Despite all the recent Covid-19 disruptions, some of the nation’s largest retirement home providers are still seeing web traffic above pre-pandemic levels — good news for an industry that’s been anxiously awaiting what months to come will bring.
That’s according to BMO Capital Markets analysts Juan Sanabria and John Kim, who analyzed data from website SimilarWeb for A Place for Mom (APFM); Atria Senior Living and Holiday Retirement; Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD); and Sunrise Senior Living. The analysis was distributed in a Sept. 24 memo to investors.
Since the start of the pandemic, operators across the industry have reported above-average web traffic, likely due to the pandemic and its restrictions on normal life, and the shift of vendors to channels digital. An unknown was whether the recent surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the emergence of the delta variant would dampen demand heading into 2022. But BMO analysis shows web traffic remains firmly above from 2019 levels – even though it slowed in August – giving Kim and Sanabria reassurance that the recent disruptions have not driven demand for senior housing down a cliff.
“Given the nature of the needs-based demand, we consider any impact from the Delta Variant to be temporary, with older people likely only delaying entry into communities,” they wrote. “We remain constructive on senior housing with a long-term vision.”
Steady web traffic
In general, web traffic between APFM, Atria, Holiday, Brookdale and Sunrise was stable and helped highlight demand resilience based on industry needs, according to BMO analysis.
“To select FPI operators [Atria, Brookdale, and Sunrise], web traffic in July and August was up 23.2% year over year, [and] A Place for Mom traffic grew 4.8%,” the analysts’ note read. “It’s important to note that August’s average web traffic remains above 2019 levels (37% on average) despite the delta variant.”
Sunrise attributed its renewed interest from consumers in part to its decision in March to impose the Covid-19 vaccine on employees. It’s been a “differentiator” with prospects and their families, according to CEO Jack Callison.
“Over the past few months, we have identified new online advertising channels to share this important and successful awareness message, and we continue to focus on all aspects of the customer experience, including supporting families as they learn more about senior living options and connect digitally with our sales team,” Callison told Senior Housing News in a statement.
Atria’s web traffic was up 24% from what the company saw in 2019, according to metrics shared with SHN. This is noteworthy given that the company’s management portfolio is approximately 15% smaller than it was two years ago, primarily due to recent divestments of real estate investment trust Healthpeak (NYSE: PEAK) .
And moves-in driven by website traffic in 2021 increased by at least about 100% compared to 2020 and 2019, according to Atria.
BMO’s Sanabria and Kim also noted that carriers and APFM “appear to be spending more on paid search to drive traffic, indicating a potential impact of the Delta variant.” Holiday – which was acquired earlier this year by Atria – bucked that trend, however, and analysts noted that the operator has seen more organic web traffic.
Brookdale was an outlier as its web traffic was down around 9% in August compared to the same period in 2019. However, the nation’s largest operator is still attracting web traffic at levels 30% higher to those of August 2020.
“Brookdale appears to be more aggressive than its peers, driving customer web traffic into its sales funnel,” the analysts wrote. “That could be driven by a more cautious attitude in 2020.”
Brookdale continues to increase occupancy, although those census gains have slowed in recent months, particularly in areas where the delta variant is spreading fastest. And it’s a trend that other senior living providers may also see in the future.
“Despite firm web traffic, we continue to expect a modest temporary deceleration in sequential occupancy growth for the Delta variant,” the analysts’ note said.
The arrival of new users – which BMO defines as unique visitors who have not visited a website for at least three months – has remained fairly constant over the past few months, with the exception of a recent drop at Sunrise. which could turn out to be an “anomaly”.
Analysis of BMO’s SimilarWeb data also helped illustrate recent trends in the seasonality of retirement homes. Web traffic over the past two years increased in June and July, fell sequentially in August, then increased again in October before falling again towards the end of the year.
“However, we caution that it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about seasonality given the steady ebb and flow of Covid-19 cases over the past 18 months,” BMO’s Sanabria and Kim wrote.