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Coronavirus: Advice for Holiday Cottage Owners & Holiday Let Businesses

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Updated 12 May.

Note: This is not official advice from Schofields, but is intended to provide guidance which may help. 

These are difficult and unprecedented times that we all find ourselves in. The coronavirus is significantly impacting the travel and tourism industry and although we are in uncharted territory, it’s important that holiday let businesses are prepared to handle the surge in booking cancellations and the downturn in future bookings.

The next few months are going to be challenging for holiday letting businesses, who are going to face many tough decisions. This page aims to provide some practical guidance to help holiday home owners face the coronavirus crisis as best as possible over the coming weeks and months.

It’s easy to get caught up worrying about your holiday letting business – but it’s essential that you preserve the health of you, your family, staff and guests.

Travel advice

On Monday May 11 the Government announced that from Wednesday people in England have permission to travel to “outdoor open space irrespective of distance”, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there. However, it is important that people respect the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Holidays are still banned despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions being eased. The Government has said: staying overnight at a location other than the place you live “for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed”. This includes visiting second homes.

There’s hope that accommodation may reopen as part of step three of England’s recovery strategy, which isn’t expected to be earlier than July 4.

Strategies for holiday let businesses during the coronavirus pandemic

Check your holiday home insurance

From a business point of view, the main concern for most holiday home owners is likely to be the financial impact due to loss of income due to cancelled bookings. You may be protected by your holiday home insurance against loss of rent – contact your insurance company to check if you can make a claim.

If you insure your holiday home with Schofields – our claims advice is here.

Will insurance cover be restricted whilst holiday homes are unoccupied?

You may be concerned that due to the current Government restrictions on travel, the usual inspections of your holiday home cannot take place and your cover may be restricted.

Contact your insurer if you are unable to comply with your policy conditions. Insurers are generally being flexible in their approach towards policy conditions.

Until you are allowed to visit your holiday home, can you ask a trusted neighbour, agent or housekeeper local to the property to check on it? If you can, arrange for them to turn off the water to the property as this will help to prevent any damage that can be caused by escape of water.

Providing accommodation for NHS staff during the COVID-19 pandemic

Government rules state that tourism-related accommodation should only be provided to key workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you want to get involved by allowing key workers to stay close to their work and keep a safe distance away from their own families, here are two schemes where you can help.

NHS Homes
Frontline Stays from Airbnb

A fantastic gesture to help those who are risking their lives to keep the UK safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

How to manage coronavirus cancellations

Guests will not be able to travel to your holiday home. But how should you handle guest cancellations? Read on.

The idea of losing income by providing a refund or amending bookings is very unappealing – owners work hard to obtain bookings. Whilst most owners have terms and conditions in place to cover the majority of eventualities, we are all facing unprecedented circumstances which are regularly changing.

Generally, holidaymakers and owners are being understanding of the current crisis, showing a willingness to compromise and work together to amicably arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. However, the press is reporting ongoing conflicts between the large holiday cottage agencies and their guests due to cancellations.

Every holiday home owner’s situation is unique, and it is your right to manage your business as you see fit.  However, it’s essential that you are fair and don’t breach consumer law – these are just some options for you to consider.

Refund

Some owners and agencies are providing a full or partial refund for holidays that are due to start during the Government’s current ‘stay at home/stay alert’ measures. Refunds would normally be subject to the bookings terms and conditions – but in the current circumstances such contracts are under review.

Amend bookings

Most property owners and agencies are allowing holidaymakers with a booking that starts between now and 3rd July 2020 to defer their booking to a later date this year or sometime in 2021. This date could change depending on government advice.

We would encourage all holidaymakers to postpone rather than cancel their booking. Most holiday home owners are unlikely to be in a financial position to refund everyone. If you are not in a position to rebook your holiday just yet, the owner is likely to offer a credit note which can be used when you are ready to book.

Enforce cancellation T’s & C’s

Very few are standing firm on their cancellation policies and not refunding or amending bookings. This is because their terms and conditions state that they strongly advise guests to take out comprehensive travel insurance and that if they choose not to then they accept responsibility for any loss that they may incur due to their cancellation.

