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Vacation rental demand has gone crazy. Here’s how you can still get a deal


Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN

Business was already booming for the vacation rental market before the pandemic, but interest has skyrocketed in the past year.

The global vacation rental market size is expected to reach $113.9 billion by 2027, according to a report by Grand View Research.

Back in March, Jeff Hurst, president of Vrbo, which was founded in 1995 as Vacation Rentals By Owner, told CNN Business that the company was having the most successful start to a year in the US for 25 years.

In fact, vacation rentals have proved to be such a draw that Netflix has just launched a new series devoted to exploring some of the best.

“The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” puts the spotlight on some of the most unique vacation rentals, with Luis D. Ortiz, who also fronts US reality show “Million Dollar Listing” and vloggers Megan Batoon and Jo Franco competing against each other to seek out some of the best.

Travel influencer Franco, one half of popular YouTube duo “Damon and Jo,” says she’s always favored vacation rentals over hotels as they allow travelers to live “inside the culture” of the destination they’re visiting and offer more flexibility.

Big demand

“I think vacation rentals give people more of a customization option,” the Brazilian born vlogger tells CNN Travel.

“There are some spectacular hotels, but it really depends on the kind of trip that you want to take. Hotels are designed for tourists, but vacation rentals are designed for travelers.

“They [vacation rentals] can be in the middle of local communities, and that’s a beautiful thing if you’re going with plans to learn, explore and meet the locals.”

“The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” follows the trio as they travel to 24 different rentals, including an igloo in Finland, a Hawaiian cabin with its own private waterfall and a snake-shaped apartment in Mexico City.

Unsurprisingly many of the vacation rentals featured have experienced a surge in bookings since the eight-episode series dropped in mid-June, with fans sending Franco and her co-hosts screenshots of their reservations.

“I live for memories and funny stories, so the igloo sticks out to me,” admits Franco.”Sleeping in an igloo was absurd. It was probably the most uncomfortable sleep, but the most memorable.

“And Finland in the wintertime was something out of a storybook. It was magical.”

For Franco, it was hugely important that the show included affordable properties, such as a $24 a night property in Ubud, Bali, as well as more luxurious options like a private island in the Bahamas.

Budget friendly options

The 28-year-old, whose family moved from Brazil to the US when she was a child, had little money to pursue her passion for travel in her younger years, but managed to find ways around this by working in hostels in exchange for free or discounted accommodation and traveling around the US on buses.

“A lot of shows make it seem like it [travel] is all about multi-million dollar mansions and that’s not the case,” she explains. “You can always find something in your budget.”

For those keen to keep costs as low as possible, Franco recommends going for vacation rentals that are slightly further out, as they tend to be cheaper, and also force travelers to explore lesser known areas and get on public transportation.

“Obviously verify that it’s safe — make sure safety is top priority. But there are always these pockets of places that people don’t know about yet, and those are the cheaper reservations, the ones that you have to commute a little bit.

“I call those commuter stays. Meet the locals, ask them questions, be curious, because you might find out some history or facts that you would have never ever had access to before.”

According to Airbnb, cabins are the number one most “wishlisted unique stay type” in 2021, while there’s been an 80% increase in interest for properties with treehouse views and a 63% increase in barn views since March 2020.

The vacation rental booking company notes that users have been “looking for nontraditional stays that offer plenty of privacy and outdoor space,” due to the pandemic.

“People are really concerned about safety and want to be somewhere remote and secluded,” says Franco.

“That’s something that you can get in a vacation rental that you wouldn’t necessarily find in many hotels.”

And despite ever-changing travel restrictions and border closures, new Airbnb hosts with only one listing who’d welcomed their first guests since the start of the pandemic had already earned more than $1 billion combined in February.

Extended stays

It’s not just holidaymakers who are booking up vacation rentals. The rise in popularity of remote working due to Covid-19 means that some travelers are booking properties for longer stays that they can work and play from.

“The world is moving into this space where people are living and working in different places especially during Covid,” adds Franco.

“I think vacation rentals will play a big part in how people plan their lives. It’s going to be based on these longer term rentals.

“When I go to Greece, I rent apartments for a month, not for a weekend.”

Vacation rental platform HomeToGo has also noted that travelers are booking rentals for longer periods of time now.

“We’re also seeing that travelers are turning to vacation rentals to book out longer stays, with the average length of stay being 11 days (+14% vs. 2019) for domestic getaways,” Mahendra Roopa, Director of Product, Machine Learning and Data Science at HomeToGo said in a statement earlier this month.

“As the world starts to open up, vacationers are looking to enjoy some well-earned ‘revenge travel’ and spend time getting fully immersed in a new destination.”

Another noticeable trend is that of travelers vacationing in bigger groups and opting to rent out larger properties.

In April, vacation rental property management company TurnKey Vacation Rentals observed that demand for homes with four bedrooms or more had been more than five times higher than one bedroom homes for July, and about 60% higher than requests for two or three bedroom homes.

This is no surprise to Franco, who often advises young travelers looking to save money to consider spreading the cost of vacation rentals between larger groups.

“I’m always creative when it comes to figuring out a budget, because when I started traveling, I was sleeping in hostels with 20 other strangers,” she explains.

“With vacation rentals, you can absolutely find budget options because you can go in groups. You get to rent a house, and if you bring three friends, everybody splits the price.”

Domestic travel factor

While “The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” features properties as far afield as Bali and Mexico City, many of the standouts, such as the Alpaca Treehouse in Atlanta, Georgia, which is based within a bamboo forest, and a working cattle ranch in Montana, were much closer to home.

At present, there are over 1.3 million vacation rentals in the US and successful vaccine roll outs are helping to boost domestic travel.

Vacation rental search engine HomeToGo recently reported that search demand for domestic stays has been up by 58% this year when compared with searches prior to the pandemic, while interest in homes located in smaller towns and rural areas is also continuing to grow.

“The domestic travel boom we’re observing has turned travelers’ attention to the amazing hidden gem destinations that are available closer to home,” Caroline Burns, head of PR and travel expert for the company, said in a statement.

“There are plenty of reasons for which staycations are more appealing, from avoiding the stress of quarantines and tests, to offering convenient options for flight-free getaways.”

However, as the popularity of vacation rentals reaches an all time high, Franco stress that those less used to staying in them should be mindful of exactly what they’re signing up for.

“The number one thing is to remember that you’re going into someone else’s home, and someone else’s community, so be respectful of that,” she says.

“Be responsible travelers. Also, know the amenities that you are looking for, and ask questions before you arrive.

“If you’re going on a vacation for the only two weeks you have off, something as stupid and as simple as there not being a coffee machine can ruin your mornings if you’re me.”

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