The short-term rental business, like Airbnb and VRBO, has been hit hard by the coronavirus. When nonessential travel is down to practically nothing and you're in the travel accommodation trade, your business will suffer. Just as any enterprising business person might do in this case, however, many short-term rental operators have reinvented themselves by marketing their products as social distancing locations.
Social distancing spots
Throughout the country, short-term rental operators have been seeking a different type of vacationer to try and fill vacancies: those seeking refuge from COVID-19. Rental operators are branding their units, typically in areas outside big cities, as great places to social distance. Although Airbnb won't let hosts use the words ''COVID-19,'' ''coronavirus,'' or ''quarantine"' in a listing title, hosts can refer, in a sort of nudge-nudge-wink-wink manner, to ''social distancing,'' as in a ''Social Distancing Retreat.''
Because it's thought to be better to keep your distance from people during a pandemic, short-term rentals located in rural or suburban areas have a target market: people in cities who want some literal breathing room, as well as people in cities, suburbs, or even rural areas who have roommates or are in crowded living conditions. Other groups potentially interested in renting an out-of-the-way vacation rental are people working from home who need a larger place, people who aren't allowed to travel home, and people who are called to the area temporarily for work, such as traveling nurses.
Short-term rental owners with property within about a half-day's drive of big cities are faring the best. Hosts with such properties who market as a social distancing destination have not experienced the drop-offs in bookings their urban counterparts have.
The market is not people who actively have COVID-19. In fact, Airbnb's "Quarantine and Isolation Stays Policy" prohibits anyone who has symptoms, has been exposed to, or has tested positive for COVID-19 from checking into an Airbnb unit.
Length of stay
A typical Airbnb reservation is four to seven days. But short-term social distancing or quarantine locations are typically for at least two weeks and often longer. That provides a bonus for owners of vacation rentals: Short-term rental hosts prohibited from operating in areas that restrict stays of less than 14 days can now operate a vacation (quarantine/social distancing) rental, as long as it's for a term that meets area rules.
New cleanliness guidelines
Whatever you might think of the world's reaction to the coronavirus, public health awareness has been raised, and with that comes stricter cleaning and disinfecting procedures that guests have come to expect. If you as an investor/owner of short-term rentals want to keep your guests as safe as possible, here are some guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) you might want to follow:
- Wait 24 hours between guests.
- Clean and then disinfect surfaces. (Use soap and water or detergent to remove dirt, dust, and grime; once clean, spray with a disinfectant and wipe clean with paper towels.)
- Clean soft surfaces, such as furniture, with cleaners designed for fabrics.
- Wash linens and towels on the highest heat setting.
- Ventilate rooms.
- Offer self check-in and checkout.
- Install a keypad.
The Millionacres bottom line
Prior to March 2020, "social distancing" is not a term many people would likely have heard. (The term was bandied about during the 2006 avian flu but didn't catch on then.) "Social distancing" sounds somehow gentler than ''quarantine.'' Regardless of how short-term rentals are marketing themselves, so-called ''quarantine'' locations are a thing, at least for now. Whether they become a trend remains to be seen.