by Pamela Knudsen, Director of Compliance Services for Avalara MyLodgeTax
With millions of Americans itching to get away from the friendly confines of their homes, the short-term rental option is perhaps more attractive than ever. While many people are still squeamish about crowds and looking to avoid hotels, resorts and airplanes, but in need of a getaway and change of pace, an overwhelming majority favors a simple, safe and drivable vacation. For proof, look no further than Airbnb’s recent record-setting bookings report.
However, while Americans might be craving a return to normalcy right now, the return of the short-term rental will not be “normal.” With the new landscape that’s been seeded by the pandemic, short-term rental hosts need to make smart, strategic changes to their business to ensure the safety and comfort of their guests — in line with new rules set by regional jurisdictions and safety standards expected by today’s consumer and also marketed in the corporate hospitality industry.
In order for short-term rental hosts and property managers to best position themselves to thrive amid this ever-changing backdrop, they must respond quickly to the changing market conditions and proactively address these five particular areas:
“Safe and clean” are top of mind for travelers venturing out into the world, so hosts need to take every precaution, from regular professional cleanings and deep-cleanings between stays to stocking the rooms with disinfectant wipes and masks. New and rigorous cleanliness policies are table stakes for hosts, and need be adopted across the board.
In addition, hosts should actively promote these new standards of cleanliness so travelers can feel safe about their stay. Just as hotel chains are giving top billing to a ”spare no expense” safe environment as the hot new amenity for the summer and upcoming holiday season, so must hosts clearly state their policy and new standards in each property listing, including details like 24-48 hour intervals between guests departing and new guests arriving.
In order to serve changing guest needs as dictated by fluid economic and regulatory forces, hosts need to be open to long-term occupants as well as their traditional short-term ones. For those who need to suddenly downsize, move or even self-quarantine, a short-term rental can be a perfect solution. If a host does permit longer-than-usual stays, they should promote the flexible rental times as a competitive advantage.
This type of open-mindedness is also beneficial with regard to cancellation policies. Guests are understandably noncommittal in the wake of COVID-19 and all its flare-ups, and they’ll want to know they can cancel a booking if necessary, without penalties.
Guest experience offerings need to be reimagined as well. Summer concerts and outlet malls might not be the draw they used to be. The astute host will research and promote new experiences, self-guided outdoor excursions (check out the new apps tailored to this phenomenon) or in-home entertainment and gaming, as well as fitness equipment, in light of new consumer demands.
With a new landscape comes new opportunities for promotion. This will be an active endeavor as hosts make guests aware of new safe/clean precautions and policy changes that will better suit them.
Digital communication is one of the most effective ways to get the word out, and hosts should be utilizing a variety of channels including social media, email and a dedicated website for each of their short-term rental properties. These are the best conduits for announcing news about the property itself and surrounding community in real time. Whether you’re promoting the Northern Lights, a desert wildflower super bloom, or ideal skiing conditions, it’s incumbent upon the savvy host to use available channels to maximize stays during any particular season.
The ongoing pandemic has prompted state and local governments to look for new revenues in the midst of historic budget shortfalls. Short-term lodging is one of many areas in the crosshairs of taxing authorities. Staying current on licenses, certifications, fees and lodging taxes is essential to ensure uninterrupted business.
In many markets across the nation, tourism is big business bringing significant revenue into various regions. It’s important to follow local news and know where your short-term rental business falls in the context of current regulations, such as shifts in restaurant and store openings, potential moratoriums on rentals, and other local restrictions that will need to be addressed for guests to be fully informed.
Technology is playing a key role for hosts and guests during COVID-19, as more properties are upgraded to “smart rentals.” Short-term hosts have been implementing no-touch technologies and streamlined workflows for years, but now the digital transformation in the space has shifted from a luxury to a necessity.
Guests are more and more coming to expect the ability to control a property through smart phone apps or voice-activated appliances. Today, these expectations are becoming essential as face-to-face interactions are considered risky.
This goes for the business management aspect of short-term rentals as well. Automated booking and scheduling procedures as well as automated compliance and tax remittance tools are critical in today’s short-term rental landscape. With so much change in the air, owners need to be able to report their revenues and expenses with speed and accuracy, while not losing a beat on permitting, insurance or any other essential compliance areas. As government requirements and standards shift, the information that needs to be reported may shift as well.
Hosts are investing in automated solutions in order to stay on track and ahead of the curve. If hiring an outside property management company, it should be one of the key checkmarks to look for during the vetting process.
All of these recommendations will help short-term rental hosts and property managers to grow their businesses and set themselves up for future success, even in the midst of constant changes and disruption in the industry.
For more detailed information on more tips for STR success in today’s market, an e-book is available for hosts and can be found here.
Pamela Knudsen is Director of Compliance at Avalara MyLodgeTax, leading the Lodging tax team and Returns Experience/Reconciliation team for Sales & Use. She serves as a leading voice in vacation rental tax compliance and regulation, in addition to bringing in-depth experience across software/SaaS technology as well as ERP systems. Pam joined Avalara in 2012.