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Revealed: Impact of COVID-19 on the UK short-term let sector

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Newly released data from a poll conducted by the UK Short Term Accommodation Association has revealed the severity of impact that the COVID-19 coronavirus has had on companies’ reservations and income.

The feedback the STAA received from its corporate members, that represent the majority of the short-term let industry, showed that since 13 March, when the first effects in the UK were felt:

Most companies have seen more than 70% of their reservations cancelled, with some losing more than 90%
Most companies have lost more than 70% of their income.

Without Government support, all companies said they would have to consider making some employees redundant.

The STAA is in conversation with the UK Government requesting that certain measures are introduced to provide some protection for the sector. They include:

Amending domestic legislation to allow the provision of refunds and price reductions as vouchers and credit notes instead of cash.

The biggest issue facing short-term rental businesses is cash flow. That’s because they’ve had to issue refunds to guests cancelling bookings which drains them of cash to cover ongoing operating costs. Plus, the demand depression caused by the COVID-19 outbreak means that businesses have no guaranteed income in the near future, meaning they may struggle for viability in the longer-term due to reduced bookings.

The STAA believes that the European Union’s Directive 2015/2302 on package travel and linked travel arrangements – which covers pre-arranged package holidays and also self-customised packages – should be amended, as it forces all companies to give cash refunds if travel is restricted. It suggests that it is better to allow companies to issue refunds in the form of vouchers or credits for future use, instead of cash refunds, as this will both satisfy the consumer, and keep liquidity in the market. Moreover, it is a solution which is essentially free for the government, as it does not require payments to businesses or costs in terms of rebated taxes.

Implementing temporary solutions to address cash drainage arising from the chargeback mechanism under credit card schemes.

Under current credit card schemes, property management companies bear the full financial risk exposure for services that have already been delivered by online travel agencies (OTAs) and where payment for the service has already been transferred to the short-term rental owners. This could result in a cash drain on property management companies, with the real possibility of collapse for many of them within weeks if chargebacks continue to increase and are not prevented.

Altering the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to keep people working through the crisis.

The STAA believes that the requirement outlined in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to ‘furlough’ employees and keep them on the payroll rather than making them redundant, can encourage businesses to reduce activity at a time when the industry needs to be, managing customer cancellations, providing meaningful work for people and preparing for the recovery.

It suggests that the Employment Retention Scheme should, instead, be directly applied to companies that are facing a significant drop in revenues to ensure that their staff are able to remain in work through the duration of the crisis and help with the speed of recovery.

Issuing guidance to ensure that company directors are not obliged to personally guarantee loans
Under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, small and medium-sized enterprises can access up to £5m in government-backed loans. Whilst the STAA welcomes this, it remains concerned by widespread reports that banks are insisting on personal guarantees for the loans from business owners, including, but not limited to, property such as second homes and savings.

This policy puts business owners in a very difficult position as it potentially puts their family’s financial security at risk. Many business owners may choose not to access the Business Interruption Loan Scheme for this reason and thereby face the risk of closure. The STAA calls for Government guidance to be issued to lenders stating that personal guarantees for emergency loans should not be required.

Merilee Karr, Chair of the STAA and CEO of UnderTheDoormat, had this to say: “These findings are certainly not surprising but show that the short-term rental sector, that makes a massive contribution to the UK economy each year, is under severe threat. Bearing in mind that most of our members and their customers rely on tourism for between 70-100% of their revenue, the impact of the COVID-19 virus is potentially catastrophic.

“And, for those short-letting their home, the loss of both present and future income could be devastating. Thousands of people use the sharing economy to help pay their mortgage; for some, it is their primary source of income. Countless small entrepreneurs face going out of business, removing money from local economies both now, and in the future, when they will not be around to service demand once the virus has abated.

“On a more positive note, many homeowners, property management and hospitality companies have been making the best use of their assets by opening up properties for key workers. Schemes like NHS Homes, where properties are being offered to NHS staff as free accommodation show just how the short-term rental industry is pulling together to do their bit during this crisis.”




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