As regions of Australia endure a second wave of COVID-19 cases and extended lockdown laws, the prospect of overseas travel seems less and less likely to arise for the foreseeable future. However, in a promising display of Australian morale, our local tourism industry has seen a significant increase in interest in domestic travel and support of local businesses, giving many in the holiday home rental industry a reaffirmed sense of hope for the future.
It goes without saying that we are blessed to live in a country with a magnitude of diverse and beautiful landscapes and travel destinations. A ban on overseas travel by no means prevents Australians from enjoying a romantic or family friendly, waterfront or beachside getaway! A Perfect Stay manages over 300 private and elegant homes in many parts of Australia including: the Gold Coast and Brisbane in Queensland, Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and Sydney, Bryon Bay, Tweed Coast, Lennox Head and Scotts Head in New South Wales.
With more than 15 years of experience in the holiday home rental industry, they know all too well the value of providing reliable and memorable experiences for those looking to escape their day to day in exchange for a luxurious getaway to some of Australia’s most beautiful coastal regions.
We spoke with Angela Spehr, the National Marketing Manager of A Perfect Stay to discuss how they have been affected by COVID-19, the way that they’re adapting to meet new demand and what they predict for the future of the domestic travel industry.
What do you think guests will be looking for in accommodation following COVID-19? How are you preparing to provide this?
A: Consumer sentiment research from Tourism Australia shows that about 50% of people feel it’s safe to travel in Australia but booking behaviour has changed where people are using more caution – they are avoiding crowds, being mindful of ability to social distance, choosing destinations based on accessibility to healthcare, and booking more last minute. We feel that people in general will be looking to stay in private accommodation vs hotels or apartments as they do not need to share facilities, which enables them to more easily practice social distancing for themselves and their family and minimise the risk of infection as they ease back into travel.
As this is what we provide, we are perfectly positioned to offer travellers private accommodation where they can feel safe. Following the announcement of recreational travel being allowed since 1 June 2020, we have seen this change in behaviour reflected in recent bookings where a lot of guests are booking properties in the hinterland where they have wide open spaces and privacy. We are also seeing larger properties being booked just for a couple of people so they can be assured they have the space they need or desire during this time.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 affected the travel industry?
A: People will be a lot more cautious about travel – they will spend more time researching destinations, as well as accommodation and things to do that are safe for their families. They may book less holidays for the year but go away for longer to a destination that is safe, rather than moving around a lot and potentially getting more exposed to infection. We have been very fortunate with the government response in Australia and have not had the huge spread of COVID as we have seen overseas. The reality of the virus is very real however, as everyone has seen the impact in countries in Europe, the UK and the USA, we don’t want the risk of that happening here so we will travel safely until we see what happens with the potential of a second wave and the ability for Australia to contain it.
A big impact on the ability for domestic tourism and travel to return is the Premier’s opening borders. Australia has had a tough run this year with the bushfires, some flooding (Byron Bay was declared a disaster zone earlier in 2020), and now COVID-19. While the Premier’s are doing all they can to protect their states, the borders need to open to allow much needed tourism to return to the businesses most affected by the downturn in tourism, and people need to return to work where possible.
There are 6.4 million travellers that go overseas every year, and Tourism Australia is trying to do all they can to turn the focus on the domestic market and engage those travellers to take their holiday in Australia this year – especially to those regional areas affected by bushfires and who normally have a high visitation of international inbound guests who will not be able to return for a while. They are trying to get Australians to tick off their local bucket list. The international borders are unlikely to open this year and potentially even into 2021. Even if they do open, international travel will be very cautious, with the added issue of available capacity from the airlines. Travel to and from New Zealand will be a huge opportunity in itself however as it is the second biggest inbound market to Australia, with 1.4 million visitors travelling each way each year. Once this trans-Tasman bubble opens, there will be fierce competition between states and destinations to get the Kiwis to visit. Again – this will be an exciting opportunity for Australians to tick NZ off their bucket list too, and the bubble will be a safe envy of the rest of the world.
