Holiday rentals – preparing for the new normal

At the time of writing, we are still on Level Four of South Africa’s lockdown and the future of tourism is still hanging in the balance. Like me, I am sure many of you are well and truly over all the negativity, panic and conspiracy theories we have been exposed to.

The question remains, however, what do we do to prepare for the future of the holiday rental market? We entered this era with an oversupply of Airbnbs and listed holiday accommodation, as well as a diminishing scale of tariffs over the past 18 months, since the highs of the pre-riots era. The quality of the accommodation was dropping and it had become more about the buck and less about the holiday experience for visitors.

Most hosts are now wondering what actions to take to be ready for the next wave of tourists when the new normal commences. Before getting over-zealous, there are certain facts to keep front of mind in planning the way forward:

  • The first wave of tourists will probably comprise South Africans who haven’t toured the country for years; they have tended instead to travel internationally for their holidays.
  • I suspect there will be even more people trying to list their properties, so the competition may be even fiercer than before, with far fewer visitors coming to our shores in the 2020/2021 season.
  • With holidaymakers spoilt for choice, differentiators and quality will become key factors when booking and it goes without saying that sanitisation protocols will also be top of the list.

One of the biggest challenges we are faced with is to get as many tourists as possible to visit the Overberg. Listening to Clinton Lerm’s interview on The Village News Hour on Caledon FM on Tuesday 12 May, I was reminded of a mantra from my years in the corporate world: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go marketing.’

To date, most Airbnb and holiday rental hosts have relied on the region’s media to raise the flag for the Overberg. Whilst that has proved effective, a more concerted effort by everyone in the holiday rental market needs to be made to appeal to South African residents to consider our region as a preferred holiday destination.

Many Airbnb hosts do not have their own websites and rely purely on the listing to create awareness. As Clinton accurately indicated, tourism- and hospitality-minded hosts need to do their bit to create a heightened wave of awareness.

There are multiple ways in which this can be done, but if all serious hosts start spreading the message through their own websites and Facebook pages, it could have a major impact. The more positive stories about the area and its attractions are shared, the wider the outreach to South Africans, who may never have considered coming to this region for a holiday.

Now is the time to think about what possibilities you may have to attract guests in what is likely to be a minefield of accommodation options. You can also plan your maintenance now so that providers can kick in as soon as their lockdown restrictions have been lifted, and you can spruce up your amenities in order to attract guests.

If ever there was a time to declutter, it is now. Believe me, there are Airbnbs so filled with ‘stuff’ that guests are discouraged before even making enquiries. This is the perfect opportunity to donate to charities and to support the less privileged in our community who will be caught up in an increasing state of poverty for a long time to come. Or, if you prefer to support animals, then HAWS and the other animal welfare societies are another option.

Get creative and do things like rearranging furniture (simply changing a room’s layout could be a great way to give the space a fresh feel); change door handles (whether it’s the front door or the kitchen cabinets, adding new handles could make things look more interesting); do some creative painting (so many things will be improved by a simple repainting project eg. doors, chairs, fences, cabinets and even staircases), or repurpose objects – an old stool that’s no longer in use could make a great bedside table, or a wine rack could be used in the bathroom as storage space for towels and other small items.

The challenge is out there. It’s up to us to create so much awareness of our spectacular town and region that the next wave of tourists wanting to discover how amazing this country is, will make their way directly to us.