I may not take the train each morning and I definitely do more than nine to five most days but the first quarter of 2022 has seen a return to something close to pre pandemic normality for our business.
First of all everyone is coming to work at a desk in the office in a really old fashioned 2019 way. We are all set up to work at home and it’s useful for the occasional flexible day but we are back to sitting together as a team. There’s no reason why at least half of the office couldn’t work from home, in fact we are pushed for space but we are there because we want to be. Studies have proved that many people are more effective at home without the distractions in the office and I’m definitely one of them but I don’t care. Working in the same space as a group of people that have become more friends than colleagues doesn’t feel like work to a certain type of character and that is the sort of individual that delivers great customer service.
Lockdown has taught me that physically being with people makes me happy and it turns out I’ve recruited like minded people. It’s also made me realise what I would miss if I retired so all that gardening and visiting National Trust properties is going to have to wait a few more years. (Say 20?!).
There’s a perception that those of us in the UK holiday business have been on the end of a staycation bonanza, charging any price and defending ourselves with pitchforks from hoards of people fighting to throw cash at us. At certain times it felt a bit like that, especially during school holidays and whilst it still needed marketing effort to fill the shoulders and low season we were definitely pushing at an open door. The big challenge for the last two seasons has been delivering the service as the whole infrastructure supporting hospitality was stretched to cope with the extra capacity and we had to pay more for everything, especially the labour intensive side of the business.
If you’re a long time reader of this column you may remember me talking about the day after VE day 2020 when Britain woke up and decided to book a staycation, there was a similar huge spike in demand in February 2021 as the country realised that summer travel would be disrupted again. This year’s pivotal date was 23rd January when it was announced that the requirement to test before returning to the UK would be scrapped. Traffic and demand fell dramatically and we had 3 or 4 weeks of very low bookings.
Now we are getting back to some sort of normal and the good news is that it’s still better than pre pandemic normal, it’s just that we are going to have to focus more of our energy and investment on marketing and yes actually selling rather than taking orders.
Return of the Dinosaur?
About 20 years ago my main business was buying and refurbishing properties in Cornwall and it went really well. With hindsight I wasn’t actually very good at it – costs would spiral, work would run over time but the market rose so fast that it compensated for my deficiencies and I still came out on top. Then the financial crisis arrived and it didn’t end well! I knew some people who quit their jobs at the time to become day traders, picking stocks and watching their capital grow through a bull market. With hindsight they didn’t generally outperform the proverbial monkey with a dartboard, the market carried them up until inevitably it didn’t.
Just Eat, Uber and Amazon have changed the way things work and in our sector we have the rise of Airbnb. The original concept is brilliant – hosts welcome you to their home or a second property round the corner and spend the sort of time and effort looking after you that a Jurassic agent never can. Over time however the site has become more of a marketing channel and agents like us started listing on it. As the pandemic market went nuts we chose to take all our bookings directly but that makes me a bit of a dinosaur – why bother with all that marketing expenditure and effort when you can just list on Airbnb and watch the money roll in? A new breed of agent has emerged that doesn’t even bother hosting bookings on their own website, some don’t have a website or even a phone number and it’s all gone very well.
The snag here is that Airbnb is not free, they take roughly the same proportion of the guest’s money as an agent so the guest is paying twice and the owner can end up with barely more than half of the holiday cost. This is not a problem as all you need to do is hike the price on the platform to cover the extra cost and you end up with the same money without any marketing expenditure or expertise. For the last two years the market has carried this concept but I’m not so sure it will this year. Maybe it’s time for dinosaurs like us to rise again, whether we will be a Diplodocus or Tyrannosaurus Rex remains to be seen.
Simon Tolson owns Rumsey of Sandbanks. Contact Simon on 01202 707357.