However, lots of travel insurance policies do not cover the Covid-19 Pandemic.

If you choose this option, you should still refund any expenses you have not incurred e.g. cleaning, welcome basket, utilities, laundry etc.

Bookings via Airbnb, HomeAway etc.

If your booking is via an OTAs or listing site such as Airbnb, check what their refund and cancellation policies are. Some listing sites are allowing guests to cancel their upcoming holidays and get a full refund.

Here is the Airbnb extenuating circumstances policy.

Which option is right?

It’s essential that you are fair and don’t breach consumer law. Consumers would expect to receive a full refund when a business has cancelled a contract without providing the services or a consumer is prevented from receiving the service e.g. due to a government lockdown.

In an ideal world, even though guests may appreciate a full refund, they may upon reflection see that the pandemic is not the owners’ fault and the loss should be shared between both parties – a partial refund or credit maybe. It does happen.

Whichever approach you choose, beware of controversy. There’s lots of press coverage about disputes between guests wanting a refund and agencies who aren’t in a position to give one. Also, the legalities of booking terms and conditions are questionable. There are reports of legal proceedings pending – so bear this in mind.

CMA to investigate cancellation policy concerns

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is to investigate concerns about cancellation policies. If it finds evidence that companies are failing to comply with the law, the CMA will take appropriate enforcement action, which could include taking a firm to court if it does not address its concerns. See the press release here.

Can guests claim through their travel insurance?

Before you provide a refund, check if guests can claim off their travel insurance.

Depending on where your guests are travelling from and when they took out travel insurance, they might be able to claim on their travel insurance to recover any losses incurred. They might also be covered if they are diagnosed as having contracted Covid-19 or are required to self-isolate.

Unfortunately, some holiday makers have found that their insurance does not cover them during a pandemic.

It is now highly unlikely that holidaymakers will be able to find a travel insurance policy without an exclusion for coronavirus-related claims.

How to handle bookings over the next few months

Holidays are still banned despite coronavirus lockdown restrictions being eased. The Government has said: staying overnight at a location other than the place you live “for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed”. This includes visiting second homes.

Many of the large holiday cottage agencies are only accepting new bookings that have an arrival date after 3rd July 2020 and that date could be extended until it’s safe to travel again. If you accept bookings after this date there is a risk that they will subsequently have to be cancelled due to travel restrictions. It’s your choice.

Keep in mind that it’s easier to hold on to a booking than get a new one. So, consider relaxing your cancellation policy and balance payment timeline to help last-minute decision making.  Maybe allow cancellations as late as 3 weeks before arrival and move balance payments to 3 weeks before arrival so that your guests don’t have to pay until the picture becomes clearer.

Sadly, for the travel industry, most people are likely to avoid booking holidays for the next couple of months.

However, I think anybody with bookings after July 3rd, August should wait, there is no reason to cancel at this time. Who knows what the situation will be like in a few months? So perhaps you might adopt a wait-and-see policy.

After the coronavirus crisis

Plan for the end. This will come and people will travel once again. They will be naturally cautious and may hold off for a while before booking, especially international travel.

Staycations will no doubt be the first preference for holidays. However, holidaymakers will want to know what their cancellation options are. You should consider a more relaxed cancellation policy so that travellers feel secure booking a property that allows them to cancel or change their dates due to future coronavirus lockdowns.

Loosening your cancellation policy may seem counter-intuitive since cancellations are precisely what you’re battling. However, wouldn’t you prefer to have a booking with the possibility of some cancellations rather than no booking it at all?

Attract local tourists

If people are waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted before making plans, make sure you are ready to make the most of short-notice bookings.

Reconsider your minimum stay policy as local tourists are likely to opt for shorter trips. Welcome families and their furry friends – staycations often include children and pets.

Don’t give up because you have uncharacteristic booking gaps, even into July and August. There’s likely to be a lot of demand once restrictions are lifted.

