COVID-19 is going to be a presence in our world for some time. While Australia & New Zealand have – relatively – successfully managed the health impact of the virus to a point of near-elimination, we’ve seen the economic impact on the tourism industry as a result of this. How do we continue to effectively manage our holiday rentals in the face of ever-changing rules and policies when it comes to border closures and restrictions?
Although it still seems not-so sometimes, we’ve come a long way since those initial months when COVID-19 first infiltrated our shores and our two nations went into full lockdown. None of us had faced something like this before and no one knew what the world was about to go through. It made sense that we’d approve cancellations – refund monies, provide credits – because how could we expect guests to pay when they could not travel and no one could have ever predicted that we wouldn’t be able to.
Flash forward to today, and we know that COVID-19 is here to stay. It might not be at the same level as this time last year, but you only have to check the daily updates of those arriving back in Australia: there isn’t one day where we haven’t recorded at least one infected person who’s landed back on our shores. So it comes as no surprise then that even if we go down the elimination strategy path, there are going to be these local ‘outbreaks’ – the ones that gets everyone panicking, and State Premiers to ‘plunge’ their cities into lockdowns and ‘slam the borders shut’.
That brings us to cancellation policies and how we recommend short-term property managers handle these COVID-related disruptions.
The facts are these:
- COVID-19 has been a presence in our countries since January 2020
- Since then, we’ve seen numerous outbreaks of locally acquired cases – whether they be large (and hopefully never again) like we saw in Melbourne, or the smaller incidences we’ve seen in various cities and regions more recently
- Even with vaccine rollout, we have to expect these to continue from time to time and that our approach – to ensuring that we minimise the health impact of this virus – will also continue
- Every single person is aware of our political leaders tendency to make quick decisions when it comes to travel restrictions to minimise the potential health impact of outbreaks
- It’s May 2021, and no one should be surprised if their travel plans get impacted by an ‘outbreak’ or border closure
So, what should your cancellation policy be when it comes to these occurrences?
Our simple advice is this: stick to your normal cancellation policy.
Sure, it’s not your guests fault that they can no longer travel, but it’s not yours either. If there are no travel restrictions in place, but your guests are concerned about health safety, that is understandable, but again, it’s not on you. As stated above, not one person today could argue that they weren’t aware of the possible impact that these outbreaks can result in.
Now that being said, that doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. Every situation is different. One approach we like to suggest is to inform your guest that you need to stick to your published cancellation policy, however you will open up the property for availability over the applicable dates and any money that can be recouped through a new booking can be returned to the guest in the form of cash or credit. The last minute nature of the border and travel restrictions often don’t allow much room for this however.
You can also make a call on the timing of the booking. Is it a busy period? If it’s quiet and the property may not have have otherwise received a booking during that time, perhaps offering a future credit might be the best way to handle the situation.
Finally, if the booking was made with a very short lead time, think about whether to go ahead and just refund or credit the guest, regardless of your policy. It was a last minute booking, the dates haven’t been closed for very long, and giving the guest the option to get out is probably the right thing to do.
Ultimately, it’s each property manager’s responsibility to decide their approach here, but having seen this happen many times over the past fifteen months, we here at Felix believe the above to be the best course of action.