Insight: why UK holiday rentals are still a very good bet

3 July 2020 | Investment

On June 23, the day that Boris announced July 4 as the date for the easing of lockdown in England, Sykes Holiday Cottages, the UK’s leading and fastest-growing independent holiday cottage rental agency, registered over 276,000 sessions on its booking platform and took a staggering 400 real-time bookings each hour.

Sykes was not alone in this surge. According to a report in the Telegraph Travel, holiday rental bookings have quadrupled across popular UK destinations with many of us keen to have some respite from being stuck at home for the last three months.

Andrew Easton, managing director of Cornwall-based self-catering cottage company Beach Retreats, said: “The past few weeks, since July 4 was mooted, have been like nothing I have seen in 15 years. We have seen record numbers of bookings for the summer, autumn and 2021. We’re practically full for July and August, while September and October are well ahead of last year’s occupancy levels.”

Coronavirus and the subsequent global lockdown hit many industries hard, with travel and tourism perhaps being one of the worst impacted sectors. It’s been tough out there with no guests.

In a revised forecast for 2020, VisitBritain anticipates inbound tourism spend to drop 63% this year, with a £19.7 billion economic loss, whilst domestic tourism (overnight stays and day visits) in Britain will lose out on £22 billion.

Before March 23, and the start of lockdown, the UK short-term rental sector was enjoying significant growth. The explosion of Airbnb several years ago paved the way for a rise in popularity for travellers to stay in privately owned, but often professionally managed, homes in both city and ‘leisure’ destinations. The surge in the short-rental industry seemed to know no bounds. Until a deadly virus came along, that is.

The lockdown has been catastrophic for many operating within the industry. Albeit temporarily. For those professional management companies that have managed to weather the storm, maintain good relationships with owners, reconfigure costs and implement new guest-friendly/ coronavirus-combatting protocols, the blip will be just that. An unfortunate but thankfully short-lived hiccup on an otherwise healthy trajectory of growth.

Of course, no one can predict the future, especially in 2020, but the signs are still very good for the short-let market and a continued increase in market penetration. The very fact that bookings have come back with a vengeance this summer shows that consumers desperately want and need their time away from home. Holidays are one of our most treasured experiences, and holiday lets, with their ability to be self-contained, make social distancing that much easier (and more pleasant) to practice. 

Although rentals in traditional ‘holiday’ locations are booming right now, cities, more reliant on international visitors, are unsurprising lagging behind. According to stats from AirDNA, a leading source of short-term rental data, bookings for rentals in London during August are 78% down on last year.

However, many urban property managers have successfully pivoted to mid-term rentals, successfully housing key workers and others needing to be away from home during the pandemic. Emily Bruce-Watt, managing director of London-based professional property management company Air Peace of Mind, which manages a portfolio of 250 luxury properties across the capital, states that they have seen their average stay increase from seven nights to 21 nights over the last four months.

The return to cities will follow suit, just at a much slower pace. Click Book Stay, a rental agency with properties across Scotland, has seen strong bookings for the coastal areas of the country but little traction, as yet, for the cities. Managing director Tara Scott says: “Cities haven’t seen much action yet, but then again a lot of people choose city breaks for the whole buzz of eating out, shopping and attractions, so until all the facilities and businesses open and regain some form of normality, cities will likely have a slower start.”

Cleaning standards and an increase in guest safety measures have unsurprisingly been a big topic for owners and managers. Property managers are also increasingly looking towards implementing contactless technology, including check-in and check-out.

According to a recent survey conducted by property automation specialist for the lodging industry, Operto Guest Technologies, 65% of guests would prefer a ‘keyless’ entry to the property they rent.

One thing that is clear as we move towards a recovery of the holiday let market within in the UK, is that it will be increasingly more difficult for individual owners to keep up with the increasing expectations for higher standards and more streamlined and transparent protocols.

As Tara Scott states: “From an owner perspective, getting the right support will be really important going forwards. Now is not the time to fumble around and work things out as you go along; standards, processes and communication will all be key. Now is maybe a good time to consider what extra help is needed and whether using a professional company to manage everything is perhaps the sensible choice.”

Despite the challenges of the last few months, holiday lets as an accommodation of choice, and as part of an investment portfolio, are still predicted to come through 2020 stronger than ever.

*Jessica Gillingham is the director of Abode PR, a B2B public relations agency and consultancy. She is also non-executive director of Visit Bath and founder of industry resource PillowTalk Media

This post has originally been featured in Property Investor Today.