Use marketing tools to communicate with past and prospective customers. Let them know that you understand their worries and reassure them about your commitments to hygiene.

Keeping clean

When you start taking bookings and guests start arriving again, it’s essential that you provide holidaymakers assurances that your holiday home will be professionally cleaned.

It’s now more important than ever to maintain high standards of cleanliness at your holiday home.

Here are some tips on what property managers and cleaning staff should be doing:

  • Make sure your cleaning team focuses on high-traffic areas (kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms) and frequently used items (handles, switches, key safes), wiping down surfaces with a recommended cleaner.
  • Use disposable cloths or paper towels when possible, wash reusable cloths after use.
  • Disinfect kitchen brushes and sponges with detergent and warm water.
  • Provide your guests with ample disinfectant, cleaning supplies, hand sanitisers, soap, tissues, kitchen roll and clean towels.
  • You could also consider putting up more ‘wash your hands’ signs and add some information at the front of your guest information book to keep hygiene front of mind.

Keep your cleaning staff educated on hygiene best practices. Here are some coronavirus deep cleaning tips for holiday rentals.

Cut your expenses

One way to deal with the downturn in holiday letting business and cash-flow sparked by the coronavirus pandemic is to temporarily cut expenses at your holiday home for unused services.

  • Consider cutting back on TV subscriptions such as Sky or Netflix. If you have a landline in your holiday property, cut it.
  • If you have a smart thermostat like Hive, control the heating remotely to save on your energy bills.
  • Can you defer mortgage payments?
  • If you use the services of a gardener, can you reduce how often they come?

When it comes to reducing employee wages, some staff would willingly reduce their hours for the security of continued employment. Others might opt for unemployment. Ideally, you should focus on retaining the expertise of your best talent so when business picks up again -you are ready to get back up and running.

Get proactive

If you’re going to stay home for the next few weeks (or months?), use this time to analyse and improve your holiday letting business.

Here are several ideas:

  • If you live onsite next to your holiday home, use the time to carry out spring cleaning and any maintenance projects or interior upgrade plans.
  • Audit your (and your competitors) reviews and feedback from previous guests to find opportunities on how to improve your business.
  • There’s likely to be fewer international guests, therefore, it’s a good idea to target new markets such as domestic travellers, pet owners and families. Which listing sites or agencies specialise in these markets?
  • Improve your listing site descriptions and photos
  • Create or optimise your holiday rental website.
  • Re-evaluate your Property Management System (PMS) and Channel Manager.
  • Now is the perfect time to be creating a content calendar and publishing new blogs.
  • Engage with your followers on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
  • Look into how you can use video to market your property.
  • Keep updated with all the latest news on the short-term rental industry

If you are looking for some ideas on how to do all of these and more – read our marketing tips.

Government help

The next few months are likely to be challenging for businesses, especially those individuals and businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector. We are watching keenly to see how the government will respond and support businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector.

Small business grant funding

A full range of business support measures have been made available for small businesses to survive during the coronavirus crisis.

If your holiday let is registered for business rates (rather than council tax) and has a rateable value of £15,000 or under, you may be eligible for a grant of £10,000. If your business has a property that has a rateable value of over £15,000 but less than £51,000, you may be eligible for a grant of £25,000.

For holiday lets in Wales, the government’s new guidance states that three specific clauses need to be adhered to:

  • Self-catering accommodation produce two years of trading accounts to 31 March 2019
  • Self-catering accommodation must let the property for 140 days or more in the financial year 2019-20
  • Self-catering accommodation business must be the primary source of income for the owner (minimum threshold is 50%).

The government urged people not to misuse the support it is offering.

Contact your local council if you think you are eligible for a grant.

Further reading:
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/878082/small-business-grant-and-retail-leisure-hospitality-grant-guidance-for-businesses-v2.pdf
https://www.gov.scot/news/supporting-tourism-through-coronavirus/
https://www.mygov.scot/non-domestic-rates-coronavirus/
https://www.pkf-francisclark.co.uk/coronavirus/government-support-for-furnished-holiday-lets-covid-19/

Unprecedented times

While there’s nothing you can do to stop the coronavirus outbreak or its effect on the travel industry, hopefully, these tips can help during these very difficult times.

