California desert vacation rentals see pandemic boom

US: The California desert regions, home to the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, are seeing a rise in vacation rental visitors, despite the fact that hotels have remained open.

Like much of the American market, many of the new bookings come from families in urban locations looking to escape to non-urban, rural destinations. According to data from Vrbo, while Los Angeles is still the number one source of travellers to the Palm Springs area, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego are all contributing significantly to the booking increase.

The average length of bookings is on the rise as well. According to local renters, houses are being booked for a few weeks at a time.

Kylee Niederhauser, founder of vacation rental company Haustay, told Desert Sun: “We get a lot of people working remotely who just want a change of scenery or a place with a pool.  We get families who have been feeling cooped up and want to get away.”

The market is still fraught with uncertainty, however, with the state of California seeing a spike of infections, triggering fears of a potential second wave. While 50 per cent of people said in June that they would travel in the autumn according to Vrbo, that number has fallen to 35.7 per cent now.

The community is also concerned about the potential of urban visitors bringing new infections into much smaller neighbourhoods. California has been enforcing a variety of limitations on rentals, including how many people are in the property and issuing fines for a lack of registration, with the threat of licence removal after three citations.

In order to ensure safety, various rental companies have added a variety of cleanliness measures. These expand on the pre-existing conditions from booking platforms, asking guests to bag their laundry before leaving and putting up cleaning costs.

Steve Niederhauser, co-founder of Haustay, added: “There’s no contact between us as managers and guests, and the kitchen is there if restaurants have restrictions or people don’t feel comfortable going to restaurants. It’s just a comfortable space that people know they can spread out and it’s their own for the time they’re there.”