What measures have you put in place to adapt to the ongoing changes?
A: We had to review our practices very early on to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our staff, guests, and our homes. Our staff have been working from home and it’s been great to see that we are able to operate this way, as with many other businesses learning to adapt. In terms of our guests – we have increased our cleaning procedures to ensure further sanitisation in our properties. All of our properties are cleaned and additional pre-arrival inspections conducted to ensure the homes are clean and safe for our guests. We have additional communications put in place pre, during, and post our guests stay reminding them of our practices, and also to initiate contact if they are concerned that they may be ill so we can take the necessary precautions. We are also going to become an accredited ‘COVID Safe Practicing Business’ as per Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) which will further reinforce customers to feel safe when booking with us.
How do you see A Perfect Stay growing once restrictions ease?
A: We are in a strong position to come out the other side of this as we do not have any debt and reacted quickly so as to be able to hibernate for up to many months if necessary. A lot of new market entrants have high running costs and sadly some have already gone under with this crisis hitting. Our team has been amazing to work with us throughout the crisis – it’s been tough on everyone and there have certainly been some challenges with guests affected in their own ways financially, emotionally, physically, and with not being able to travel. It’s put a huge amount of pressure on the team but we’ve all come together and supported each other which has been great to see.
APS has been operating since 2004 and we are one of the oldest short term letting businesses in Australia – we have a strong percentage of direct bookings and have built a lot of confidence with our repeat guests so we are confident once restrictions ease and consumers are comfortable travelling again that we will see our customers return to us.
We have built our business around selecting key destinations to operate such as the Gold Coast and Byron Bay and we feel that these will be some of the first markets to get visitation. We’ve already seen this with the surge in bookings since the NSW Premier lifted the restriction on recreational travel from 1 June. We are also fortunate in this situation in that international tourism only represents between 8-18% of our business depending on location, and we are confident that the increase in domestic travel due to guests not being able to go overseas will more than make up for the shortfall in international bookings.
We will continue to focus on safety and security for our guests, staff and our owners, and have enhanced our already stringent cleaning processes to ensure our guests feel confident and comfortable when booking and staying with us.
What is your perspective on the future of the domestic travel industry?
A: Information from Tourism Australia shows that 60% of people are not even thinking of their next holiday right now, however the other 40% are dreaming and even booking which we have certainly seen the start of for stays post 1 June 2020. 29% of people are looking at trips within the next 6 months, and 37% within 6-12 months, but 34% are not looking to travel for 1+ years, if at all. Some areas, e.g. TAS or far north QLD will be more affected by the downturn in international tourism, but the regional and state tourism bodies will be working hard to try and increase domestic travel and get the dollars and people that would normally travel internationally to visit their areas. Recent research shows 1 in 5 people that are ready to travel will go to a bushfire affected area to support their recovery.
In your opinion, what unique offerings can holiday home rentals and hotels offer to draw in bookings?
A: The biggest risk for the industry right now is heavy discounting and undercutting each other. Everyone needs people back through the door – including accommodation, tours and hospitality. But we all have a long way to go to get back on our feet. The best thing to do right now is value adding to improve the service guests are receiving, rather than discounting and hurting the industry. Finding new ways to look after guests through service and value adding, as well as offering flexibility during times of uncertainty will be key.
In your opinion, will there be any positives that come from the COVID-19 shutdown in terms of businesses, processes, attitudes, strategies, etc?
A: Creation always comes from challenging times. Businesses must evolve and stay positive and look for the light at the end of the tunnel. For me, it’s been great to learn more about customer sentiment and put the customer back into the heart of everything we do. Think about holidays being a dream again, and potentially being that one really special getaway for the year. It’s also been a great time to stop, take a breath and work on the business rather than in it. We all get tired from serving customers and customers are stressed and sometimes take their personal situations out on the people serving them. I hope that everyone comes out the other side of this with a refreshed appreciation of each other.
You can learn more about A Perfect Stay or book your next domestic holiday by visiting https://www.aperfectstay.com.au.