Despite all of the recent disruptions from Covid-19, some of the country’s biggest senior living providers are still logging web traffic above pre-pandemic levels— good news for an industry anxiously awaiting what the coming months will bring.
That’s according to BMO Capital Markets analysts Juan Sanabria and John Kim, who analyzed SimilarWeb website data 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 note to investors.
Since the start of the pandemic, operators across the industry have reported higher than typical web traffic, likely as a byproduct of the pandemic and its restrictions on normal life, and providers’ shifts toward digital channels. One unknown was whether the recent surge in Covid-19 cases driven by the emergence of the delta variant would put a damper on demand heading into 2022. But BMO’s analysis shows web traffic remains firmly above 2019 levels — even as it slowed down in August — giving Kim and Sanabria confidence that the recent disruptions have not sent senior living demand careening off a cliff.
“Given the needs-based nature of demand, we see any impact from the Delta variant as temporary, with seniors likely just postponing entry into communities,” they wrote. “We remain constructive on senior housing with a view towards the long term.”
Stable web traffic
In general, web traffic among APFM, Atria, Holiday, Brookdale and Sunrise was stable, and helped to highlight the resiliency of the industry’s needs-based demand, according to the BMO analysis.
“For select the REIT operators [Atria, Brookdale, and Sunrise], July and August web traffic grew 23.2%, year-over-year, [and] A Place for Mom traffic grew 4.8%,” the analysts’ note reads. “Importantly, average August web traffic remains above 2019 levels (37% on average) despite the delta variant.”
Sunrise attributed its uptick in interest from consumers in part to its decision in March to mandate the Covid-19 vaccine for employees. That has been a “differentiator” with prospects and their families, according to CEO Jack Callison.
“Over the past few months, we identified new online advertising channels to share this important messaging to drive awareness, which has garnered success, and continue to remain focused on all aspects of the customer experience to include supporting families as they learn more about senior living options and connect with our sales team digitally,” Callison told Senior Housing News in a statement.
BMO’s Sanabria and Kim also noted that operators and APFM “appear to be spending more on paid searches to drive traffic, in a sign of a potential impact from the Delta variant.” Holiday — which was acquired earlier this year by Atria — bucked that trend, however, and the analysts noted that the operator has seen more organic web traffic.
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Brookdale was an outlier in that its web traffic was down about 9% in August versus the same period in 2019. However, the nation’s largest operator is still pulling in web traffic at levels 30% higher than August 2020.
“Brookdale appears to be more aggressive than peers driving customer web traffic into its sales funnel,” the analysts wrote. “This may be driven by a more cautious stance in 2020.”
Brookdale is still continuing to add occupancy, though those census gains have slowed in recent months, particularly in areas where the delta variant is spreading the fastest. And that is a trend other senior living providers could also see ahead.
“Despite firm web traffic, we continue to expect a modest temporary deceleration in sequential occupancy growth from the Delta variant,” the analysts’ note reads.
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 consistent throughout recent months, save for a recent dip at Sunrise that may prove to be an “anomaly.”
BMO’s SimilarWeb data analysis also helped illustrate recent trends in senior living seasonality. Web traffic over the past two years has ticked up in June and July, dropped off sequentially in August, and then risen again in October before falling off toward the end of the year.
“However, we caution it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions on seasonality given the constantly ebbing and flowing of Covid-19 cases over the past 18+ months,” BMO’s Sanabria and Kim wrote.