Emily Pattillo, Revenue Manager at Casiola describes how she and Casiola are responding to Coronavirus

For many property managers, hearing how similar people are trying to navigate their vacation rental business through the very choppy waters of the Coronavirus pandemic can be hugely reassuring. It helps to know you’re not alone and it gives an opportunity to understand how the measures you’re taking compare with others.

With this in mind, I caught up with Emily at Casiola Vacation Homes to see how they are faring. Casiola operates in the Orlando area and specializes in providing the comfort and luxuries of home to families visiting the region. Emily is relatively new to Casiola, having started this January as their Revenue Manager. But she’s been in the vacation rental market for the last ten years so she knows the space well. The first thing that strikes you about Emily is her immense enthusiasm and joy for life. It's invigorating to talk with her.

Emily describes Casiola as “pretty big in the Orlando market with about 300 homes. That’s 300 owners we are responsible to.” She’s a big advocate of the company saying that they have their morals in the right place and that CEO Dennis Goedheid wants to do the right thing. Like many vacation rental businesses, they are very family-oriented.

This makes what they are going through right now particularly tough. In the last week, they saw $404,000 of cancellations in a business that did $8m in revenue last year. That’s a 5% hit on revenue in a week which goes straight to the bottom line. In March so far they’ve seen occupancy drop from 75% to 52% projected. As Emily says “we banked on a lot of last-minute bookings for Spring Break. Our cancellation policy saved us as it was stricter.”

“I don’t think anyone really ever thought that this was actually going to happen” she said as we discussed the difference between being logically prepared for something like Coronavirus and the emotional impact of witnessing spiraling cancellations, describing the forecast changes as “earth shattering”.

“In our industry things are always coming out of left-field, and much of this situation is coming out of left-field," said Emily. "Our industry is always evolving. That is why certain companies succeed or fail. They learn how to be at the forefront of things."

And the team at Casiola has worked hard to be prepared. I listened to Emily describing the steps they have taken including planning for some type of recession and leveraging technology as a competitive advantage, including adopting tools like Beyond Pricing.

So far the team has tried to combat the situation by taking a number of measures. For example, Emily shared that they’ve made the cancellation policy more flexible urging people to rebook in the same calendar year. “Although it hasn't quite worked” she says with a wry smile. The company has started to resort to much more painful measures. Despite adopting pay cuts across the board to preserve as many jobs as possible, the company has had to lay some people off.

"Now our owners have to bear the entire financial burden.”

She also describes the moves made by Airbnb as extremely unhelpful. “Without warning, they superseded property managers' own cancellation policy. As an industry, we are trying to come to a solution that takes into account the asset management aspect and takes into account our owners. Now our owners have to bear the entire financial burden.”

I asked Emily what advice she would share with others in similar situations. Here are her key points:

  • Try not to overreact. It's easy to panic when you hear the news of Disney closing, for example, but it's important to take things one day at a time.
  • Regarding pricing, you have to have some brand integrity, no matter what climate you’re in. You don’t want to be the lowest person out there.
  • Think about other things that can add value. If the typical way you get reservations isn’t working - what is? If people won’t fly will they drive, for example?
  • People that have to travel for work, would they be more inclined to stay in a vacation rental in the future?
“By no means are we giving up. You don’t build a business in an industry that is this difficult and then throw in the towel as soon as it gets tough.”

Emily is also optimistic about the future, describing the vacation rental space as the "best in the travel industry", saying that they are going to get through this and they are going to come out stronger.

Given the tough situation we’re all facing, it’s energizing to see how positive Emily is. While she is shocked to some degree about the scale and speed of the impact that Coronavirus has wrought, it’s clear that she absolutely sees Casiola not just surviving, but thriving in a brighter future.