Alabama’s tourism economy is getting a boost from Florida’s continued shutdown of vacation rentals as travelers who are unable to stay in vacation homes in the Florida Panhandle cross the state line for their beach vacations.
Last week, adjusted paid occupancy on the Alabama Gulf Coast increased 54 percent year over year, while Florida vacation rental businesses lost almost 80 percent of their bookings due to continued government restrictions on leisure travel in short-term rentals, according to data provided by Key Data.
May 2020 Adjusted Occupancy Year Over Year for Vacation Rentals in the Florida Panhandle and AL Gulf Coast, as of May 15
“We are seeing short stays and last minute bookings,” Alabama-based Meyer Vacation Rentals president Michelle Hodges said during the recent Skift Forum on Short-term Rentals, “For us the (Alabama/Florida) state line is almost seamless, so it’s an interesting dynamic . . . we are picking up people who don’t want to give up their vacation and can’t get into their Florida property.”
Jason Sprenkle, cofounder of Florida-based 360 Blue Vacation Rentals and CEO at Key Data Dashboard, “We were in this ‘we’re all in this together’ phase, and now we are in the ‘haves and have nots’ phase.”
“You see some states that are making a full recovery while others are left out, and the recovery is not being driven by demand; it’s being driven by government regulation,” Sprenkle continued. “For example, the demand in the (FL) panhandle has been at least as strong as the demand in Alabama, but they were able to experience the recovery, and in Florida, we were not.”
Here is a look at how reservation activity was affected from March 1 through May 15.
Vacation rental companies in Florida have been reaching out to Governor Ron DeSantis with pleas to reopen vacation rentals. DeSantis shut down short-term rentals in an executive order in March while keeping B&Bs, timeshares, motels, resorts, and hotels open. On Friday, the governor provided his reasoning for the first time, saying, “Some of them (vacation rental companies) are upset because we never shut down hotels in Florida. But part of the thing is I’ve got all these national guard that I have to put up— I’ve got other people I’ve got to put up. So we needed to have an ability to have hotels–it’s a little bit different situation.”
Looking forward, Alabama’s early-mover advantage lasts through the latter half of June as the average booking window has decreased significantly due to COVID-19’s impact on traveler behavior.
Alabama’s vacation rentals are not the only beneficiary of DeSantis’ short-term rental shutdown. Florida’s hotels in the panhandle are also benefiting. As of May 16, only one Panama City Beach 2.5-star hotel showed availability for the weekend, and this non-beachfront budget hotel was priced at $359 per night.
Vacation rental professionals expected DeSantis to open vacation rentals on Friday. Instead the governor said counties could submit plans for reopening, saying, “What we are doing is telling counties, if you want short-term rentals, you request it to be authorized through the state and provide your safety plan. If you tell me you’re going to rent ’em out to people from NYC, I’m probably not going to approve that, okay? If you’re saying that you are going to rent it out to people in other parts of FL or something that would be manageable, or if there are ways in there that clearly you have an eye on safety, then I’m fine.”
Some counties have already submitted their plans to the state while others are expected to send theirs on Monday. All counties are hoping to be open in time to take bookings for Memorial Day Weekend which kicks off in less than a week.
Sprenkle added, “People are sitting outside waiting come in, but the destinations that unlock the doors first are reaping the benefits.”