Meet the Airbnb 'superhosts' revelling in the Great British Staycation

Coronavirus has been disastrous for the travel industry - but these Britons are bucking the trend

'Superhost' Kirsty Merrett has been inundated with requests to stay at her colouful Margate Airbnb

Confined to their homes for months as Covid-19 infected every part of day-to-day life, Britons pined all the more this year for a summer holiday abroad.

As the peak season loomed, however, the occasional glimmers of hope that they might be able to jet off to their favourite sunnier climes too often dimmed as much of the world remained closed.

Now, however, even as lockdown measures ease, countries across Europe reopen their borders and flights resume, many are eschewing the traditional summer rush for the beaches of the south of France or Spain.

At least for 2020, Britons are staying put. Instead of looking overseas, they're turning their attention to domestic travel brochures and websites.

The beleaguered home rental giant Airbnb and holiday lets across the land have been the grateful beneficiaries of tourists’ fears and confusion over changing international restrictions and travel advice, falling disposable incomes and general unease about the future.

Mere months ago, Airbnb – and the hundreds of thousands of owners who use the platform to rent out their properties - looked like becoming just another commercial coronavirus casualty. A flurry of bookings, however, has caused a remarkable resurgence in the fortunes of the online rental company.

One of those to benefit from the soaring interest is Kirsty Merrett, a fashion and lifestyle blogger who owns an Airbnb property in Margate, a coastal town around 70 miles south-east of London. Ms Merrett is also what is known as a "Superhost", an accolade awarded to Airbnb's best and most trusted users.

Margate Airbnb 'superhost' sees bookings go crazy 

In many ways, her 1960s apartment is ideal for the new era of socially distanced, hygiene-conscious travel. It has a separate front door, as well as a living room, toilet and terrace, and a cleaner.

“It’s been really busy,” she said. “We always have a good July and we always have a good August, but it just instantly has been crazy.”

Hard-worked, young Londoners employed in the creative industry are a typical guest. This year, they have shown a much greater appreciation for being outdoors after months on end locked up inside.

“I think people have valued the fact that we’ve got the terrace, so that’s nice,” Ms Merrett said.

Her hope is that the surge will continue and that Britons are able to better appreciate what they have within their own borders.

Who knows? It might give rise to that rare phenomenon: The Great British Staycation.

Kirsty Merrett's Margate Airbnb doesn't deal in the drab

In the meantime, the current bookings seem to favour rural or coastal areas rather than the cities. In an assessment of the global Airbnb situation in June, the online rental company’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, commented that people were tired of being cooped up.

“People, after having been stuck in their homes for a few months, do want to get out of their houses; that’s really, really clear,” Mr Chesky said.

“But they don’t necessarily want to get on an aircraft - and are not yet comfortable leaving their countries.”

Optimism tinged with second wave caution

While for now the outlook is brighter, the pain of the past few months has made many in the industry cautious about what they recognise as an uncertain future in the pandemic.

Even Juliette Bridger, another “Superhost” who runs The Little Cabin by the Lake in rural East Sussex, has her fears. Since reopening on July 4, bookings have flooded in for the woodland cabin with the near perfect score on Airbnb after more than 250 reviews. It now has no availability for three months.

Ms Bridger said that she had been deeply concerned at the start of lockdown but that financial support from the government had helped.

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Of course, there's a risk that things could easily slump again if new lockdowns are implemented

Despite the aid, the steady bookings and the remote cabin’s perfect location for social distancing, Ms Bridger still worries about what will happen in the coming months.

“If it had gone on any longer, we would have certainly felt the pain financially,” she said.

“Of course, there’s a risk that things could easily slump again if new lockdowns are implemented. We seem to get a lot of bookings from Londoners and I know there’s talk there of localised lockdown as cases increase.

"I know we wouldn't survive if it happens again like it has without government help. I think every business is on tenterhooks waiting to see what happens. It's inevitable that there will be effects on our business to some extent," she said.

Scots reluctant to book

For Anne Nicolson in the Scottish Highlands, the situation is perhaps even more unclear. She owns the Carn A Chuilinn, a large detached house in Fort Augustus, close to the famous Loch Ness, in a region of Scotland reliant on tourism.

For four years, she had run it as a bed and breakfast on Airbnb but this week reopened Carn A Chuilinn as a self-catered property.

Ms Nicolson admitted that she fears for the future, saying that recent Covid-19 outbreaks in parts of Scotland had left would-be guests more wary about booking holidays. Any such reluctance simply compounds the crucial income missed out on from Spring and the early Summer.

“The thing is, this area is quiet in January and February anyway, the highlands of Scotland. It starts in April time really,” Ms Nicholson said.

“I don’t think anyone knows really,” she said, echoing the uncertainty of many owners. “If there’re more lockdowns, then we’re all in the same boat.”

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