The first case of COVID-19 in New Zealand was reported on 28 February 2020. As of 6 May 2020, the country had a total of 1,488 cases and 21 deaths. After this, the situation in the country escalated much quicker than expected.

New Zealanders had spent weeks watching from afar as the virus spread through China and Europe with a lot thinking that age old kiwi attitude of “we will be right down here”. But COVID-19 hit us, and it hit us hard.

Less than 4 weeks after the first case was reported, the country got put on hold
when it entered a nationwide lockdown at 11:59pm on the 25th of March which
remained in place for more than 4 weeks.

Effects on the NZ Airbnb Market

On the 14th of March the government announced that every person flying into NZ would need to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. As you can imagine, this threw holiday plans into chaos and made many short trips impossible. We experienced an unprecedented amount of cancellations for the coming month, with our occupancy rates for March &
April dropping from around 85% to less than 15% in the space of a few hours.

All borders and entry ports of New Zealand were closed to all non-residents at 11:59 pm on 19 March 2020, with returning citizens and residents being required to self-isolate, these border measures are expected to remain in place until a vaccine is found.

We could continue to offer Airbnb services during the lockdown under the government’s definition as an essential service. “Any entity that provides accommodation services for essential workers, isolation/quarantine, and emergency housing.”

Our Response to Covid-19

We knew we had to change the way we operated the Airbnb’s we manage, and quickly, to ensure our landlords were still getting some form of income from their Airbnb properties through the lockdown, and to keep our staff safe. Below is an overview of what was put in place.

1. Reduction on nightly pricing.
2. Remove instant book to allow us to target the most attractive bookings.
3. Revamp our cleaning procedures to ensure the safety of guests & staff.
4. Negotiation of longer stays from 3 – 12 weeks.
5. Kept our landlords constantly up to date with any developments.

Over the period of the lockdown, we slowly started securing longer than normal stays at reduced weekly rates. Guests included essential workers, overseas travelers that had been stranded, and kiwis who had their overseas plans upended and suddenly needed a short term home again. Some properties were also put into use by the owners who had stranded friends and family. By the end of the Level 4 lockdown, all but one of our Airbnbs had been in use for at least some of the time and ongoing, a great result given the circumstances.

Long term effects?

Airbnb as a company has experienced a massive financial hit during the pandemic. It’s seen tens of thousands of canceled reservations and plummeting revenue. Revenue for Airbnb this year will reportedly be less than half of what it earned in 2019 and in early May Airbnb announced that they had to lay off around 25% of its employees, which is roughly 1,900 people out of its 7,500 workforce.

Borders restrictions around the world appear like they will be in place until a vaccine is in place, which could be 12 – 18 months away. Airbnb definitely won’t be disappearing, but this will definitely be a difficult period for short term accommodation.

Looking forward

There are already small promising signs coming through in the Airbnb market. As of early May, we are already receiving more “normal bookings” of 3 – 5 days for people looking to get out of their home for a break or visit people once New Zealand enters level two.

As mentioned earlier, with border restrictions set to stay in place for some time kiwis will look to holiday in their own backyard. This will bring a much-needed boost to the economy and to Airbnb hosts. A significant number of hosts that did not see the long term benefit of sticking through these tough times, or simply weren’t able to survive the financial storm have exited the Airbnb market by either looking for long term tenants or selling their properties. So there will be much less competition out on the platform.
The market won’t recover overnight, and the nightly rates will take time to climb back up to the lofty heights we were experiencing prior to this pandemic. But occupancy will continue to climb and guests will still be needing accommodation whether for business or pleasure. We expect renting your investment property through Airbnb will still continue to offer financial rewards and peace of mind for years to come.