While most of our readers are based in more traditional accommodation providers such as hotels and guesthouses, the short term rental market in South Africa is growing at a rapid pace. We chatted to to Chregan O’Flynn and Max Urban, the co-founders of short-term rental management company Propr, to find out their advice for accommodation providers, their forecast for the year ahead and what visitors are looking for in their accommodation.

What are your thoughts on the future of hospitality?

As digitisation has accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, consumers’ appetites for digital technologies and experiences have grown, but unlike other industries that swiftly adopted tech solutions, the hospitality sector has lagged.

The industry needs to innovate and adapt now more than ever to meet consumer demands for accommodation that caters to the changing world of business and leisure, unique stays, instant communication on their preferred platforms, and smarter technologies to enhance their experience, amongst others.

What have you noticed that visitors – local and foreign – are increasingly looking for from their accommodation providers?

Flexibility: When new travel restrictions can be imposed at a moment’s notice, guests may be unwilling to book accommodation with strict or moderate cancellation policies. Accommodations must embrace the last-minute nature in which guests place their bookings.

Workspaces and high-speed internet: Telecommuting has exploded since the start of the pandemic, as evidenced by the increase in daily active users on Microsoft Teams from 75 million users in 2020 to 145 million in 2021. Businesses are becoming more accepting of remote workers, which has resulted in an upsurge in digital nomads travelling the globe and staying in places for weeks or months at a time.

Load shedding proof: Guests are starting to look for properties that offer solutions that minimise the impact of load shedding. From special lamps and bulbs to inverters that can power internet routers, making your accommodation load shedding proof is a great way to be set apart from other listings at the moment.

Stand out, not standard: Today’s guests are looking for something special beyond the stock standard hotel room. Marriott, for instance, has carved out separate portfolios of properties under the Homes & Villas by Marriott International banner which enables guests to book self-catering accommodation. Other hotel chains are expected to jump on this trend to make their properties unique and, in doing so, use their assets more efficiently. An example of this could be renting out a hotel room during the day for use as a home office and hiring it out to a traveller at night.

Automate or stagnate: Soon the days of guests picking up the phone or walking down to reception to speak with staff at hospitality establishments will be no longer. They are increasingly wanting their communication to be instant and digital, sparking the need to automate processes to assist guests and enhance their experience. Guests nowadays prefer to interact via WhatsApp and chatbots and the industry needs to catch up. This also needs to be done in such a way that communications don’t become robotic. Guests still expect a personal touch for certain types of interactions, even if they are automated or executed electronically. The guest experience now starts before arrival, whereas before they would only be focused on once they were in-house. Through automated communication, guests can also be upsold extras like tours, additional cleans or a stocked fridge to enhance their stay even before they set foot through the door, and these can be handled quickly and seamlessly.

Looking to the end of 2022 and 2023, what are the booking trends for SA looking like?

The current booking trends are very encouraging. Traditionally May, June and July are pretty depressing winter months and generally loss-making for the industry. But this year is different – May and July were both profitable and we have broken all-time records in terms of the number of bookings even when compared to the summer months. For example, in July Propr will be doing close to 2500 bookings. From a revenue perspective, we are already emerging from the low point of June with July being 20% better than June. August is already tracking like a shoulder season month and will likely get close to April’s performance which was a strong month this year. Forward bookings for December are also very strong. There is a ton of pent-up demand and with the weakening currency, we are an attractive long-haul and remote work destination.

Be guest centric. Look at ways to improve the guest experience”

How can accommodation providers make sure that they are benefitting from the increased tourism this year and into next year?

There are a few things accommodation providers can do to take advantage:

Ensure your property is the best it can be. Short-term rentals are much more competitive than they used to be. Some things to consider:

Increase the Wi-Fi speed

Be as load shedding proof as possible. Have load shedding light bulbs, portable lights and UPS/inverter units that at the very least power your internet router. Being able to advertise that on your listing is a real differentiator at the moment.

Have a flexible or moderate cancellation policy. Strict cancellation policies still make many travellers nervous given that Covid is still part of the conversation in some parts of the world. Moreover, there is some volatility in the travel sector with regards to the predictability of flights which makes travellers give preference to accommodations that have less stringent cancellation policies. 

Be guest centric. Look at ways to improve the guest experience.

  • Contact the guest ahead of their arrival to see if you can stock their  fridge or arrange a tour/experience of some kind.
  • Offer to help them with their itinerary and provide local tips.
  • Have a good home guide and provide a welcome pack of some kind.
  • Have nice shower amenities and linen for your guests.
  • Provide beach towels and additional cleans.
  • Contact them at least once during their stay to see if they are happy.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just some of the things that accommodation providers can do but as long as guests are the centre of the universe this will reflect in positive reviews and repeat bookings.