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Four expert tips on coping with COVID-19 in the short-term rental industry

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There’s no sugarcoating it—times are tough for the short-term rental industry. With the coronavirus pandemic wiping out travel, revenues are at an all-time low. As a result, hosts and property managers are left scrambling for reservations.

As the days drag on, things seem increasingly grim, but there is a bright side. The coronavirus standstill gives way for innovation, creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. In a virtual NYC Airbnb Host Meetup this week, short-term rental pros got together to discuss their strategies and ideas for managing COVID-19.

Such uncertainty presents constant challenges—ones we must overcome to make it through. Here are some tips from short-term rental experts on navigating the pandemic:

1. Anticipate and mitigate risks

As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on the hospitality industry, short-term rental operators have to increase their risk tolerance if they want to generate revenue. With the typical ‘target traveller’ falling into extinction, companies are forced to open their doors to a brand new set of guests—ones they might not be accustomed to. During this kind of economic downturn, some people are looking to exploit low prices, meaning hosts face greater risks.

Autohost’s own, Anton Zilberberg, suggests careful guest screening to minimize potential threats to your business and community. Learn about your tenants, whether they’re short-term or mid-term, and be prepared with a backup plan. If you accept a guest for a longer-term stay, consider asking for first and last month’s rent. That way, you know you’re covered if they back out early. To guarantee a payout, in any case, ask for a bank statement or a letter of employment.

As we turn down the riskier route of local reservations, it’s important to keep your guard up. Verify your guests by running background checks and credit checks. At times like these, no company can afford a major incident.

2. Promote your brand

Now is as good a time as any to get on people’s radar. When faced with a booking drought, it’s important to get as much exposure as possible. Scott Yesner of Bespoke Stay suggests drawing from your internal networks to communicate what your business is doing. For example, if you create a listing on Facebook’s Marketplace, have everyone on your team share it. It’s a free and quick way to reach a trustworthy audience.

Try getting in touch with companies, government agencies and professionals who might need a place to stay. While it might seem like a long shot, it’s beneficial to get your message across. Even if you reach out to an organization that doesn’t need your services immediately, they might remember you down the line. If you’re persistent in your outreach, when that organization is in the market for a rental, you’ll be top of mind.

3. Plan for the future

While the next few months are filled with uncertainty, we do have a way of anticipating what’s to come. By watching the countries that were affected by coronavirus early on, we can predict the future and plan our next moves accordingly. John An of Ohana Stay explains that this “crystal ball” gives the Western Hemisphere a leg up when it comes to shifting business models. We can lean on previously impacted companies and hosts for tips, resources and inspiration.

A glimpse into the future allows us the opportunity to plan—whether that means transitioning from vacation rental guests to mid-term guests or listing properties on new platforms. Operators with their finger on the pulse of the industry will have a smoother transition.

4. Retell the narrative

Global tourism has taken an unprecedented hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Dave Krauss of Rent Responsibly describes the virus as an atomic bomb that went off in our industry. But while this pandemic is causing devastating effects for short-term rentals, it has also brought us back to our origins. With many companies losing as much as 90% of revenue, property managers are able to start fresh and retell the narrative of the industry.

In the U.S., only about one-third of the country has stayed in a short-term rental. Since the industry’s inception, it’s been shrouded in negativity and misconception. With this reset, hosts have the chance to re-explain the value of furnished, private accommodations. We can shed a positive spotlight on the short-term rental industry and its contributions to global tourism.

Finding a solution

During these difficult times, the short-term rental industry is banding together. Hosts around the world are offering free or heavily discounted properties for medical professionals and other-front line workers to rest and quarantine. Some companies are providing clean office spaces for struggling businesses. Through creativity and innovation, short-term rental operators are emerging as unlikely heroes. As we develop solutions to new challenges, we’re doing our part to fight COVID-19.

Stay safe.