Vacation rentals in huge demand among ′safety-first′ holidaymakers | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 25.06.2020
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Vacation rentals in huge demand among 'safety-first' holidaymakers

As countries gradually ease lockdown restrictions, people craving for an excursion are heading to nearby holiday homes. Go-local is the new mantra among holidaymakers seeking both safety from the coronavirus and privacy.

Holidaymakers across the world have begun embarking on vacations which looked highly improbable a few weeks back with the coronavirus wreaking havoc across the world, breathing fresh life into an industry that was brought to a standstill by COVID-19.

For many people cooped up in their homes for weeks, easing of lockdown restrictions has meant escaping to nearby vacation rentals, which are witnessing a strong surge in demand as travelers opt for destinations with more privacy. 

With a continued rise in the number of coronavirus cases sparking concerns of a second wave, holidaymakers are avoiding air travel and international destinations, and are instead driving to the countryside or small beach towns and exploring local attractions.

After several months at home, Airbnb users in Germany are keen to take a break and they don`t have to go far, an Airbnb spokesperson told DW. 

"This year, we are seeing that German travelers want to explore the areas and communities close to their home as well as visiting classic holiday destinations such as the North- and Baltic Sea coasts," the Airbnb spokesperson said, adding that the number of domestic nights booked on the platform in Germany between May 31 and June 6 was nearly 60% higher than the same period last year.

Globally, new bookings at Airbnb and Vrbo — Expedia Group's vacation rental brand — rebounded close to pre-COVID levels in the week of May 18 with 2.08 million bookings, more than double the bookings made in the week of April 5, according to AirDNA, a short-term rental data provider. New Zealand, Germany, France, US and Australia are leading the charge.

The strong demand for vacation rentals is the first sign of recovery for the global travel industry that has been battered by the coronavirus outbreak that grounded airlines, pushed hotels into bankruptcy and has led to millions of job losses.

"Whilst it may take some time to return to pre-COVID-19 levels, we know that this is a temporary situation and won't be forever," Nadine Stachel, regional manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland at Booking.com, told DW.

Booking.com's reported room nights declined by more than 100% in March, meaning the online travel agent saw more cancellations during the month than new bookings.

Going local

"Go-local" is the new mantra among holidaymakers seeking both safety from the coronavirus and privacy. Domestic accommodations accounted for 70% of Booking's total business in April compared with about 45% historically.

The trend is only likely to deal a blow to any recovery in international travel, reeling from sweeping travel restrictions put in place to check the spread of the virus. International tourist arrivals could fall by as much as 78% this year, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates.

According to a survey of users in Germany commissioned by Airbnb, three out of five respondents indicated that they were considering travelling closer to their homes. In May, most trips booked by Airbnb users in Germany were to destinations between 80 - 320 kilometers (50-200 miles) from their home, journeys that can typically be handled with one tank of fuel.

In the US, nearly half the respondents said they would prefer to stay within a day's drive for their first trip once lockdown restrictions lift. The percentage of bookings to nearby places in the US has grown from one-third of all bookings in February to over half in May, with Big Bear Lake and Palm Springs in California and Miramar and Panama City beaches in Florida among the most popular destinations.

"Beach" and "summer 2020," are the most common words in recent wish lists by Airbnb users, the surveys showed.

The more cautious travelers are preferring to camp in their own recreational vehicles, which too are enjoying a surge in demand both in the US and Europe. New registrations of recreational vehicles in Germany rose by almost 16% on year to over 14,000 vehicles in May, according to the German Caravanning Industry Association (CIVD).

"While a near-term tailwind, looking over the next few years, this trend is likely more transitory (until we have a vaccine and more travelers feel comfortable on planes)," Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note to clients.

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Hygiene top concern

Unsurprisingly, travelers are paying greater importance to cleanliness and hygiene while making their bookings. Nearly 60% of respondents in the Airbnb survey in Germany indicated that cleanliness would be a likely or very likely factor when choosing their vacation rentals and about 40% of respondents indicated that they were more likely or very likely to book accommodation with their own kitchen and washing machine.

Online platforms are calling on their hosts and partners to prominently display their cleaning, distancing and hygiene measures on their property page and introduce contactless check-in and check-out as much as possible.

"Since vacations in a holiday home are basically comparable to private living and are therefore one of the safest forms of vacation, holiday accommodation is particularly in demand right now," Aye Helsig, regional director, Central Europe at Expedia's German vacation rental brand, FeWo-direkt, told DW. "With many landlords handing over keys remotely, the family is by themselves in a holiday home and shopping is done according to the familiar rules of their home."

Lasting change

The pandemic has also brought about a change in consumer behaviour, with more and more consumers making last-minute bookings and that too for short-duration trips. Travelers are spending more time going through reams of feedback on the Internet, looking for more personalised tips for their trips. 

"It will be years before we witness the full recovery of global travel demand, and when we emerge from this global pandemic our world and our industry will undoubtedly be different," Stachel said. "We know that people will want to experience the world again, all of it, and perhaps in a more meaningful and conscious way than ever before."

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