Industry Update
Opinion Article 4 June 2020

Will home-sharing and luxury hotels recover sooner after COVID-19?

By Linchi Kwok, Associate Professor at The Collins College of Hospitality Management

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As more places are easing coronavirus restrictions, travel companies are getting ready to reopen their business. Yet, do people want to travel again soon? If so, who are the travelers?

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STR (Smith Travel Research), a leading data analytics provider for the lodging industry, conducted an opinion survey about travelers' attitudes towards different types of accommodation facilities based on their preference from the past experience. One assumption for such an analysis is that travelers tend to stick to the same kind of accommodation facility for their trips.

STR surveyed 2,391 respondents who showed interest in travel for leisure purposes from four English-speaking markets, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Australia. They were asked if they would take fewer, the same, or more trips over the next 12 months.

Using March 11th as the cutting point when the WHO (World Health Organization) declared a global pandemic, STR reported the changes in the propensity to travel by hotel segments, with some intriguing results:

Luxury / superior class hotels

Before (March 11th): 24% would travel less; 49% would make about the same number of trips; 27% would travel more.

After (March 11th): The above number changed to 36%, 45%, and 19%, respectively.

Mid-range quality hotels

Before: 24% would travel less; 61% would not change; 16% would travel more.

After: The above numbers changed to 42%, 45%, and 16%, respectively.

Standard / budget hotels

Before: 27% would travel less; 48% would not change; 25% would travel more.

After: The above numbers changed to 46%, 40%, and 15%, respectively.

Short-term rental / vacation rental / self-catering

Before: 29% would travel less; 46% would not change their travel plan; 25% would travel more.

After: The above numbers changed to 37%, 45%, and 19%, respectively.

Which segments will recover sooner than others?

The short-term rental / vacation rental / self-catering segment appears to be least affected for post-pandemic travel. There was only an 8 percent-point change (29% vs. 37%) for the group who would travel less. In fact, Airbnb booking data has already shown a strong recovery in the U.S., Spain, and some other European markets.

The above STR survey also reveals that there was only a 12 percent-point change (24% vs. 36%) for those who would travel less in the luxury / superior class segment. In the case of China where travel restrictions were lifted in April, data from Trip.com have already shown signs of recovery in short-haul trips and high-end hotels.

Luxury and superior class hotels tend to have higher hygiene and cleanliness standards than lower-tier hotels. Additionally, hotels across different segments are running the record-low occupancy and average daily rate due to the coronavirus outbreak. It becomes more affordable to stay in luxury and superior class hotels now.

Meanwhile, it is important to note that STR only surveyed travelers about their attitudes towards leisure trips and that leisure travelers usually stay over the weekend nights (Fridays and Saturdays). The recent STR data have also shown a surge of occupancy over the weekends for certain submarkets.

The speed recovery of short-term or vacation rental, however, might seem contradictory to my earlier assessment. I expected that Airbnb guests might want to stay in chain hotels for standardized cleaning procedures/standards. It is plausible that the demand is driven by the leisure travelers, who usually travel with family members and may hence want to stay in well-equipped homes. Alternatively, it is also possible that a large number of new Airbnb bookings are for high-end facilities. Some doctors also believe certain measures, such as having a more extended vacancy period between stays, can substantially lower the risk of getting infected by COVID-19.

Do you see the reasons why short-term or vacation rental, as well as the luxury / superior hotels, will recover sooner than the other segments? Will the dynamic pricing strategies become even more essential in today's lodging business when the demand is mostly driven by leisure travelers?

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