Holiday Let Owners: Not Sure Where to Start with Planning for 2021?

Published on
24 February 2021

2020 was a year dominated by uncertainty for hospitality business owners, and it’s a theme that’s continued into the start of 2021.

The roadmap laid out by the Government this week has given us a much better idea of how and when restrictions will begin to ease. But with the holiday season being far from ‘normal’, it can still be hard to know where to start with making future plans for your holiday let business.

The Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG) have developed a toolkit to help you to consider the most likely scenarios for the year ahead, and to plan for a strong season, once restrictions lift.

Our team attended a webinar delivered by the ASSC and VisitScotland, and we’ve summarised the key points for you below, plus a few extra insights we’ve gathered. There are also links to key resources at the end.

What does the research say?

Mintel reports (from research conducted before the Government’s latest roadmap was announced), that demand for this summer’s staycations is expected to exceed pre-covid levels. While overall value of staycations taken by Brits is expected to be 11% short of pre-covid levels, their research predicts a 22% increase in the value of domestic holiday sales over the summer.

Mintel’s Associate Director for Travel said “The fourth quarter of 2021 has potential to exceed pre-COVID-19 levels too, provided the virus can be kept under control.”

What’s more, they predict a full market recovery by 2022, estimating a total value of £15billion compared to £14.5billion in 2019.

Visit Scotland provided some more detail, gathered from a recent survey:

  • Coastal and rural locations came out top for those planning Spring 2021 trips
  • Having your own online presence is increasingly important – booking directly with the accommodation provider proved the most popular method of booking for upcoming trips. This is probably because while some uncertainty remains, guests feel reassured by being able to contact the owners direct with any questions.

So, overall, a positive picture for the future is being painted for the holiday let sector.

But how can you plan for the year ahead?

Scenario Planning

Scenario planning is all about helping you to respond, reset, restart and recover, while navigating through unchartered territories. The STERG scenarios were developed last July and were intended to cover an 18-month period, assuming the end of 2021 will signal the road to recovery.

They look at what variables are going to influence tourism behaviour, and are based on certain assumptions, like the successful roll out of the vaccine.

The most dominant influencers at work are consumer confidence and business operations. So what are the main scenarios?

1. The Baseline Scenario

This is based on how tourism looked after we re-opened in July, after the first lockdown. It concentrates on domestic travellers, still with some restrictions, but a phased re-opening.

2. The Old Normal

Essentially pre-pandemic life, resulting tourism demand increasing to pre-COVID levels. But think about how things have changed? For example, is there more focus on sustainability and wellness than in 2019?

3. Doors Open

Businesses operate but consumers are still nervous or unable to travel. This might happen due to localised lockdowns, e.g. your property is in the highlands, but central belt Scotland (where a large proportion of your usual visitors may come from) is in lockdown.

4. Long Chill

Consumers want to travel, but business operating is restricted. In this kind of scenario, businesses need to adapt and innovate if they’re to continue providing a service that complies with restrictions.

5. Five Winters

This is the worst-case scenario and looks at 3-5 quarters of low season performance consecutively. It assumes lockdown, with no domestic tourists.

How to use these scenarios

To help you prepare for this range of scenarios, apply your business strategy to each. How does it hold up? Is it fit for purpose? What do you need to adapt should this scenario play out?

The STERG toolkit provides some excellent and practical templates for addressing these questions in more depth, planning your response, identifying actions, and monitoring the strategy. It also provides a more detailed description of each scenario.

Some Practical Ideas and Inspiration

Following the release of the STERG toolkit, Visit Scotland ran a workshop with a group of self-catering operators.

They produced some great ideas for how businesses can adapt their plans to gear up for a strong re-opening.

Here’s a summary of the key ideas, to provide you with some inspiration when you’re planning your re-opening strategy:

  • Curating volunteering opportunities for the socially conscious traveller and promoting ‘voluntourism’, e.g. re-wilding projects.
  • ‘Serviced’ self-catering – work with local suppliers to create additional offerings that make you stand out from the crowd. E.g. Meal boxes from local restaurants. Or simply adding value with information – such as providing details of local supermarket click and collect services, or what is / isn’t open in the area.
  • Promote popular activities in your area – e.g. paddleboarding and wild swimming have become very popular this year.
  • Make the most of social media. What can you make a feature of – is it the way your holiday let gardens change with the seasons, or do you have a cheeky red squirrel who visits on a regular basis?
  • Consider a dynamic pricing model to help fill empty space and capitalise on high demand.

  • Stay connected – with your suppliers, the local community, other local businesses and attractions and guests with bookings. Communication is key for reducing stress and surprises.

  • Have contingency plans in place in case of disruption – e.g. delays from suppliers.

If this has given you a taste for planning, take a look at the resources below that provide more detail.

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