With more and more people choosing to holiday at home, the demand for self-catering accommodation in the UK has received a considerable boost. The holiday market has also seen a change in consumer booking habits. People are increasingly looking for short breaks, they are leaving booking to the last minute and in general, they are much more price-conscious.
With more people arranging their own holiday and shopping around for the best deal, the independent holiday rental market has never been stronger. However, as a holiday property owner, is it really for you?
At Independent Cottages, we work with holiday cottage owners who prefer to manage their own bookings and cottages. Many owners prefer to be in control; want the flexibility to use their cottage when they wish; like to know who is staying in their cottage and communicate with their guests before they arrive and prefer not to lose a considerable percentage of their income on agency fees.
However, whilst holiday letting independently provides a greater level of flexibility and higher profit levels, it is also hard work and a big commitment. Here are a few things to consider before you decide if it is for you or not.
Is independent letting for you?
How much time do you have? If you already have a full time job and a young family you will need to consider if you have the time to manage your own holiday house as well. You will need time to answer enquiries, process bookings, take payments and send out arrival details.
Can you respond to enquiries reasonably quickly? The quicker you respond, the more likely you are to secure the booking.
Can you take phone calls during the day and evening? Whilst most people will email questions and booking requests, you will also need to be prepared to handle the occasional phone call. Using an online booking system will help to reduce this but you will still get some people who prefer to book over the phone.
Do you have the budget and time for marketing? If you are letting independently, in all likelihood you will want your own website. Many independent holiday cottage owners also have their own social media pages.
Do you need to gain a high level of bookings very quickly, and if so, are you confident that your advertising strategy and budget, will achieve this? You may need to advertise on more than one website, especially if you are wanting to kick start your bookings. If you are looking to boost your bookings you will also need to offer short breaks, especially during off peak seasons. Check out this guide to see if your property is set up for short breaks.
How will you accept payments? Some people still like to send cheques, but increasingly people will prefer to do a bank transfer, or use a credit card or Paypal. There will be a small cost attached to credit card payments and processing payments from overseas. We’ve created a guide all about taking credit card payments which you can find here:
The importance of taking credit card payments for holiday rentals
Is there someone available to handle any queries or complaints guests may have once they have arrived? This might be yourself, or it could be a housekeeper but guests do need a reliable point of contact. Take a look at our guide on how to handle property reviews for holiday property owners.
Would an agency suit you better?
If you are new to holiday letting, you might feel more comfortable using an agency while you set up the holiday cottage and familiarise yourself with the market. Alternatively, consider using an agency that will also allow you to take your own bookings so that you can start out independently at the same time. You might find that a local agency, who knows your area, is better suited to you than a national one and may offer greater flexibility in terms of allowing more personal bookings. Agency prices tend to start at about 20 percent but will vary depending on what level of service you require.
Some agencies offer a ‘fully managed’ service where they will also handle the day to day running of the cottage for you. This will include sorting out cleaners and handling problems. This service comes at a price but it may suit you if your time is very restricted or you live far away.
What are OTAs?
There has been a huge increase in OTAs (Online Travel Agents) such as HomeAway, Airbnb and Booking.com in recent years. OTAs are third party booking sites, allowing consumers to book their holiday directly via the internet. Some charge an annual subscription and a service fee for each booking and others charge a booking fee/commission. They are a popular means of advertising with holiday cottage owners. Their massive marketing budgets have enabled them to dominate search engines which in turn has the potential to bring in bookings.
However, recently many OTAs have changed their term and conditions and offer far less flexibility than they used to, demanding ever increasing commission rates, restricted contact with guests prior to booking and withholding payment until after the arrival date. Most OTAs now require the guest to pay them as a third party, rather than dealing with you directly. With this comes ‘add on’ charges which can mean guests are paying between 10 and 15 percent (sometimes more) extra compared to booking directly with you. As a holiday cottage owner, you will need to decide whether it is you that will take this cut, or if you are going to pass this onto the guest. If the later, you potentially risk them being disappointed that the over inflated price they paid for their holiday cottage doesn’t reflect what it is worth.
Many holiday cottage owners have become increasingly frustrated with OTAs and have started using companies such as Independent Cottages where you are simply charged a one off annual subscription, thus vastly reducing your marketing fees.
To let independently or not?
There are so many options that it is sometimes confusing to know which route to go down. There is no right and wrong answer. Different options suit different people in different circumstances with different holiday houses.
Some people will choose to use a company like Independent Cottages as well as an OTA, especially if you are just starting out and want to quickly gain a good level of bookings. Others will prefer to start off with an agency. Or you may decide that you are happy to ‘go it alone’ from the beginning.
But you are not on your own. There are plenty of support groups and forums out there to help you along the way. You do not need a background in hospitality to run an independent holiday house. Just some time, a willingness to learn quickly and a desire to make it a success.
Should you have any questions or require advice on holiday letting independently, do not hesitate to contact Independent Cottages.