings strategy tailored to your property and needs.

UPDATE – MARCH 31ST – AIRBNB ANNOUNCE HOST SUPPORT FUND

Some good news.

Yesterday, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced a $250 million USD support fund for hosts affected by the coronavirus crisis. This announcement also included an update to the existing coronavirus extenuating circumstances policy, which previously refunded guests in full at the host’s cost. Here’s the details:

  1. If a guest cancels their reservation made on or before 14th March, with a check-in date of no later than 31st May, then they will receive a full refund.
  1. Airbnb will now pay you, the host, 25% of what you would’ve received for a cancellation based on your cancellation policy. For example, if you would normally receive £400 through your cancellation policy, Airbnb will pay you 25% of that: £100. To reiterate, the previous policy meant you would have received nothing.
  1. This will also be applied retroactively to any bookings cancelled since 14th March due to coronavirus. Airbnb will be in touch with Houst in early April with more information on any payments owed. Your Account Manager will then contact you with said details.

You can view the full video announcement by Brian Chesky here.

ANNOUNCEMENT – 20TH MARCH – THE HOUST RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS

These are unprecedented times. The impact of coronavirus on global tourism, including short-lets, has been significant and well documented. Our highest priority is everyone’s health and wellbeing, and our thoughts remain with those in wider society most affected by this crisis.

We understand that this will also be an uncertain period for you, our hosts, too. Whilst we recognise that the next few weeks will bring challenges, we have confidence that our strategy is best-placed to protect your earnings with minimised loss of income.

Our strategy

Houst are taking the following five steps to protect host revenue and safeguard guest safety:

  1. Our in-house lettings team have started listing all Houst properties on Prime Location and Zoopla, and will be advertising for medium and longer-term lets immediately. Your calendar will remain open to short-lets.
  1. Our pricing team will reduce nightly rates for all properties on short-let platforms for the next six weeks to encourage bookings. Please consider lowering your minimum nightly price if you’ve set one.
  1. Our Account Management teams will be increasing the default discounts for longer-term bookings on Airbnb. You can adjust this on the calendar tab.
    – Seven days or longer: 10% (previously 5%)
    – One month or longer: 20% (previously 15%)
  1. We encourage you to complete any planned maintenance work now, and book in a deep clean if necessary. Save your available nights for summer and autumn if possible.
  1. Our housekeepers have been instructed to wear disposable gloves during cleaning, wash their hands frequently, and pay particular attention to high-risk touchpoints such as light switches, door handles and keys.

Longer-term outlook

This is a rapidly shifting crisis, and making accurate predictions is difficult. But we believe that there remain strong reasons for optimism:

  • After this crisis passes and travel restrictions are lifted we’re confident that bookings will recover quickly. It is possible that peak season may shift this year further towards autumn.
  • When this happens we expect a stronger than usual demand for travel – particularly business travel. A high demand and potentially low supply of homes could drive nightly rates higher than usual.
  • There is no reason to expect long-term damage to the homesharing industry. Airbnb in particular has seen a consistently strong growth rate, and guest numbers continue to rapidly increase.

Further information

For further information from our platform partners about extenuating circumstances and cancellation policies, please see the below links:

Please contact your Account Manager if you have any questions.

Best wishes to the whole Houst community.

Thanks,

James Jenkins-Yates
Houst CEO and Founder


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