When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, it seemed like nobody knew quite how to react. But as various hotspots emerged and the crisis escalated, the CDC decided to get proactive by recommending a 14-day quarantine for travelers returning from overseas trips or even crossing state lines. But in August, the CDC walked back that recommendation, advising travelers to instead revert to state and local guidelines.
Now to be clear, quarantine mandates still exist at the state level. In Connecticut, for example, out-of-state travelers from COVID-19 hotspots will need to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. But the CDC is no longer imposing the same universal quarantine guidelines, and that could spell relief for real estate investors -- particularly those who own vacation homes or have money tied up in hotels.
Travel has taken a beating
The travel industry has been understandably hard-hit in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the week ending Aug. 29, U.S. travel spending totaled $13 billion, which is a 43% drop below the previous year's levels. Meanwhile, 65% of hotels are operating at or below 50% capacity, and as of August, only 33% of Americans had traveled for leisure or vacation purposes since March.
Vacation property owners have felt the pain, too. Many travelers have had to cancel their plans due to COVID-19-related restrictions, leaving Airbnb and VRBO hosts to grapple with widespread cancellations.
But now that the CDC has changed its tune, things might take a turn for the more profitable. If travelers no longer have to worry as much about quarantining, they may be more apt to book short-term hotel stays, thereby pumping revenue into properties that are truly desperate for it.
Vacation property owners can benefit as well. Though there was a surge in rural bookings at one point during the pandemic, city rentals have taken a hit. But with the CDC's quarantine recommendation removed, travelers may be more willing to broaden their horizons and get a much-needed change of scenery.
In fact, individual property owners might actually fare better in the coming weeks since they offer one key benefit over hotels: privacy. Hotel settings still open the door to health concerns due to shared spaces like lobbies, swimming pools, and elevators. Renting a private home may, at this point, be a much more comforting prospect. Also, rental homes are often preferable for traveling families who may not enjoy the idea of cramming into a hotel room. And with so many schools conducting all of their classes online to kick off the 2020-2021 academic year, families may have more flexibility to travel this fall, especially if they don't need to be as concerned with quarantining.
Of course, it will likely be quite some time until U.S. travel returns to its previous levels, so for now, investors in hotels and vacation homes may need to sit tight and wait for things to pick back up. But a less stringent set of rules on behalf of the CDC could open the door to additional travel -- and revenue -- to close out what's clearly been a brutal year.