Erskine Berry’s impressive career history has seen him running a company before deciding to complete a Business MBA to cement what he had already learnt. Erskine then started working in hospitality, learning about operations and management, before going on to become General Manager at Under the Doormat, a short let business, at a time when short let was a new concept, and building the company from scratch. He joined City Relay in 2019 to bring his knowledge and experience to a growing team.
We sat down to go behind the scenes with Erskine about his journey so far with City Relay.
1. Tell us about your role at City Relay.
I’m currently the Operations Director at City Relay. I started off as Head of B2B and my job was to create a B2B service where we were offering operations solutions to other short let providers – everything from housekeeping and maintenance to check ins and out of hours support. We then started whitelabelling these services on behalf of other companies, which was a new proposition that required us to go out into the market, building new relationships and building on existing relationships.
We built the business up over my first year, which took us up to early 2020, the beginning of Covid, meaning we went through a transitional period as everything was changing. It was a tricky time for everyone but we also gained new clients who realised that they could cut their overheads by having a leaner operational structure if they outsourced their operations to us. So, here we are now in April 2021, coming out of lockdown with a lot more properties under management with our B2B contracts and activity picking up again.
2. What do you enjoy the most about working at City Relay?
Since day one, it’s always been the people. When I first met Maxime and the team, I was immediately struck by the energy and the focus of everyone involved. I had never been in a company which had such a strong team ethic where everyone was supporting each other and driving towards a communal goal. It was completely different to anything I’d experienced before, which is what really appealed to me and made me want to come and work for City Relay.
3. 2020 was a tough year for everyone with various lockdowns and travel restrictions and 2021 has started in similar fashion. How has the coronavirus pandemic affected landlords and the property industry in general?
It’s been a transformative year in terms of hospitality and travel. The levels of activity reduced substantially, bookings were down and the number of landlords who wanted to list their properties were down. However, we are starting to see recovery this year. London is one of the leading cities in the world, so will forever be an attraction and the tourist market will recover here strongly.
I think the business travel market will be changed permanently in terms of efficiency, as video calls can be made instead of unnecessary travel. However, this will also mean that people can travel for longer periods of time and work from cities all over the world, which is exciting and evolving. Over time, we will learn if this is a long term trend but the average length of stay has increased and is continuing to increase. We’ll see less short stays of a day or two and more stays of around 2 weeks, with people committing to travel and packing more into their trips, whether for business or leisure.
In terms of landlords, many who were short let have switched to long let because although that gives them decreased monthly income, they get potentially more sustainable and higher occupancy. I think landlords are going to start to adapt again to short and mid lets because they will want to return to the higher yield of short lets as guest demand recovers. It’s really driven by guest demand, so timing will be critical but the signs are positive for landlords.
4. As we slowly come out of lockdown in the UK, what are your predictions for the rest of 2021 within the letting industry?
2021 will continue to be a bumpy ride, with challenges from last minute travel restrictions and Covid flare-ups in specific areas. However, I think the domestic UK market can be more confident now with Covid cases being down, meaning people living in rural areas in the UK can more safely travel to London. I don’t think we’ll see the types of returns of 2019 until 2022, once we’ve got more global vaccine cover and travel is more reliable, allowing people to book more confidently from January 2022.
5. What is the biggest concern from landlords when letting their property and how does City Relay help landlords with this?
In regards to landlords dealing with short and mid lets, consistency of revenue is often the biggest concern, especially now as we come out of Covid but that confidence is increasingly coming back. The numbers will do the talking, so when the bookings come in, that’s when landlords will feel most confident and reassured.
City Relay is always open and transparent about the market and what can be achieved in terms of income and yield. We always aim to surpass expectations and in that way, we can build trust and loyalty with the landlords. The best thing we can continue to do to address landlords’ concerns is to offer a 5 star service to both residents and landlords, taking every opportunity to maximise bookings and deliver them to the highest of standards.
6. What is the best advice you would give to landlords who are considering taking up City Relay’s services this year?
The best advice is to get in touch now. This is your opportunity to get your property live ahead of what I suspect to be a last minute booking opportunity for summer, especially as the number of Covid cases continue to come down. The opportunity to get your property listed now and capture the first wave of bookings would be great, after which we can work together to devise a schedule with short, mid and long lets which will work for you in the year ahead, getting your viewings and bookings underway as soon as possible.
Ultimately, the more availability you have in advance of someone looking to book, the more chance you have of securing those bookings, so contact us now and we can have an open conversation about how City Relay can help you.