At 3am on Monday 23rd March, the government advised that all self-catering holiday cottages be closed immediately and for the coming 12 weeks as part of the measures to contain the outbreak of Coronavirus. That three-month period includes Easter and the May Bank Holidays, so needless to say, our team knew that this meant lots of disappointed guests who would miss April’s Easter egg hunts, May’s hot tub dips, and June’s sunny lunches enjoyed in our lovely gardens.
Extraordinary times call for an extraordinary response
As a small boutique letting agency, Exmoor Character Cottages is dealing with those customers who booked directly with us quickly and painlessly. We either move their holidays to later dates or where preferred, we refund them in full. This is certainly the case for our older guests and those from overseas, who simply don’t feel comfortable choosing alternative dates.
Should the chosen new dates be more expensive, as is indeed the case for September 2020 and Easter 2021 for instance, we are not charging the difference. We understand that some national letting agents have been making surcharges to move customers’ holiday dates. Our view is that these are extraordinary times, and we need to behave in an extraordinary way to accommodate them. In normal times, of course our guests could use their travel insurance – but these are not normal times and few guests will have insurance cover for global pandemics and COVID-19.
For those guests who have booked with our external letting agents, their challenge has been quite simply getting through to the company they booked with. Unfortunately, we can’t refund the money as the contract is not with Exmoor Character Cottages, but we have been able to hold dates where alternative periods are sought while customers wait to hear back from the larger companies. We’ve also provided advice and support – we’re always just a phone call or email away.
No-quibble £50 deposit– The Exmoor Character Cottage 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, and if you know where you want to be, surely it makes sense to reserve ahead? So, we have introduced a £50 fully refundable deposit for anyone booking with us during the lockdown for later this year or 2021. That way, people who want to holiday with us can reserve their dates cheaply and without risk. Should they not be able to travel because of Coronavirus and government restrictions, we will refund the £50.
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 year. The larger letting agents may offer reassurance and guarantees in normal times, but 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. I’m pleased to say our third-party letting agents have behaved as I’d hope they would in terms of offering alternative dates, but few are offering full refunds like us. It’s just better to book direct.
Rest assured that The Oval in Dunster, Pilgrim Corner, The Old Sweet Shop and Stone Barn will be ready and waiting to welcome you and your friends and family whenever the travel restrictions lift. 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 & June, Karen and Mark, Sofi, Lynne and David who have been amazing during this time.
And finally, to thank all our guests for their message of support, understanding and kindness – we have been truly touched to read them.
We look forward to seeing you again. Until then, stay safe, and stay home.