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2023: A year of transition for short-term rentals

By James Varley, Founder, Holiday Cottage Handbook

2023 has been an interesting year for short-term rentals. Data suggests the number of booked nights has increased (due mainly to the rise in listings) – while occupancy levels and nightly rates have fallen. Cheaper stays are good news for guests – but not so great for hosts and property managers.

It's been a rollercoaster year in my experience. It has felt much more seasonal over the last nine months compared to 2021 and 2022 – which are going to be remembered as the boom years after COVID. While this July was a record month in terms of revenue for my portfolio, September has been a slog so far. In this video I said the current month reminded me of a normal January, when you're constantly checking your phone and hoping for a last-minute booking to ensure you break even or, ideally, make a small profit. Thankfully, over the last few days, the bookings have started trickling in – always a relief for a short-term rental host with a few gaps in the calendar!

Since returning to the UK last month, after a decade in Qatar, I have prioritised taking my listings to the next level – and this is certainly a timely moment to be uplifting my properties. It feels like entrepreneurial hosts and those constantly seeking improvement will be the ones who thrive in future.

Below are some simple things I've been doing to improve the guest experience:

I've been fixing snags. A small amount of plastering has finally been completed (next it will need painting). I bought extra cutlery for a couple of properties after noticing we were low on knives and forks. I replaced some coasters in one of the main bedrooms after noticing the old ones were coffee-stained (£2 very well spent). I've also been decluttering. Now I'm back in the UK, I can remove some clothes and toys, helping to create more space for guests.

New photos and video will also be produced. I've engaged a professional as I'm keen to freshen up the listings. I'm a huge advocate of great photography – something in my blood as my grandfather was a well-known photographer who took some very famous images. You can find out more about John Varley here.

I've also revisited my pricing. I'm a big advocate of PriceLabs, which has helped me achieve a higher nightly rate over the last year or so by tracking availability, demand, and similar listings. At the start of the month I dropped the price a little with a lean few weeks on the horizon. It seems to be working so far – and with a few long-term bookings coming up, we are now well placed for the remainder of 2023.

Another thing I have been concentrating on is communication. Thanks to my career in the media, this is one of my strengths. I have always provided clear instructions and been fast to respond to guests – but there were times when I missed a trick due to other demands (namely the World Cup in recent years, plus the arrival of my son last summer!). In terms of communication, I've been concentrating on upselling where possible, offering extra services for a small fee (such as a late check-out for £30), and making sure I gather as many emails as possible in order to encourage more direct bookings.

I have also been exploring the vast number of tech tools in the industry and seeing which ones might take my listings to the next level. Since starting HCH, my mind has been well and truly blown at the amount of innovative platforms supporting our sector. Some of them are absolutely brilliant – and over the coming weeks and months I'll be sharing my experience of the ones which I believe make a difference.

We all know that guests are getting more demanding. They rightly expect an excellent experience – and it is up to us to provide one. With the proliferation of listings and more choice than ever before, doing the basics brilliantly and adding special touches here and there will help you to both survive and thrive.

For more insight, make sure you subscribe to our weekly newsletter and listen to our podcast. You can also download our free e-book – which is a valuable resource for people starting out in short-term rentals.


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