The safety of all our loved ones, friends and colleagues is what matters most. We encourage everyone to follow the Government’s advice so we can keep each other safe and healthy.

Stay positive. This will end and people will not stop needing a holiday.

Useful further reading:

Government Coronavirus advice
https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

Government travel advice
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus
https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Information for UK tourism businesses
https://www.visitbritain.org/covid-19-new-coronavirus-latest-information-and-advice-for-businesses

COVID-19: support for businesses
https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

If you’ve a question that isn’t covered above, please let us know in the comments below.

23 Comments

  • Heather Lowe |

    Hi, Can I still travel to my property to check on its condition, security and make repairs?
    Thank you.

    • Philip |

      The government’s guidance is that people should avoid travelling unless it is essential and essential travel does not include visits to second homes. I would check with the local council. Do you have a cleaner or property manager local to the property who could check on it (and turn off the water) as part of their daily exercise?

  • Gordon Maclean |

    We have a holiday home and an adjacent self catering house . They are 150 miles from permanent address . How do we cover insurance requirements etc when we are not allowed to travel there to attend to them ?

    • Philip |

      Hi, See the advice above.

  • Michael Plant |

    My property is about 45 minutes drive from my home. The heating and hot water is run from an oil fired boiler. Under lock down I have not visited the property since 23rd march 2020 and I fear that my oil tank will run dry very shortly. The tank is locked and I have no-one who can visit the property locally – I care for the property entirely myself. If the heating fails the property will become damp and damage may occur to the boiler. In addition the water is not turned off. Under these unprecedented times what can I do, if anything, to deal with this problem. All I would need to do is check the boiler and unlock the oil tank. My oil supplier will then deliver oil without the need for me to be at the property. The property is in the centre of the Peak District.

  • Jo-Jo Carter-Jones |

    We have two holiday rental apartments in Los Alcázares, Spain. Despite having 60 days terms, we have given a full refund to all of our guests that were due to stay with us. Obviously this is having a huge financial impact on us business but we feel it would be morally wrong not to refund our guests.

    • Philip |

      Lovely gesture. ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’

  • Mr K Bennett |

    We own a lodge on a holiday park. We have paid this years site rent, which runs from 1/3/20-15-1-21. As we haven’t been able to use our home in March/April/May and maybe longer. Are we entitled to expect a rent rebate?
    Regards
    K Bennett

  • Wendy |

    My holiday let in North Wales is attached to my home. I maintain the let and have a hot tub for guests that I also maintain myself I am nearing my 70s and I also have a husband in the vunerable group with lung problems. He only gets involved with guests if anything technical goes wrong. Tv heating etc My holiday home is let through a cottage company and I have instructed them not to take any new bookings although I still have some bookings from the end of July onwards. I am unsure how to proceed after the lock down is lifted this year due to my husbands health issues as I reckon this virus will be around for a long long time .

    • Philip |

      A ‘full service management’ agency who handle everything might be a solution?

  • Gerald Adamson-Eadie |

    My Wife and I have both been in lockdown since 23rd March, I am retired and my Wife works from home. My Wife has 30mins of exercise per day and is our main grocery shopper, I am on the the at risk list and have not been outside since this all began.

    We have a small flat in Dunoon (30miles from our primary home), with all this opening of McDonalds, Burger King and B &Q, can we drive the 30 miles to do a home check to make sure everything is ok and it has not been damaged in any way, We visited their every second weekend and spent our summer and winter holidays their. Surely driving by car, entering the house to turn off water and gas now is not harming anyone as we wont be coming into contact with anyone, we will not be staying over just checking everything is ok.

    • Philip |

      The Government has said: staying overnight at a location other than the place you live “for a holiday or other purpose is not allowed”. This includes visiting second homes. Visiting but not staying overnight – a bit of a grey area. I expect there will be more advice on this over the coming days from various counties.

