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After being stuck inside their homes, used as COVID-19 refuges for months, many people were desperate to get out this summer despite the pandemic. At the same time, they also wanted to mitigate the risk, enjoying safety and seclusion along with a stress-relieving escape.

This is a trend that was seen throughout the season and is continuing into fall and winter, with many opting for private vacation rentals rather than hotels so they can prepare their own meals and avoid coming into contact with too many strangers from outside their “bubble.” Traditional hotels have been paying the price as data firm STR reported that for the week ending August 15, weekly hotel occupancy in the U.S. was down 30 percent from the same period in 2019. Read on to learn more about this trend and the importance of vacation rental travel insurance.

Are Vacation Rentals Safer?

Omar Rabin, the managing director of the Americas region for Guesty, a property management software for users with properties across travel sites like Booking.com and Airbnb, told CNBC that there’s been a definite move toward vacation rentals over hotels. Hotels have a much higher rate of turnover and higher volume, with many people waiting in line at check-in and check-out. That puts guests at a higher risk.

Most people feel more comfortable staying in a short-term rental like a vacation home, and those feelings are probably right according to the medical director of Cleveland’s University Hospitals Roe Green Center for Travel Medicine & Global Health, Dr. Keith Armitage. When Armitage was recently interviewed by USA Today on the safety of vacationing during COVID-19, he noted that he believes an “Airbnb or a condo would be best.” Even better, he said, is a vacation rental or Airbnb that has been empty for a couple of days. If you’ve searched for home or apartment rentals on Airbnb, you’ve probably noticed that many hosts are highlighting terms like “COVID-friendly,” “highly sanitized and clean,” etc. Some are also purposely blocking off two or three days in between stays as well, upping the safety factor even more.

Short-Term Vacation Rentals Have Bounced Back Quicker

When STR and AirDNA analyzed the performance of hotels and short-term rentals across the globe, they found short-term vacation rentals initially saw a sharp decrease in bookings, plummeting from over 2.3 million in January 2020 to 1.2 million by April 2020. But during the following months they began to rise much quicker than standard hotel bookings.

The researchers say there are several reasons for this:

  • There are more vacation rentals available in remote and/or rural vacation markets where many travelers are seeking to escape, leaving urban areas with spiking COVID-19 cases behind.
  • Shorter term vacation rentals make social distancing more feasible, with entire homes and multiple bedroom-units available to rent.
  • Vacation rentals typically have full-service amenities like kitchens, allowing guests to make their own meals while avoiding more risky dining establishments.

Sam Randall of Airbnb told local news site WGBH that searching for Cape Cod properties on the site for Fourth of July was up about 30 percent as compared to 2019 and that homeowners made over $5 million that holiday weekend, a 25 percent increase. WeNeedaVacation.com which specializes in Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard saw its website traffic drop in the spring. But when the Massachusetts’ governor began to announce reopening plans, the “site went crazy,” with an astonishing rebound resulting in numbers they’d never hit before.

Even Before the Pandemic the Vacation Rental Industry Was Experiencing a Boom

Just five years ago, vacation rental sites primarily consisted of individuals seeking to rent out a second home or extra bedroom, but it began to change quickly with the industry becoming well-established on platforms like Airbnb. In August 2019 it was reported that Airbnb was seeing use of its platform rise by about a third year-over-year.

In 2016, more than a few experts predicted the vacation industry would “topple the hotel industry,” such as VRMB noting that vacation rental brands had been seeing incredible growth. Where at one time travelers were hesitant to try an individually hosted rental, and hosts were hesitant to allow strangers to stay in their own personal space, the movement had begun and was propelling forward rapidly. The post also refers to a 2016 survey of Seattle travelers revealing that more than half of visitors wouldn’t have come to Seattle if vacation rentals weren’t an option, representing a trend that was already impacting many of the world’s top destinations.

Quick Stats: Vacation Rentals vs. Hotels

  • Worldwide hotel occupancy bottomed out at 17.5% vs. 36.4% for vacation rental properties.
  • Since the pandemic low, global vacation rental occupancy has risen 60% and the average daily rate has increased 23.2%.

Reducing Risk When Booking a Vacation Rental

While booking a vacation rental is likely to be a safer option than booking a hotel, there are some things you’ll want to consider in order to minimize the risk. It’s a good idea to monitor the COVID-19 situation at your desired destination by checking the reports on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state health department website or CovidExitStrategy.org which offers information on trends for every state, such as the rate of positive test results.

You’ll also want to check the State & Territorial Health Department Websites page which provides links to departments that include information on regulations that apply to visitors like restrictions on short-term rentals and mandatory quarantines. For example, Hawaii has imposed a 14-day quarantine for all arriving passengers, so it probably won’t make sense to book a rental there for a one-week trip where you’d be relegated to staying within the confines of your designated quarantine location.

The Importance of Travel Insurance and Buying the Right Coverage

During COVID-19, travel insurance is more important than ever, and that includes stays at a vacation rental, even if it’s within just a few hours of your home, otherwise you could be taking a big financial risk. As many rentals require full payments and/or non-refundable deposits, renters face a potentially significant loss should they need to cancel. There is a specific list of covered reasons for a cancellation, like a natural disaster such as a hurricane, a terrorist attack at the destination, or an unexpected job loss. Many plans offer trip cancellation coverage if you contract COVID-19 before your trip and an optional Cancel For Any Reason upgrade will allow you to cancel for any reason at all, such as fears or worries of COVID-19, which isn’t a standard covered reason in a travel insurance policy. While there are certain conditions for purchasing this coverage, if it is available, it’s likely to be worth the additional cost during the environment of uncertainty COVID-19 has created.

In summary, travel insurance plans may provide coverage should you, a travel companion or family member contract COVID-19 and other plan requirements are met. Coverage is not usually provided for canceling due to fear of travel. Additionally, optional Cancel For Any Reason coverage will only allow you to recoup 50% to 75% of the costs. Be sure to read all the details of the policies offered before purchasing.


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