By: Tim Blackwell
Like many vacation rental management companies, Olahola Property Management had to hit the reset buttons for operations and marketing at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Until this year, no one needed to be convinced to travel to paradise along the Riviera Maya. But now fear and uncertainty about social interactions and leisure activities are at an all-time high.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on many vacation rental property management companies, even forcing some out of business. Olahola has been able to persevere by staying ahead of the game with the latest tools, technologies, and trends. And the type of service that the company founded by Tania Ga and Arturo Go has built its reputation upon.
Tania and Arturo, avid travelers who have set foot on five continents, settled into the hospitality business after arriving on the Riviera Maya a few years ago. They built a portfolio of about 70 properties and are managing them to the high standards they experienced as travelers.
When Olahola’s bookings significantly slowed in early March, one of the first orders of business was to think about their customers. They set out to reassure them that safety was the priority.
Resetting on cleaning, marketing strategies
Olahola, which manages properties at four coastal locations, devised a program to guarantee the safety of its clients. Each property gets full sanitization with a mist fogging system and specialized disinfectant products to clean doorknobs, surfaces, cutlery, etc. The protocol is advertised in all of the company’s listings on 10-plus travel sites and sent to guests through Kigo’s welcome app.
Upon arrival, fresh linens and towels are the standards, as are concierge services and on-site assistance through direct chat. They are assured that the property is safe to inhabit.
Olahola has also had to pivot with its marketing strategy, one that now adapts to the changing face of travel. Travelers, because many are working remotely and have location flexibility, are staying longer when away from home. The line between work and leisure is blurring, as many are settling in for a month or longer at destination properties.
Focusing on “home office travelers” looking to rent for one or two months at a time, where safety and good-quality internet are priorities, became Olahola’s mission. A “Home Office Travel Plan” was launched with special rates for 15-30 days or longer to attract customers to the new breed of traveler.
“Business has changed dramatically over the last months and we had to reset part of our usual operational and marketing elements,” said Rental Program Manager Xavier Gonzalez.
Three keys to provide today’s travelers
Xavier said there are three important things for travelers during what he calls the COVID travel period: Finding a safe and secure place to stay, access to up-to-the-moment listings, and updates on government and local regulations, and flexible cancellation policies.
The industry has seen an increase in federal and state regulations ranging from travel bans to cleaning requirements. In Mexico, local authorities implemented voluntary cleaning protocols that require registration for each property, Xavier said. Olahola found it easier and more consistent to create its own sanitizing program despite being forced to reduce staff when the bottom fell out of tourism earlier this year.
Because of additional steps in sanitizing properties, Olahola had to increase cleaning fees 15-20% based on the property and bump a service fee chargeable to guests by 3-5%. The fees offset some of the 30-40% reduction in rental rates that Olahola has endured during the pandemic, Xavier said.
But a caveat to long-term rentals is that Olahola is filling available dates with fewer guests, reducing the number of costly make-readies. The strategy has enabled the company to find balance in difficult times.
“Long-term rental discounts or specials, it’s a new market where we work with through the channels, and we’ve found success since early June,” Xavier said. “The number of tasks related to clean and sanitize properties have increased and that takes more time, but lack of business and long-term rentals have somehow balanced the need to contract more (cleaners).”