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Short-term rentals weathered COVID-19 better than hotels, data firms say

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Short-term rentals weathered COVID-19 better than hotels, data firms say

Short-term rentals have recovered their occupancy and pricing faster than hotels in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the U.S., as business travel dried up and vacationers gravitated to lodgings where they could minimize human contact.

In hotels in 27 key markets worldwide, occupancy declined by an average of 77% from the week of March 31, 2019, to the low point of the pandemic, data providers STR and AirDNA said in a report. In contrast, occupancy in "hotel-comparable" short-term rentals fell 45%, and occupancy in rentals of two bedrooms or more fell 46%.

Over similar time frames, average daily rates fell the most in urban hotels, with 53% declines, compared with 46% in regionally oriented hotels, 12% in urban and regional hotel-comparable short-term rentals, 8% in urban short-term rentals and only 3% in regional short-term rentals.

As of late June, occupancy in hotels across the 27 markets stood at 39.2%, while occupancy was 58.2% in hotel-comparable short-term rentals and 61.4% in larger short-term rentals.

"It definitely looks like the recovery for hotels in the U.S. has stalled," STR Managing Director Robin Rossmann said during a webinar, noting that revenue per available room is now roughly 55% to 60% below year-ago levels, after improving to 50% below year-ago levels in early July. The decline "definitely is a warning sign to all of us around how fragile this recovery can be," he added.

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Part of the relative strength in short-term rentals, which travelers book through internet sites operated by Airbnb Inc., Expedia Group Inc., Booking Holdings Inc. and others, stems from timing: Summer, when many families rent vacation houses, is the peak season for such rentals, AirDNA CEO Scott Shatford said during the webinar.

Despite a "massive" decline in short-term rental bookings in March, to about 700,000 worldwide, the subsequent recovery in business was steeper than expected, to a peak of roughly 2.5 million bookings per week, Shatford said.

Accommodations in lake towns and on rivers and beaches outperformed 2019 as large rentals benefited from a perception of safety from the virus, he added.

"This uncertainty about interaction, touching things, people just want to be isolated in a way, want to have a controlled environment, and short-term rentals can offer that, guaranteed, more often," Shatford said. Moreover, he added, "When we look at the data, the biggest correlation that we see between markets that are doing really well and markets that aren't doing very well is how far the average person is traveling."

Hotels, meanwhile, are more dependent on business travel, especially in urban areas, and those bookings have been "absolutely decimated," Rossmann said.

With business travel largely shut down, "there is no longer a concept of a compression night anymore," he added, referring to the nights when hotels in particular markets are fullest and operators there are most able to raise rates.

As of the week ended July 11, the lowest-priced hotel classes had posted the smallest declines in revenue per available room among U.S. hotels, with the most upscale properties falling off the most, Rossmann said. Similarly, occupancy was highest in cheaper U.S. hotels, at 54.7% for economy class, compared to 32.1% for luxury.