Angela Watson – COO Friendly Rentals: Everything that can be digitalized should be!

angela watson

The pandemic has caught the industry off guard. Events have been happening very quickly and there have been great changes in the industry, and they will keep coming from now on.

The industry is having a deeper revolution and towards higher standards, both financial and technological.

All this revolution is creating different trends in the sector from cleaning, to security and automation of operations.

Changes have also been created in the way the homes are sold. Medium-term rentals (30-90 days) are registering an increase in marketing

Given all these changes, we seek different opinions from experts in the STRs sector. In this case we have the opinion of ANGELA WATSON – COO OF Friendly Rentals

¿Angela In your case, as a PM, what measures regarding operations do you think are the most important to take at this time? bearing in mind that the current trend is to maintain more contained operations in the near future.

  • It is extremely important to ensure that our clients feel safe when they travel.  This means that operations where you would normally have direct contact with the client have to be removed completely; contract signing, payments, keys – these can all be made contactless through smartlocks, on-line payments, on-line contract signing, etc. Everything that can be digitalized should be!
  • Where there is no other alternative but to have someone physically attend to a task like cleaning and maintenance, then new protocols, which are supported by research, government guidelines and common sense,  have to be put in place. This means educating and training staff in the correct use of safety equipment and cleaning products.  Ensuring clear and concise communication with clients.  Attending to incidents when clients are out of the apartment and maintaining the highest hygiene standards.  We need to get the message across to our clients that our properties are safe environments for them and their families and that we will do everything within our control to guarantee that they will feel just as safe and secure in their rental apartment as they would in their own home.

Regarding marketing, where is the sector aiming at the moment and how do you think it will evolve in the coming months? Do you think that the supply of STRs will be reduced by moving to long-term rentals, or will it continue working in the short and medium term?

  • There has been a rush to convert a lot of STR properties to medium or long-term rentals.  I personally don’t think that this is the answer to the problem.  Clients have always been able to rent properties for 2, 3, 4 months and there has always been a market for this type of client, mainly corporate or students.  Unfortunately, I don’t see a huge upturn in the number of clients looking for medium to long-term reservations in the near future.  These clients have the same mobility, safety and transport problems as clients looking for a short term rental.  With regards to the corporate clients, they will also be hit badly through furlough schemes and businesses closing, so I don’t see this market increasing over the summer months.  Also, having an excess of availability of this product on the market will probably lead to a price war which is not healthy for anyone. 
  • I know that it is difficult, but if owners can hold on for another few months, then I believe that we will start to see an upturn in the market.  Initially, we will be aiming at the local and national markets as soon as there is permission to move.  Staycations will be popular this year.  There is increasing pressure from other countries to agree to opening some mutually agreeable flights between countries, so I think that we will start to see some light international travel, probably only European to begin with, by early-mid July. We have come through a very difficult 2 months, if we can hold on just a little bit longer, then things will start to improve.  This situation hasn’t taken away the desire to travel, but it has put some obstacles in the way they will travel this year. Barcelona has the advantage of being a city with a beach, that will make it more attractive than other cities.

There is a market opportunity at this time for property managers, taking into account that they can acquire inventory in case smaller competition is forced to close doors. Do you see growth possibilities as a company?

  • The STR industry is actually a very small community and with the assistance of APARTUR I feel that we have always had an unspoken agreement to try not to harm our colleagues in the field by aggressively going after their owners. I would like to feel that we will continue to behave in a professional manner and try to help keep this community alive and supportive.  That being said, it is a sad fact that some agencies may not be in a position to make it through this extremely trying time.  This leaves owners looking for someone to manage their properties in the future. Those of us lucky enough to be in a stronger position will therefore be looking at the opportunity to grow our portfolio and provide a helping hand to these owners who have also had to struggle through these last months.  

In general, reliable technology will be used to offset the reduction in operations and automate the largest amount of resources. What automations do you think are essential?

  • As I touched on in question 1, completion of payment transactions, verification of documentation, contract signing and key handling, all need to be made contactless.  Customer Service communication and assistance can, in the most part, be done on-line also, through whatsapp, email etc. 

The need for a combination of short, medium and long term rentals, and the lack of physical interactions with guests, give greater importance to the knowledge of the property in real time that Roomonitor provides. In your experience, how do you value the help of our devices at this time?

  • The Roomonitor service has been invaluable during this time of extremely low occupation.  We have the peace of mind that we can control if/when someone enters a property and avoid unwelcome squatters.  The additional service of the Roomonitor team physically checking on the properties just reinforces that feeling of control.  Moving forward to when we have guests again, the Roomonitor devices will continue to give us the control that we need to ensure that our clients are behaving in a respectful way towards other clients in the same building and their neighbours.  Being able to contact clients by telephone or whatsapp within minutes of an alarm being raised means that there is no need for any unwanted disturbances and ensures that the neighbours are respected and have more respect for STR properties and guests.  This improves relationships and reassures neighbours that we are acting in a responsible, serious, and respectful manner.  Communicating with clients in this way, also removes the need to physically visit a property, again avoiding unnecessary physical contact during the post-covid period.

Recommendations that you can give us regarding technology:
PMS, Channel Manager, Smart locks, check ins online, house keeping, online reputation?

Technology is key in this day and age.  We need to ensure that we can make contact with as many people in as short a period of time as possible and know that the information being provided is accurate and informative in real time.  There are many good PMS and Channel Managers on the market right now and depending on the size and requirements of each individual agency, you can find one that fits almost all of your needs.  No-one is perfect but the STR industry is not really a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.  We have had to adapt to what were basically tools for hotels in the past.  Nowadays, though, the companies offering this type of service are keen to learn from us and develop their systems to meet the demands of our growing industry and have made life a lot easier for us.  We have relied on our own constantly developing PMS for over15 years, but have seen such an improvement in the technology being offered by 3rd party providers these days that we are gradually reducing the dependency on our own internal system and taking advantage of the new wave of technological tools on the market

Any other suggestions?

We have to adapt to survive and if nothing else, covid19 has given us some time to reflect on how we can improve the services that we offer to our clients and property owners and continue to provide the best and most professional standards possible.

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