Distribution Policies: Rethinking Distribution and Strategic Partnerships in a Post-COVID World
This year was off to a solid start for many vacation rental management companies. Summer reservations were pacing ahead of last year in popular beach destinations such as Myrtle Beach, Destin, Panama, City Beach, and several of Condo-World’s enterprise-level partners on the East Coast felt confident this would be another year of five to ten percent growth. Overtourism was actually a major concern for international destinations like Italy, Spain, and Amsterdam. As Simon Lehmann said in a recent webinar regarding the booming growth of vacation rentals, “Things were almost too good.”
Day-to-Day Turned Upside Down
Fast forward to mid-March when we all witnessed our industry go into a free fall, seemingly overnight. Beaches, resorts, cities, and states were shut down like Fort Knox. Property managers dealt with the complexity of managing a fluid situation that necessitated sometimes daily changes to foundational business policies, including but not limited to completely rewriting cancellation policies.
Balancing stakeholder interests became increasingly complicated as the weeks progressed. Managers have had to walk a fine line between upholding fiduciary responsibilities to homeowners while also working with guests to mitigate online backlash.
In a crisis of this magnitude, managers are forced to make quick decisions, evaluate the results, and then iterate. Many companies we’re affiliated with have made their best attempts to satisfy guests on a case-by-case basis in this order: 1) change dates in the same unit, 2) offer a credit toward a future stay, or 3) offer a partial or full refund. This hands-on approach, although tedious, has proven effective and necessary to protect the interests of our homeowners, our guests, and our businesses.
OTAs and Force Majeure Policies
Although as property managers we have done our best to manage what is within our control, this entire crisis, and the responses of the channels we rely on, has been totally out of our control. Airbnb, Expedia, and Booking.com enacted force majeure to override all supplier cancellation policies prior to many state and local closures going into effect, which severely compromised the internal efforts that property managers had taken to protect their revenue.
When push came to shove, the channels did not provide adequate customer service for guests who booked on their platforms, and their consideration for their suppliers’ concerns was virtually nonexistent. This brazen disregard toward partners magnifies a larger issue that could very well influence how much professional supply is distributed on their platforms coming out of the crisis, and I believe it is prudent for managers to start looking for alternative ways to distribute and market their properties.
Humans versus Algorithms:
Putting the “TA” Back in OTA
Whether you are an OTA that relies on suppliers for inventory or a property manager who relies on homeowners, we all have one thing in common: we wouldn’t have a business without each other. Condo-World has a unique perspective as we are both a property management company and an OTA, or hybrid OTA, as we like to call it. With 35 years of experience in property management, our offering is inherently different from traditional OTAs, which is reflected in our partner-centric mentality. It’s easy for big corporations to say that they care about their partners, but for us, it is true— we treat our partners like we treat our homeowners. Relationships guide our decisions, not algorithms. We uphold our partners’ policies, 100 percent of the time, and our partners are always Merchant of Record. In times of crisis, we work closely with our partners to determine the most efficient way to handle changes and cancellations. We’ve stepped in to help partners with emergency communications to their guests and homeowners, deployed email campaigns on their behalf, written copy for emergency response pages on websites, and temporarily handled social media. The benefits of having close relationships with the channels that drive significant revenue to your business are invaluable in times like these. If there is any silver lining in a crisis, it is the benefit of learning to lean in and connect with your stakeholders—this not only creates alignment but enhances your connection for future success.
Diversify Your Distribution
Whether existing in a good or bad economy, vacation rental managers should always be looking to diversify their distribution. Partnering with niche websites that cater to your area or type of lodging allows you to reduce your reliance on the major OTAs and enhances your value proposition with potential homeowners. Homeowners can easily list their properties on Vrbo or Airbnb, but they can’t form strategic marketing partnerships like businesses with multiple rentals can. Partnerships with channels like Condo- World often include additional opportunities to promote to large databases and reach customers you wouldn’t otherwise have access to, giving you a substantial advantage over your local competition.
At the end of the day, there are many ways to drive revenue outside of the major OTAs. This is a great time to evaluate opportunities that allow you to reach new customers while protecting the long-term interests of your business. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how we partner with resorts and rental companies, we’d love to hear from you. Visit us at Condo-World.com/Partners or email [email protected] for more information.