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​With over 630,000 reported cases, COVID-19 has people scared. The resulting mass hysteria has had a profound impact on the short-term rental industry. Airbnb coronavirus cancellations have increased by up to 80%. Bookings have decreased by almost 50%.

These can be troubling statistics for Airbnb hosts and guests. As the situation continues to change, hosts have to be adaptable and flexible in how they run their short-term rental businesses.

This article will share some practical advice on how we can all survive the storm. It will also cover what one superhost is doing to make the most out of the crisis.

Change Your Mindset

In times of crisis, it can be easy adopting a doomsday mindset.

With all these cancellations, you might be thinking:

I’m going to be losing so much money this month and next month. How am I supposed to pay my bills?

While these are serious considerations, you shouldn’t focus so much on the financials that you lose sight of the big picture.

Yes, you’re going to lose money in the short-term. We all are. But, if that’s all you can think about, you’re going to send your anxiety levels through the roof. That’s never productive.

Instead of thinking of your losses, think about how you can use this crisis as an opportunity to rise above your competitors.

While there’s nothing we can do to change what’s happening, we can do our best to take advantage of the opportunities right in front of us.

Take the time to make the guests who’ve trusted in you feel so cared for that they want to keep coming back to you and telling others about you.

The hosts that can only think about their profits now are going to quit. This will weed out many of the bad hosts and list-it-and-forget-it hosts.

The next few months are going to be tough. But, by focusing on the long-term, you’ll find so many opportunities to learn and grow from this situation. Stay hopeful and optimistic because we’re all in this together and we’re all going to get out of this together.

Here’s a particularly relevant quote from American economist Paul Romer:

Going through a crisis is going to force you to be creative in your problem-solving. You’ll have to ask yourself what you’re doing with your business. Then, adjust your higher-level strategy accordingly.

Do you want to continue doing short-term rentals? Or do you want to shift to something more medium or long-term?

The actions you take now will have lasting impacts on your short-term rental business. Being proactive during this crisis will ensure you come out of this better and more profitable than before.

Related Resource: The Short-Term Rental Crisis Survival Center

Get the STR Coronavirus Survival Kit

We created a resource with swipe files, lists, tips and actionable how-tos for getting your business through this crisis.

Analyze Other Successful Businesses

One great way to find inspiration is to look at other businesses that have gotten through crises in the past and what they’re doing now.

Many of these companies have moved from thinking about the money they’re going to lose to taking care of their customers. Examples include Disney and Airbnb.

While a lot of hosts have been upset with Airbnb’s decision to give guests full refunds, you have to think about it from Airbnb’s point of view. Airbnb’s trying not to burn their bridges because they want to keep their customers for the long-term.

Refusing to give full refunds may increase profits now. But, it will definitely backfire in the future when those guests choose to stay only in hotels.

As a host and business owner, you have to ask yourself:

Do I want to be part of the reason why some people decide to never stay in an Airbnb again? Or do I want to be part of the reason why people say Airbnb is great?

Because there are selfish hosts out there, a lot of guests are going to have bad experiences during this crisis and refuse to stay in an Airbnb again. This means losing potential future guests and raving fans.

Be Adaptable

Because the situation is always changing, you have to be flexible. What works for you today might not work tomorrow. That’s why you need to continually reassess what’s going on in your area, market, and country and change what you do based on that.

While there’s a lot of advice online, not everything’s going to be applicable to you. You have to consider your specific scenario and determine if the advice you’re reading is relevant.

Focus on Occupancy, Not Profits

If you have to sacrifice some profits to keep up your occupancy, that’s a tradeoff worth making. The worst-case scenario is not having guests for several months and losing your momentum.

Because when things pick back up, the hosts that will do well will be the ones who got bookings during this time.

While you might lose some money now, you can make sure you continue getting bookings and five-star reviews. These will increase your rankings in the long-term.

Beyond that, you can use those reviews to ease the fears of future guests since they know that others are staying and having a great time.

In a low demand, high supply market, you’re going to have to do what you can to remain competitive. This means making it as attractive as possible for guests to book your place.

Here are some adjustments to make:

  • Turn on Instant Book
  • Have self-check-in
  • Highlight cleanliness in your listing

You want to think about potential objections to booking beforehand and deal with them proactively.

For hosts who aren’t sure if they want to stay in the short-term rental industry, an alternative is to find someone to rent the property for 4-5 months.

Change Your Marketing Strategy

Guests want to know that hosts are aware of the situation and are actively doing their best to manage it.

Listing Titles

Some hosts do this by changing their listing titles to be more coronavirus-specific. I’ve seen listings titles with “coronavirus discount” and “coronavirus-free”. This is not advisable anymore because Airbnb has banned the use of COVID-19, coronavirus, or quarantine in listing titles.

Listing Descriptions

Many hosts are seeing new bookings coming in from local travelers. These are people who don’t want to jump on a plane but are willing to drive somewhere. Most of these domestic travelers are working from home and want to find a place away from the crowded city.

That’s why I recommend tailoring your marketing to local people. You should clearly mention that you have free parking or explain where guests can park if you don’t.

