Did you beat the market in 2013?
The pictures are of Hillview and Lakeview, near Knighton on the Wales / England border, soon to be available for holiday bookings through our sister business Country Holiday Lets.
Things are on the up for owners and guests
2013 turned out tough for most of us and the UK holiday let income appears to have been hit really hard to the tune of around 35% in some areas.
But there are some really good signs that 2014 will be a much better year assuming no repeat of the endless rain of 2012/3 and the UK economy does not do something really unpleasant.
It is really good to be able to report positive developments after such a tough year. The vast majority of people either clam shut or, out of fear, simply say things are much better than they really are. This is quite understandable, after all, messengers who make efforts to bring bad news are very rarely welcomed just as those who saunter along and dump the latest good news are unjustly applauded and, often, rewarded.
It is as if the nature of the news sticks to people regardless of how little they are responsible for the events they are reporting. We live in a strange and interesting world. Marketing cottages can have similarly strangely non logical characteristics. It is fine some agent coming along, as I often do, saying ‘do this or do that’ to increase bookings, but experience of not quite getting things right has taught me that it is almost impossible to guess quite how the market will respond to each cottage.
They have the irritating habit of all being different. We do try to bespoke things as much as possible so, unlike most agencies, we do not band cottages and let rates develop for each one so each can gradually adjust rates to suit the way the market responds to their particular offerings. Banding too often either ends up setting rates that are too high or too low and it is only a matter of luck when banded pricing hits the nail on the head for a cottage owner.
2013 has seen some very significant developments. Until now, nearly all the cottage owners approaching us who were with one of the major national legacy agencies turned out were making their approach because their bookings had fallen away, not because the legacy agency was losing grip, but because the quality of their offerings was abysmal. But things have changed. Two recent approaches were very interesting. One was from someone still with their exclusive agent (they are not allowed any significant private bookings) and the other used to be with a national legacy agent and is now seeking to top up bookings after 4 years successfully going it alone.
Both of these, with four lets in total, were very good quality. Good quality cottages coming from ex large national legacy agencies are a new phenomenon. However one owner did appear to be restricting success for some classic reasons: no pets (about 25% of bookings in our area); no wifi (5-10% and increasing of bookings); twin beds that cannot easily be made into a king (can be up to 20% of bookings). These are classic demand reducing factors.
A bad news messenger dodges punishment
Being a bit of a veteran of dishing out the bad news on the Twins front I knew that simply saying that buying new divans which can be pushed together without a gap in the middle is usually unwelcome and can, even, cause friction. Just as I was about to repeat the bad news I stopped and suggested something else. The plan is to, somehow, push twin beds together and get round the gap problem caused by the wooden raves or the posts sticking out further than the mattresses.
Thinking on my feet we came up with this idea. Push the beds together and make something like a very long draught excluder bolster for a door. Put a plank with four lugs to position and bridge the raves then put the bolster into the gap. Try to make the bolster so that you can stuff it by trial and error so it has similar give as the mattresses. Then put a good quality thick mattress topper on the newly created super king. There you have it. A way of offering accommodation for a couple instead of two children or adults who are not quite so keen to sleep in the same bed!
I really must learn better how to do this sort of thing with wifi and pets. Sometimes there are some absolute reasons why the ideal arrangement to maximise bookings is not possible and it can be difficult sensing them before making recommendations. It is, of course, far better not to raise matters where nothing can be done. On the other hand, it can seem a bit unprofessional to keep quiet, not least, because judging how owners may respond and the necessity of their arrangements is not something any of us can get 100% right every time.
Some of the resistance to change comes from the adoption and widespread use a formula that did work for many years. The niche of young families with one or two children not rich enough to go abroad but wanting a holiday was strong for many years. As families have broken down and other demographic and economic factors have changed so this niche has eroded. There is now a large oversupply of sleep four, one double and one twin room holiday accommodation on the market. But the belief that this formula works has lived on in all its intensity long after the niche has partly imploded.
Convincing people that flexibility is the way to maximise income and profit is, sometimes, still an uphill struggle. The attitude that guests will be happy to modify what they want and will still book to suit owners is still very common. This is a very expensive approach. Guest preferences, where ever possible, should be met to have the edge in a more uncertain market.
Getting the formula right and keeping ahead of the market is the trick. Some owners still doing well with an old formula appear oblivious to the danger that demand can suddenly evaporate if supply reaches a certain point and others are more in tune with guest preferences. The cottage market is very transparent and competitive. Demand can have cliff edge characterisitics not only on price grounds but also on the grounds of perceived quality and offerings.
Many owners are aware of this problem, but I am still searching for a way to say this sort of thing without making some of them fed up. One day, I’ll get the formula right. For all this, the good news is that 2014 is highly likely to be a very much better than 2013.
Better value and choice for Visitors
For guests, quality is going in the right direction and there is some very good choice out there. However, it is worth remembering that the most busy week for bookings taken is the first full week after the New Year and as January and February progresses, bookings are very busy. By early to mid-March, many of the most popular periods or the best value bookings have gone.
The other peak booking period is mid July to early August with summer and autumn bookings coming on stream with a vengeance.