We caught up with Jonas Upmann from travel start-up HomeToGo, to hear all about how the travel industry is coping with a changing landscape due to COVID-19…
How did your founders come up with the idea for HomeToGo?
In 2014, the holiday rental market was growing fast but highly fragmented. Travellers were having to use a number of different holiday rental websites and not always finding the best deals or accommodations for their trip. HomeToGo’s co-founders saw that there was an opportunity to build a one-stop-shop where travellers could conveniently search and compare prices from many different holiday rental providers.
Before starting HomeToGo, our co-founders had already developed solid roots in the travel and startup space: In 2005, Co-founder Wolfgang Heigl started the flight metasearch company Swoodoo, which was then taken over by the world market leader Kayak. HomeToGo’s CEO, Dr. Patrick Andrä was Director of Business Development at Rocket Internet’s mail-order furniture company Home24. And our third co-founder Nils Regge managed the holiday home platform Casamundo, which was later acquired by HomeToGo, and also co-founded the online cruise ship portal Dreamlines.
HomeToGo now employs more than 250 people and operates 43 websites in 23 countries. Our platform brings together more than 18 million accommodation offers from over 1,300 providers, including larger partners like Airbnb and Booking.com, as well as regional incumbents in Southern or Northern Europe, the USA, Australia, China, and Japan.
What travel trends have you noticed changing during COVID-19?
It’s no surprise that the travel industry has seen a massive shift following the outbreak of COVID-19. We’re seeing that more travellers are planning road trip holidays to towns that are closer-to-home and in places known for outdoor activities, including beaches and hiking destinations.
Other accommodations, such as those in big cities and cultural hubs, are taking a longer time to recover in terms of bookings, but we have seen demand improve a lot in the past few weeks. Since flying out of the UK is allowed again, we’re also seeing an increasing interest in international holiday destinations in southern Europe, but the main interest is still focused on domestic travel.
For holiday homeowners, their summer bookings have also been affected by the types of accommodations they’re offering. We’re seeing properties like cabins, cottages and eco-destinations get completely booked for longer periods of time, and more users searching for pet-friendly homes and those with good access to WiFi. It’s likely that more people are planning to work remotely this summer and enjoy a break from the sights and sounds of their own living rooms.
We’re also seeing a shorter window of time between booking date and check-in, as more travellers try to take advantage of the nice weather and make up for cancelled holidays. Our Summer Travel Trends study provides a more in-depth explanation of these trends and data.
How has your offering adapted through the pandemic?
Throughout the pandemic, our customer support team has had to step up in a big way to help people avoid the costs and frustrations of having to cancel their upcoming trip plans. They have been working tirelessly to help travellers change or cancel their bookings whenever possible. This uncertainty of future travel restrictions is still the biggest concern when travellers are considering whether or not to book a future trip. Seeing this as a concern, we worked with our holiday rental partners to gather info on their cancellation policies and incorporate them into our product via a new filter-tab which allows users to easily find those homes which offer free cancellations.
As an industry, holiday rental owners have also had to step up their cleaning efforts to ensure that holiday homes meet the necessary hygiene requirements set by local governing bodies and official health organizations. Most holiday homes owners are taking extra precautions and offer self-check-in and check-out to limit exposure between guests and hosts as well as offering hand sanitizing wipes and soap for their guests to use during their stay.
What do you think the future of the travel industry looks like?
I expect to see more demand for cleaner and more hygienic accommodations as well as more accommodations that offer more personal space and privacy. Crowded buffets and shared guest amenities like spas and pools will probably lose some appeal, while accommodations with more space, gardens, and non-shared amenities like private pools, jacuzzis and saunas will see more demand.
It’s hard to know which trends will stay, but I do expect that it will be quite some time before things go back to normal completely, especially when it comes to international travel. Fortunately, this has given a lot of people the opportunity to explore and discover more destinations in their own backyards, including nearby towns, beaches, and natural areas that would’ve otherwise gone overlooked. I hope travellers remember their favourite spots and continue to take more weekend trips with their family and friends in the future.