With villa holidays likely to bounce back quickly once travel restrictions lift, Abra Dunsby speaks to four villa specialists for their insights
Due to their private, self-contained nature, villas are likely to be a popular accommodation choice for clients who wish to holiday once travel restrictions are lifted.
Chris Wright, managing director at Sunvil and sister brand GIC The Villa Collection, says villas allow clients to have more isolated holidays compared to hotels or large resorts. “You can be very self-sufficient – you don’t need to socialise with other people, go out to eat or go to beaches if you have a pool.”
Here we speak to four villa specialists to glean their insights into booking trends, find out how they are supporting the trade and discover how they are preparing for customers to travel safely.
Bookings and enquiries have seen a recent increase for GIC the Villa Collection, Interhome, CV Villas and Onefinestay, most of which are for holidays in 2021.
“Having been dealing with a lot more cancellations than bookings in the last eight weeks, this week (w/e 22 May) is the first that we’ve seen more bookings than cancellations since lockdown began,” says Danny Waine, commercial manager at Interhome.
The majority (80%) of bookings are for summer 2021 and if travel restrictions continue to ease, Waine predicts a bump for this year’s lates market too.
Currently, Interhome’s most popular enquiries are for Spain, the Canaries, Greece, Croatia and "no-fly" destinations France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The operator has also seen a boost in domestic travel enquiries, and has created agent product training accordingly.
“We’ve had lots of interest from agents for UK breaks especially in Devon, Cornwall and Scotland. Our UK product has always been popular from an inbound perspective but we foresee domestic becoming a bigger market for us too,” says Waine.
Interhome, GIC and CV Villas have all reported a healthy number of enquiries from 60+ clients. “Our demographic is generally older, so we were concerned they’d be reluctant to return but they seem to be more keen to travel if anything,” says Wright.
“A lot of our clients go back to Greece year after year and are desperate to see the people that they’ve made connections with and support the local economy.”
From the Isle of Skye to Provence, villa operators are reporting enquiries for off-the-beaten track destinations in largely rural or coastal locations.
“We’ve seen a recent shift away from villas that are closer to beaches and restaurants and towards isolated villas,” says Wright.
Meanwhile CV Villas has created a new collection of secluded, off-the-beaten-track villas on its website to cater to demand.
Senior product manager Christina Todd predicts an upturn in multi-generational travel for 2021 and is considering creating a dedicated online collection for this sector. “Most people can’t wait to see their families and book a big holiday with them,” she says. The majority of their recent enquiries have been for villas in Puglia, Tuscany, the Greek islands and the Caribbean.
Accor-owned luxury home rental company Onefinestay has also seen requests for multi-generational bookings, as well as for “larger spaces and longer stays.”
Director of sales Sophie Howse says: “The average length of stay was one week before – now it’s up to one month plus. We’re also noticing people wanting to spend more, perhaps because they’ve been sitting at home not spending much.”
GIC is also experiencing requests for longer trips. “We’re getting calls from people who want to take villas for two or three months, with the feeling that they can self-isolate in that property if they need to and be in the sun,” explains Wright.
From scaling up on cleaning to ensuring socially distanced “meet and greets” with reps, villa operators are making changes to ensure the safety of guests.
Interhome recently launched its “Safety in your holiday home” campaign, which details elements of a villa holiday that offer safety, including individual arrivals by car, social distancing at in-resort offices and a safe handover of the keys.
Onefinestay has added a commitment to housekeeping standards to its website. The company will continue to offer its meet and greet service in a “safe and socially distant manner,” says Howse. “It’s one of our USPs and customers love it. We’ll be sure staff wear masks and gloves and follow safety protocol.”
By ramping up its concierge offering. GIC aims to reassure nervous customers about holidaying safely. “We can get shopping delivered so they don’t need to go to the supermarket, arrange private taxi transfers and generally offer more hand holding if customers don’t want to leave the property,” says Wright.
The company also predicts its takeaway delivery service from numerous Greek tavernas will appeal to those who are nervous about eating out.
Offering flexibility around cancellations, refunds and rebookings has been a top priority for all four operators.
Waine explains Interhome’s stance: “Our default position has been to cancel the booking and issue a full refund.
Of course it’s best for everyone if we can encourage them to move the booking and we’ve been proactively getting in touch with agents to encourage this. We hoped we’d get some goodwill for refunding clients and it’s proved it was the right thing to do as lots are moving their bookings to 2021.”
Onefinestay has also been working closely with trade partners to support them. “We’ve been holding their hand through postponement. For non-refundable bookings, we’re offering guests the option of either a 100% voucher refund (valid for 12 months in any of our 5000 homes or villas), or a 50% refund to original payment,” says Howse. The company also brought in a flexible rate for its city collection, allowing customers to cancel bookings up to seven days before arrival, which has proved popular with agents.
GIC is being similarly flexible. “We’re moving people with bookings up to the middle of June at the moment,” explains Wright.
He adds that the vast majority of clients have been happy to defer their bookings to next year. “A lot of our customers are repeat, especially at this time of year, so around 80% are deferring to 2021.”
CV Villas has reached out to all customers due to travel in the next 28 days. The operator has also moved its payment deadline so that final balances are now due four weeks prior to departure, and recently launched 10% deposits to encourage new bookings.
When it’s finally safe to travel again, the operators are confident that people will turn to travel agents to make bookings. As a result, all have focused on agent training during lockdown to ensure product knowledge remains strong.
GIC, which hopes to run an agent fam next year, predicts a post-coronavirus surge in bookings from agents.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in people wanting to book packages including flights and car hire. We’re seeing people coming back to agents and tour operators because they want their hand held,” says Wright.
Howse also envisages more collaboration with agents. “50% of bookings last month came from agents,” she says.
“We understand agents will be a growing market for us after Covid, which is why we have a new partner page on our site and are running webinars and brand awareness exercises, to ensure agents have the knowledge and are ready for the upturn.”