  • Barbara |

    Hi,

    I bought a property by the sea which I’ve been working on & setting up as a holiday let business since Jan. I signed up with a local holiday letting agent, who has been guiding me in the preparation of the property & working with me in photographing & advertising for this summer’s launch. I have my first bookings in July.

    However the work I had planned on doing in my Easter Holidays & weekends I have not been able to do, due to lockdown. I am a teacher currently teaching from home in Lockdown 200 miles away from the business address. Before lockdown I had worked on the property some weekends & holidays since Jan.

    As a teacher I’ve neen tested for covid19 & am covid NEGATIVE & am looking forward to returning to school on 1st June, after helf term.

    This will mean that the coming half term holiday is the last chance I’ll have to make any real progress with thd decotation & tweaking of window latches left to do.

    As Boris has asked us to use our common sense, am I not at liberty to undergo necessary works to my holiday let business, during the coming half term break, before schools start opening, as I will have the time, so that this ‘work’, my other job, is complete & my business can honour bookings in July? (Assuming holidays are allowed in July)

    I pose no risk to the area and will bring income by bringing traid to the local community once tourism starts.

    Your response would be appreciated.

  • Mike Shipton |

    My T&Cs have the following clause, where does this leave me?

    NON AVAILABILITY OF PROPERTY If for any reason, beyond the Owners’ or Agents’ control (e.g. fire damage) the property is not available on the date booked, all rental charges paid in advance by the applicants will be refunded in full, but the applicants shall have no further claim against the Owner or Agents. The Agents will, however, endeavour to offer alternative accommodation if possible, but in the event of them being unable to do so the liability under all circumstances shall be limited to the refund of monies paid in advance.

  • Ruth Gibbins |

    Hi, we have a holiday cottage on our farm and it has a hot tub for the exclusive use of guests. Can you advise us if it will be safe to keep it in operation for guests to use?
    I am self isolating at the moment, but we have a booking at the end ofJuly – if the tub is in operation during this visit I have to open it and test the water daily -I am wondering if this is possible – all surfaces will have to be decontaminated before I can test the water – or should I turn the tub off and say it’s not to be used during their stay?

  • Carola |

    Hi. my husband and I have a holiday cottage that is managed by a company. We have had cancellations and we have refunded all. We potentially would be fully booked through until at least october…judging by the previous years.. so we are making a huge loss right now. How do we seek some form of compensation for our loss of income of which we rely on as we are retired. This is not a business , it is our pension fund. Does anyone know what we need to do as there are so many confusing Gov links that we dont understand. many thanks

    • Philip |

      Are you eligible for the Government grant? see Government help section above.

  • Rose |

    I own a self catering property in Wales, where it is likely that the restrictions will be lifted later than in England.

    The house sleeps 8 and so many of the summer holiday bookings are two families or multigenerational family groups who don’t normally live together.

    Is it likely that holidays will be allowed but only with one family (as I’ve read for restaurant bookings) and therefore where does that leave my cancellation requests as the clients may not wish to travel as they are not all allowed to in their planned group?

    So far I have refunded and or moved all bookings but things are getting ‘tight’ and I’m not sure that the new situation would mean to both sides.

    Thank you, your advice would be most welcome.

    • Philip |

      The government has confirmed an “ambition” to open some hospitality businesses, (including accommodation?) from 4 July if its five tests for controlling the spread of Covid-19 are being met. I would wait for clarification.

  • Bruce Forbes |

    Please can someone tell me if a brief day visit to a holiday home is permissible for the purpose of collecting the mail, checking for damage or leaks, reading the meters, resetting the thermostat and using our toilet. All this could be done in less than an hour and we could return to our main home the same day without coming near anyone else.

    We are however permitted to drive there, walk past our front door, to a crowded beach, use public toilets if they are open and go to a hut that has less than 2 m from the neighbouring one.

    Come on! Where is the thinking on this restriction or is it left to our common sense to decide if it is legal or do we need a four year old with us?

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