People might also want to work, so you should advertise that you have fast internet and dedicated workspaces (if you have those). To make your property more appealing, you can even buy work-friendly supplies like monitors.

Social Media

Hosts with social media accounts can post about what they’re doing to keep their places coronavirus-free. If you have cool amenities such as a Google Home or smart TV, you can advertise those as well. You can frame your property as somewhere people can go to have a little fun in these dark times.

You can even offer your followers a special discount. Some hosts have discounted prices to $25 and even $5 per night. It’s better to offer these deals to your followers than a random Airbnb user because you at least have an idea of who they are.

While this might be unprofitable, you should keep a long-term mindset and see this as an investment that will pay off in the future. Every five-star review you get will be more than worth the small loss now.

You can also leverage Facebook and Instagram ads to hyper-target local markets. For instance, if you have a dog-friendly property in Orlando, FL, you can target dog lovers in that area.

Be Proactive

If you have current bookings, you shouldn’t wait for guests to contact you first. One of the best ways to prevent cancellations is to proactively reach out to guests and tell them what you’re doing to keep your place safe.

Here are some examples:

  • Wiping and sanitizing remotes
  • Washing comforters after each guest
  • Installing hand sanitizers all over the property

You can also go the extra mile and print out a handout on coronavirus. This could include handwashing techniques or even recommended grocery locations.

You want your guests to know that you’re doing the best you can to keep a healthy and clean environment. In other words, you want to communicate to your guests that you’re aware of what’s going on and you’re trying to keep them safe.

Rebecca Cramer: How She’s Dealing with Airbnb Coronavirus Cancellations

Rebecca Cramer, founder of Mad Men Vacation Rentals, shares how she’s dealing with the crisis.

Tip #1: Be Creative with Cancellations

Rebecca owns a property near Disney World that’s struggling a lot right now because Disney has closed all its parks.

While she’s had her fair share of cancellations, she’s managed to keep some of her reservations with one simple message.

In that message, she makes sure to emphasize how she’s still extremely dedicated to taking care of her guests.

When guests ask her about canceling, she offers them a choice.

They can:

  • Cancel and receive a full refund
  • Reschedule to a later date
  • Keep the booking and receive a 50% discount

When doing this, she lists all the reasons why her guests might want to take her up on her offer.

While having guests keep their bookings is ideal, that might not always happen. That’s why she also asks them if they want to reschedule for another time. But, if they’re adamant about canceling, she goes ahead and refunds them.

Tip #2: Lower Your Prices

Rebecca has lowered her prices by 50-70%. Even though she’s still losing money, she’s not losing everything. She can at least pay some of her bills.

Because she doesn’t know how long the crisis is going to last, she’s playing it safe. She’s lowered her prices in May by 10-20%. This way, she can stay competitive if the situation improves by then.

Tip #3: Adopt a Flexible Cancellation Policy

Recently, Airbnb encouraged hosts to change their cancellation policies to offer more flexibility.

Notice how Airbnb even promises to highlight the listings that have a flexible cancellation policy?

This is key because everything we do is to get on the first page of Airbnb. That’s part of the reason why so many hosts want five-star reviews.

If increasing your search ranking helps you get some bookings now, adopting a flexible cancellation policy is very much worth it. After all, getting more listing views increases your probability of getting more bookings.

While this isn’t something that Rebecca is going to do long-term, it’s something that she’s implementing now.

Even if the visibility boost is minimal, there’s still a good reason to be more flexible.

Airbnb’s added the option to filter out listings without flexible cancellation policies.

If a guest has this filter turned on and you don’t have a flexible cancellation policy, your property won’t show up. It doesn’t matter if you’re a superhost or have hundreds of five-star reviews. This means no views and no bookings.

Even if the filter is off, Airbnb has updated how listings appear. Listings with flexible cancellation policies are now clearly marked in the search results.

Be sure to stay up to date through Airbnb's resource center and GPFYP’s crisis survival center.

Tip #4: Emphasize Cleanliness

The number one concern guests have nowadays is cleanliness. That’s why it’s so important you emphasize what you’re doing to keep your place clean and safe.

You want guests to know that you’re putting in extra measures in place to keep the place clean.

To show this, Rebecca has uploaded a photo to her listing that illustrates her commitment to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Surviving the crisis as a vacation rental operator

While you may not make as much as usual in the upcoming months, you can use this time to increase your search ranking and visibility. These investments will pay off in the long-run and make sure guests keep coming back to you.

It can even be worth visiting your properties and improving them. For instance, if there are some maintenance issues, you can fix it yourself instead of hiring an external contractor.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. It’s on us to make sure we’re doing our best in supporting our local communities.

I want to encourage you to think about the elderly and people with health issues because they’re the most vulnerable. When you go to the supermarket, don’t stock up on the things people need. Grab what you need and leave the rest for others.

I wish you all the best of luck and want to stress again the importance of keeping a positive attitude. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, although it can sometimes be hard to see.

Get the STR Coronavirus Survival Kit

We created a resource with swipe files, lists, tips and actionable how-tos for getting your business through this crisis.