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For More Vacationers, It's Homes Over Hotels During Pandemic

While half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty this year, industry analysts expect short-term home rentals to grow.
Posted at 8:33 AM, Feb 05, 2021

Located in the middle of the woods in Hendersonville, North Carolina sits this cozy cabin. Despite the pandemic, the owners of this short-term rental say business has been booming.

Donna Lyerly: "From July to December, we saw recording bookings."

Keith Lyerly: "As things started opening up a little, we found that people needed to get out, they needed to get away. The month of October, we were booked every day, which is not normal." 

Keith and Donna Lyerly aren't the only hosts seeing a rise in bookings. Short-term rentals outperformed hotels in dozens of markets around the world in 2020, according to industry analysts. 

Geleen Antonio — who's been traveling around the U.S. for months — says she prefers to stay in a short-term rental, because of the amount of control it gives her.

Antonio: "I do feel safer because I go through all the checklists, making sure they've cleaned everything and have had space in between visitors."

But while more and more travelers search for vacation rentals in remote, rural locations, the demand for rentals in big cities — especially ones with large numbers of COVID-19 cases — has dropped.

Christina Zima: "Pre-pandemic, I was managing 25 houses, and now I'm down to 12."

The majority of properties Christina Zima manges are located in Silicon Valley — an area that turned into something of a ghost town as tech companies transitioned to remote work — allowing residents to flee to more affordable places. 

While her clientele used to be mostly business travelers, Zima's guests now tend to be long-term renters — such as locals renovating their homes or students attending college nearby. Over the course of 2020, Zima saw her gross rental income decrease by about 60% compared to 2019. 

Zima: "Honestly, I don't see it getting better fast. I think it's going to take a while, at least for what we're doing." 

Zima says she's repeatedly run into issues with guest expectations during the pandemic.

Zima: "We get a lot of people also trying to demand that we leave the house empty for three days before they arrive. Then we're just like 'OK, I guess it's not the house for you,' because we can't survive if we have to give three free nights away with every booking. That's not going to work.  AirBnB guests aren't willing to pay a deep-clean rate. I mean, deep cleaning would be $450 dollars for a regular house. Nobody's paying that for an AirBnB where they stay maybe a week or something. But they expect it to be cleaned as if it were a deep clean." 

But the Lyerlys — who also run a short-term rental hospitality and cleaning company — say they've gotten used to people's differing standards regarding cleanliness. 

Donna Lyerly: "They're here to party. They are sick of being cooped up in their own home and they're just ready to relax and be on a vacation. And then we've got the people that are pulling the furniture out from the wall and pulling bed linens off to check mattresses."

Either way — the couple has high hopes for 2021.

Donna Lyerly: "If the activity in bookings is any indication, this will be a banner year for us because we've just got a lot more activity." 

The data backs them up. While half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty this year, industry analysts at AirDNA expect short-term rentals to become the primary lodging choice for vacationers as travelers seek more space and privacy.