March 2020 will always be remembered as the month when 'Business as Usual' was not an option! Similar to the experiences of many other hosts, the spate of cancellations from guests in March 2020 and receipt of several messages giving the same reason for cancellation -" a major incident in your area" -was sudden and, at first, rather puzzling. However, as the reality sunk in with 'never to be realised guest arrivals', there were key decisions to be made about next steps.
Indeed, what needed to be shaped was a 'new norm'. This meant that even as we retained core areas of the business to provide self-catering accommodation for guests, we needed to adapt and be even more responsive to rapidly changing local and national realities. We are based in the north of England, United Kingdom -in Sheffield (South Yorkshire). Our city is renowned for its external events (climbing, walking, half-marathons, film shoot locations, festivals) and internal venues for swimming, snooker, theatre, music tours. The wiping out of all bookings for a six-month period, from March to August 2020 implied also that our guest groups were affected not only through their work, but they were not optimistic that by Summer travel would resume as normal. That scenario highlights also the high risks inherent to small providers such as my business in being heavily reliant on Online Travel Agents (OTA) for guests or having guests from only one segment of the travel market.
Acknowledgement of these aspects of the business help me to take action to review and update our digital marketing strategy as well as making more time to engage with other business owners in supportive online networking groups.
Let's say the lessons learnt which I share below is part of my Year in Review!
1) Engage more with local businesses: Whilst knowing the owners of most of the main short-term accommodation providers in my local area, I know very little about other business owners apart from those who were suppliers to my business. What 2020 has taught me is how important it is to engage more with other business owners. Sharing of information about our local area and being supportive of each other has been life changing. In addition, I have come to know a wonderful group of entrepreneurs whose products and services could be of interest to our guests. In due course, information about these businesses will be shared on our website as well as in social media platforms where we are active.
Online networking events also opened the window for me to the local Sheffield landscape as well as the wider South Yorkshire region with the Peak District, a famous natural park with many villages.
2) Maximise use of technology for increased effectiveness in processing guest requests: Traditionally, we have been a 'meet and greet' business. That was considered to be vital in knowing our guests and providing a warm welcome to our accommodation. Not any longer! Although still very much a people focused business, processes have been changed and technology is not used to allow guests to provide information we need for security during their stay in the properties we manage. We have learnt also that security devices in shared areas of the building in which apartments are based provides reassurance that safety is still a priority.
3) Timely and Effective Communication is the lifeline of managing relationships with guests:
The importance of communicating with guests in a timely manner can be taken for granted. Yes, we know the steps in the process between receiving a guest enquiry or booking and their checkout. However, this year I was reminded that communication should not cease abruptly when the last message is sent as follow-up a few days after guests have left, but should continue long after, provided your guests are happy to receive messages from you. This has led to our decision to keep in touch with guests every two or three months with a brief note and local news that they may find of interest. To this end, our first e-newsletter is in preparation and will be ready in time for Christmas 2020. As our Holiday Treat, we will be offering previous guests a chance to win a 2-night stay in one of our properties during 2021.
4) Be willing and ready to renegotiate contracts with suppliers and clients: As short-term accommodation providers, our business is based not only ensuring guests have a positive experience of staying in properties we manage, but also having positive relationships with suppliers providing the services we need for housing keeping and property maintenance, for example. Through this lesson I was reminded that the required result is not always available immediately. However, I needed to take action quickly when required as well as being patient, being willing to make changes and having a clear view of the desired outcome. This led to making changes to our housekeeping/cleaning suppliers (we do not have inhouse staff for this), find new laundry services at short notice, apply break clauses to co-hosting arrangements as well as (re)negotiate property contracts with owners or their representatives.
5) Recognise that stepping out of my comfort zone can bring enormous benefits in creating opportunities, not barriers. This lesson is drawn from reflections on the consequences of networking with local business owners plus the readiness to change and adapt our digital marketing strategy. Online networking has created a rich vein of owners of atypical (and unique) local businesses as future guests for a new podcast to be launched early in 2021. That was not in the plan before the covid-19 pandemic!
Online video networking events enabled me to meet with scores of business owners running a variety of other types of businesses in my city and nearby areas. Connections have been built and relationships grown despite not having met many of my new contacts before March 2020. No doubt, the online networking which started during the pandemic will continue long after because of new connections formed with other business owners/founders with similar businesses in other countries on mainland Europe and in North America (USA and Canada).
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many new lessons were added to my learning this year, and in this article I shared a few of those. Nine months on, the learning from actions taken in 2020 have not only been satisfying at a personal level but have begun yielding longer-term business benefits as new partnerships are formed and nurtured.
No problem, @Veronica-Of-Excel-Proper0 😊
It's great to see you taking part in our Month of Celebration and reflecting on all you've learnt in 2020.
There are some great insights on there, and I especially liked your view on collaborating with other local businesses. I'm sure you'll fit right in at the Community!
Baby goat alert!
Thanks so much for sharing your learnings @Veronica-Of-Excel-Proper0 😊
It seems like you've adapted pretty well and made the most of the situation!
What kinds of other businesses have you been working with more closely?
Hi @Katie , thank you for asking.
Business owners at virtual networking events included: landlords, property developers and shop fitters, webdesigners and digital marketers along with artisans with glass making and vegetable craft businesses. Indeed, a wide range of business types es, many of which are located in and around Sheffield (South Yorkshire).
In addition, I now connected also with businesses in mainland Europe and North America that are providers of corporate housing and co-living places.
Sounds fantastic @Veronica-Of-Excel-Proper0 - are you thinking of working with some of the artisans to include their products within your listing?
Thanks @Katie for your reply and feedback.
I have mentioned Airbnb experiences to a few business owners/artisans (photographer, glass maker, vegetable crafter) all of whom offer training. However, I had not thought about including local artisans in my listing. How would that work?
Recommending them for online experiences is a great idea too @Veronica-Of-Excel-Proper0 👏
I was thinking that if they wanted extra exposure for their products then perhaps you could offer to include some as part of your listing's decor, for example framed photographs on the walls, glasswear etc. It could work well for them, and of course it would offer your space a unique or stylish feel perhaps. Just an idea - it depends what works for you and your listing of course 😊
@Veronica-Of-Excel-Proper0 Hi Veronica - thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and learnings. While 2020 has been so challenging, it has also generated creative innovation, community building, and incredible resilience none of us knew we had! Your lessons learned are a great example of adapting to the new normal. As lockdown in the UK continues you will no doubt need to continue adapting. I hope you stay safe and well and wish you a Happy Christmas! Best, Catherine
Hi @Catherine-Powell, you're very welcome and thank you for taking time to read my post.
Appreciate also your comment and insights. Indeed, adaptation is ongoing as effects of covid-19 pandemic are still emerging. Just this week also it has been announced publicly that a new and more rapidly-spreading strain of the covid-19 virus has emerged in some areas of the UK. This led to last-minute review and subsequent withdrawal of some of the relaxation of guidance about socialising over the Christmas holidays.
Despite the above however, I wish you too a Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for a better year in 2021. Stay safe, Veronica