Here we outline our “Coronavirus No Risk Protected Booking Scheme”. We believe it to be an innovative solution to the upheaval caused by COVID-19 across the global hospitality industry.
This article also shares with you:
- A brief background on how restrictions have impacted those with holiday plans.
- Exmoor Character Cottages’ immediate response to help safeguard bookings made directly with us.
- Clarification on the situation for guests who have booked through third party letting agents.
- The outline of an innovative new way of booking holiday cottages with us, our fully-refundable Coronavirus No Risk Protected Booking Scheme. We want to ensure that despite COVID-19, booking holiday cottages with us is as secure, reasonable and fair as possible.
- My personal observations regarding how certain industry operators have behaved during this pandemic.
- A commitment to all our guests that Exmoor Character Cottages will continue to act with integrity, fairness and reason.
- An assurance that guests who book directly with us have the very highest quality of customer service (well before they even unlock one of our cottage doors).
Want to read more about Exmoor Character Cottages and COVID-19?
Read about the sweeping changes we have made business-wide to ensure we are COVID-19 compliant in every way. These demonstrate that our team and guests’ safety is of utmost importance to us.
Background: COVID-19 and the accommodation industry
At 3am on Monday 23rd March, the UK Government advised that all self-catering holiday cottages close immediately and for the coming 12 weeks. This was part of the measures to contain the outbreak, and the three-month period included Easter and the May Bank Holidays.
So, needless to say, our team knew that this meant lots of disappointed guests. So many would miss April’s Easter egg hunts, May’s hot tub dips, and June’s sunny lunches in our lovely gardens. The current date for our cottages to reopen is now 4th July. This is subject to meeting certain virus-specific conditions in England.
Our response to the pandemic and its impact on reservations
As a small boutique letting agency, Exmoor Character Cottages worked quickly and painlessly with those customers who booked directly with us. We moved their holidays to later dates. Or, where preferred, we refunded them in full. We did this swiftly – in comparison to the larger letting agencies and holiday companies, many of whom failed on this point.
Thankfully, almost all those who booked direct chose to defer their dates. As a small business this was an enormous help to our cash flow. It also meant we could retain team members in paid positions. Only very few guests who booked directly ended up cancelling. They were older or from overseas, and simply didn’t feel comfortable choosing alternative dates.
No surcharge for new reservation dates
Should the chosen new dates be more expensive, as is indeed the case for September 2020 and Easter 2021, we will not charge additionally for the difference. Despite this, numerous guests offered to pay the difference, and we thank you. We understand that, in contrast, some national letting agents have been making surcharges to move customers’ holiday dates.
Extraordinary times call for an extraordinary response
Our view is that these are extraordinary times. As a result, we need to behave in an extraordinary way to accommodate them.
In normal times, of course our guests could use their travel insurance. However, these are not normal times and few guests will have insurance cover for global pandemics and COVID-19. Likewise, we also don’t have an insurance policy that covers us for the cancellations and costs during this time, but we chose to cover them.
Bookings through external letting agencies
One of the challenges facing guests who book through third parties is quite simply getting through to the booking agent. Unfortunately, we can’t refund the money as the contract is not with Exmoor Character Cottages. However, we have been able to hold dates when given alternative periods while customers wait to hear back on those deferrals.
I’m glad we’ve been able to do this where guests have contacted us. We know from reports in the media that some guests are left waiting by letting agents. As a result, when they finally do get their holiday cancellation addressed, the dates are no longer available.
COVID-19 – booking holiday cottages with us via the no-quibble ‘Protected Bookings Scheme’
During March, we realised that some guests wanted to plan for holidays in the last quarter of the year, or 2021. After all, we will all want to travel when we can to come together with friends and family. So if you know where you want to be, surely it makes sense to reserve ahead?
With this Coronavirus No Risk Protected Booking Scheme, those who want to holiday with us can reserve their dates without risk. Should they not be able to travel because of Coronavirus and Government restrictions, we will refund the sums they have paid.
Thank you to our guests for the overwhelming and positive response
The response to this has been amazing. We are almost full from early July through to October in almost all four cottages. Moreover, we already have a lot of bookings for 2021. This has been a real morale boost to all the Exmoor Character Cottages team who has continued to maintain, clean, garden, and care for these beautiful houses during our mothballed period.
Act fast, act now
One lesson I’ve learnt during this crisis is that as a small company, we can adapt fast. We make the decisions and we act quickly. We write the rule book – and we rewrite it, too. And we have the choice in how we treat our guests – many of whom have become treasured friends over the years. The larger letting agents may offer reassurance and guarantees in normal times. However, they simply haven’t been able to handle large call volumes or deal with guests on a one-on-one level and discuss their needs as we can.
Bigger isn’t always better
I’ve been monitoring how the external letting agents we use have behaved during this time. When this is over, I will be making some changes. Most surprising to me is how few receive full refunds, despite protections provided by the law. In some cases, guests tell me it is only when they kick up a fuss that they see a result. They have to recite the consumer act, complain on social media, or write to a national newspaper asking for parties to honour the refund.
We haven’t issued any ‘vouchers’, charged admin fees to change dates, or charged more money for the same dates in 2021. We might be small, but it turns out, it’s just ‘better’ to book directly. Despite coronavirus, booking holiday cottages with us directly will continue to be the best way to keep your reservation, and your deposit, secure. And remember, we will always offer broad accommodation advice and support, whether we know guests or not. I’m always just a phone call or email away.
Our beautiful holiday cottages are here waiting for you
You can have peace of mind that The Oval in Dunster, Pilgrim Corner, The Old Sweet Shop and Stone Barn can’t wait to welcome you. All our cottages are ready and waiting for you, your friends and family whenever the travel restrictions lift. We trust that our Coronavirus No Risk Protected Booking Scheme gives you confidence and assurance to make plans for your future holidays.
Thank you to all the team at Exmoor Character Cottages
I’m lucky to have the most fabulous, dedicated team who are looking after the properties, so they are here ready for your Happy Holidays. So now is the time for me to say thank you to Steve and June, Karen and Mark, Sofi, Lynne, David and Jeni. They have all been amazing during this time.
In conclusion, thank you to all our guests – our friends – for their messages of support, understanding and kindness – we are truly touched to read them.
We can’t wait to welcome you all again. Until then, stay safe, and stay home and #VisitExmoorLater