The modus operandi for booking vacation rentals has changed so drastically during the coronavirus pandemic that even many of us old vacation rental pros are feeling a little less confident about what the rules and restrictions are, what kind of properties are best to book, and the kinds of additional health and safety precautions we should be taking.
Despite the pandemic, or in some ways because of it, travelers are not shying away from booking vacation homes. They present a way for us to escape the confines of our own homes (which many of us are getting a bit tired of) and experience new ones—in new places—in a setting that can arguably feel like a safe and secluded getaway.
According to short-term rental data tracker AirDNA, new reservations made for vacation rentals in the United States between May 17 and June 10, 2020, were up 20 percent over the same period in 2019. AirDNA reported that the U.S. destinations seeing the biggest year-over-year increases in vacation rental bookings are beaches, mountain towns, lakeside getaways, and remote locales that are within driving distance of major cities.
Some of the most popular destinations for vacation rentals in California, for instance, are properties and cabins in and around Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Big Bear, and along the Central Coast in beach towns such as Cambria, Morro Bay, and Pismo Beach.
On the East Coast, renters are flocking to cabins in Tennessee and North Carolina, and to coastal communities in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and North Carolina, according to AirDNA.
Because of the popularity in vacation homes during the pandemic, it’s all the more important that vacation home renters travel responsibly and help to control the spread of coronavirus in the communities they visit.
Consider the risk
When booking a vacation rental, travelers should consider whether there is a high level of coronavirus transmission in the destination they are booking or coming from—the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises against traveling to or from areas where transmission levels are high. And we have already seen how transmission levels can recede and climb in a relatively short time, so keep a close watch on this.
Vacation renters should also read up on the CDC’s latest guidance about COVID-19 and what travelers can do to minimize their risk and the risk they pose to others, which includes practicing social-distancing measures when outside of the home and wearing face masks.
Attitudes and responses toward the coronavirus pandemic vary drastically from one destination to the next. While your hometown may have a stricter culture and regulations surrounding social distancing and mask wearing, the destination you plan to visit may be more relaxed—or vice versa. This could cause a coronavirus culture shock upon arrival. Ask others who are in or have visited the area recently for their personal insights so you know what to expect and so you can make an informed decision about whether it is the right vacation destination for you and your travel companions.
Know what the restrictions are
You’ll want to make sure that short-term vacation rentals are permitted in the destination you are traveling to. By now, most states have given vacation rentals the green light to operate. But the situation is very fluid, and even cities, counties, and states that have permitted accommodations to operate may suddenly scale back on whether and how businesses such as vacation rentals are allowed to operate in response to coronavirus outbreaks.
Check with the municipality (either the city or county or both) where the vacation rental is located to find out what the latest regulations are. These are often dictated by the public health department of any given jurisdiction, so that’s a good place to start.
If you plan on crossing state lines, you should also read up on the latest travel restrictions in place in each U.S. state.
For instance, there are currently no restrictions on travel to California from within the United States. But for those traveling to and within the Northeast and East Coast, you should be aware of several travel restrictions. If you’re heading to Maine (and you’re not from Vermont or New Hampshire), you’ll be asked to quarantine for 14 days on arrival or verify that you received a negative COVID-19 test result within three days prior to arriving.
If you plan to visit Massachusetts, you have to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival. New Hampshire is asking out-of-state visitors (excluding those from New England) to provide signed documentation stating you remained at home for a 14-day quarantine period before arriving in the state.
For those thinking of booking a vacation rental in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, if you’re coming from a state experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases you will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
We have compiled the latest state-by-state restrictions here, but of course always double-check in case things have changed.
Find out what is open and closed in the destination
The rules and regulations for businesses and public spaces may be different in the destination you are renting in, even if it isn’t that far from your home. They may also change from one day to the next as jurisdictions relax and tighten restrictions in response to coronavirus progress and setbacks. If you were hoping to visit a particular park, recreational area, beach, restaurant, museum, or any other venue, make sure that it is open, and check to see if reservations are required and if they are limiting capacity or operations in any way (such as only offering takeout, delivery, or outdoor dining in the case of restaurants).
