Usually summer is the busiest time of the year for Tiare Cowan, a longtime Airbnb host in St. Augustine, Fla. But after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic in mid-March, Cowan, who rents out two units of her family’s beach home, saw a tidal wave of cancellations.
“We lost every single reservation through June over a three-week period,” Cowan says. “It was terrible.”
Vacation rentals around the world bottomed out at the beginning April as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the global economy. New bookings in the U.S. plummeted to 252,000 in the first week of April, down from 625,000 during the first week of March, according to short-term rental data tracker AirDNA.
But as cities across the globe have loosened stay-at-home orders, the vacation rental market has rebounded phenomenally. According to AirDNA, summer bookings for short-term rentals surged 127% between April 5 and May 18, reaching close to pre-COVID levels. In America, more than 807,000 bookings were made the week of May 18. Rentals near the beaches of Alabama, Georgia, Texas, and the Carolinas have seen the fastest recovery—growth in new bookings for these cities is up over 968%.
Cowan is relieved that she’s received an uptick in new reservations — and she didn’t have to reduce her rates.
The upshot? Although the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of Americans to stay cooped up in their homes for months, there are plenty of ways to get away this summer.
If you’re looking to book a rental property, experts say there are a few things you need to know.
Look for price cuts
“Right now you can get extremely good deals,” says Jasper Ribbers, co-founder of the Short-Term Rental Profit Academy, a company that helps hosts provide better hospitality experiences. “In most cities demand is still going to be significantly lower than supply,” says Ribbers, who expects discounts of up to 30% this summer.
Big cities will see the deepest price cuts, says Todd Dunlap, managing director of North America at Booking.com. “People are looking to vacation away from crowded cities,” he explains.
In turn, “cabin rentals and lake houses are in strong demand because they’re isolated, so they’re going to charge higher rates,” Ribbers says.
Overall, Airbnb hosts have dropped their daily rates by about $90 on average to $142 from $232, a recent survey by investment property exchange company IPX1031 found.
Follow the right safety precautions
Before you make a reservation, “find out what the host is doing to keep you safe,” Ribbers says. The CDC recommends a minimum 24-hour wait period between reservations. Moreover, Airbnb is asking hosts to follow enhanced cleaning procedures for COVID-19 prevention, such as the use of personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, for cleaners, as well as the use of disinfectants that are approved by regulatory authorities.
As a result, “be prepared to pay a higher cleaning fee, and don’t expect a late checkout option,” says Evelyn Badia, founder of TheHostingJourney.com, a resource for Airbnb hosts. “Also, respect the city’s rules and regulations around COVID-19,” she says. “If the town requires you to wear masks in shops, please obey by those rules.”
Dunlap recommends reading reviews from past guests. “Pay attention to any complaints about cleanliness,” he says. “That could be a hint that a host doesn’t take enough measures to clean their property in between guests.”
Drill down your criteria
Think about what your travel needs will be in light of COVID-19, Badia says. For example, “If the local restaurants are closed and you’ll need a kitchen to cook meals, find out what cooking equipment the kitchen is stocked with,” she says.
Looking to rent a house for a large group? There may be a limit of how many guests you’re allowed to have, says Badia.
Look at cancellation policies
If you haven’t made a reservation yet, make sure to find out what a host’s cancellation policy is before you book their property. Pro tip: Airbnb lets you filter your search to only look at properties with flexible cancellation policies, such as free cancellation up to 24 hours before check-in.
(FYI: Airbnb reservations made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date between March 14, 2020 and June 30, 2020, are entitled to a full refund under the company’s extenuating circumstances policy.)
Stay abreast of travel restrictions
Domestic travel is your best option. In fact, the CDC recommends Americans avoid all nonessential international travel at this time.
Once you’ve made a reservation, stay up to date on COVID-19 infection rates in your destination. If there’s a resurgence of cases in the area, you may want to cancel or postpone your trip, Dunlap says.
Consider buying travel insurance
Cancel-for-any-reason travel insurance is the best way to ensure you receive some form of compensation if you need to cancel your vacation for COVID-19 related reasons. Most cancel-for-any-reason policies cover up to 75% of your total trip cost. Before you shop around, take a look at Money's list of the Best Travel Insurance Options of 2020.