Consider the type of property you are booking
If you are booking a vacation rental because you are hoping to be more isolated from other travelers, then you may want to think about whether there are shared amenities or facilities such as in a condominium complex or apartment building. If you do book into a property with shared amenities, you should check what the policy is in terms of social distancing and mask wearing in public areas, as well as in terms of access to the facilities such as the pool and gym. Ask what is open and available and whether reservation slots are needed for any shared-use spaces or amenities.
Contact the host
In a pre-COVID world, a lot of us had gotten used to instantly booking vacation rentals without touching base with the host first. But these days, getting in touch with someone before you book is crucial so that you can ask all the necessary questions you may have regarding regulations as well as health and sanitation measures that are (hopefully) being implemented in the property.
Double-check the cancellation policy
While you’ve got the host’s attention, check to see if the cancellation policy is the same as what’s stated on the listing. If the host tells you they won’t be as stringent because of the current pandemic, don’t take their word for it. The bottom line is that whatever the listing states as the cancellation policy, that will be the policy you are stuck with if you end up needing to change the booking. And if it’s a strict policy, you will likely lose money if you need to cancel or change the reservation.
Verify the cleanliness and sanitation standards
Each vacation rental company has its own policy on health and hygiene measures that are being applied to listings. In May, Airbnb gave hosts the option of enrolling in a new “Cleaning Protocol” training and certification program. Guests can identify and book accommodations where hosts or management companies have committed to the enhanced sanitation measures required by the program, including things like the use of masks and gloves by hosts and/or their cleaning crew, using proper disinfectants, and a 24-hour wait period before hosts, cleaners, or guests can enter the home after someone else has been in the property. Those who have enrolled have an “Enhanced Clean” emblem on their listing.
In May, Vrbo also released new guidelines for the enhanced cleaning and disinfection of properties. The cleaning practices that hosts have committed to are now outlined in each listing, including whether they have contactless check-in and check-out, are cleaning with disinfectant, and are ensuring a minimum one-day vacancy between guest stays.
Marriott Homes and Villas boasts that its vacation rental properties are professionally cleaned and inspected by the management companies it has partnered with. The properties themselves are also vetted and are at the higher (and pricier) end of the vacation rental spectrum.
If you are looking for something even more polished, there are several luxe vacation rental outfits that are touting their enhanced commitment to cleanliness in the wake of the pandemic. They include OneFineStay, Inspirato, Luxury Retreats (which is owned by Airbnb), and Boutique Homes, among others.
Bring your own sanitizing wipes and linens
Even the least germaphobic among us has become extremely sensitive to cleanliness during the coronavirus pandemic—and with good reason given that public health experts are still researching and making new discoveries about how exactly coronavirus spreads. We highly recommend packing some disinfectant wipes and/or spray and paper towels so that you can spray or wipe down the vacation rental property prior to settling in.
Similarly, if bringing your own towels and sheets will give you an added layer of comfort, there is no harm in bringing and using them in lieu of what’s provided.
The CDC offers guidelines on how to best clean and disinfect surfaces to improve the safety of an overnight stay outside your home.
Don’t forget to verify non-COVID safety issues
Just because we’re all a little consumed by coronavirus concerns these days doesn’t mean that all of the other safety concerns that existed pre-COVID have disappeared. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is reminding travelers who are opting for vacation rentals this year to ask if the property has smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, as well as a fire extinguisher.
When at the property, check that furniture is anchored to the wall, and for families with smaller kids and babies, check that cleaning products are locked or out of reach and that there are no potentially dangerous window-blind cords. Be aware of the dangers posed by a pool and by elevators when smaller kids are in tow, too.
Respect your surroundings
This has always been an important part of travel, but it’s become an even more critical and poignant point during the coronavirus pandemic. Wherever you are traveling to, think about the potential risks you carry with you as well as the potential benefits you can bring to the local economy—and how best to reduce that risk while also supporting the community that is hosting you.
Now, more than ever, we need to be especially cognizant of our footprint as travelers.
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