Gov. Ron DeSantis should reopen short-term vacation rentals, like, yesterday.
Hear me out.
This is not a question about whether the state should ease its restrictions on outside travel, particularly from hotbeds where the novel coronavirus is prevalent.
Those restrictions are prudent and smart, but they can be implemented and enforced without closing a major industry in the Florida economy.
Throughout the economic closures and restrictions, hotels have been allowed to remain open despite the fact that they present a greater risk of spreading the virus than much smaller vacation rentals. Potentially hundreds of people pass through shared space at hotels, but vacation rentals like Airbnb and HomeAway, are most often single occupancy where social distancing is easier and cross contamination of germs less likely.
Consider also that the need for room stays, whether in hotels or short-term rentals, has reduced exponentially due to the virus. People simply aren’t traveling because, where would they go?
Theme parks are closed. The cruise industry is shut down. Up until recently, most Florida beaches were shuttered and even now are open for limited use. Many of the amenities that make up the appeal for booking a room have been unavailable like pools, gyms, spa services and room service.
Largely, none of that applies to vacation rentals. If they have amenities that would be shared and, thus, unavailable at a multiple-occupancy hotel, they’re for single use and can easily be sterilized in between stays, ensuring safe operating and adherence to CDC recommendations.
Not to mention, one of the biggest sectors at this time for Florida room nights remains health care workers and first responders who are traveling to offer care in areas with high-demand. These workers are either looking for accommodations to work outside their home area or are looking for a place to stay to shelter away from their families in the interest of keeping them safe.
A vacation rental is far safer for these individuals, and the overall public, than a hotel where shared space is inevitable.
The case for opening vacation rentals is not only obvious — if hotels can remain open, why not vacation rentals? — it’s economically prudent.
Take areas like the Panhandle. Thanks to Hurricane Michael and its devastating wrath, few hotels are available. The industry relies heavily on vacation rentals, which is still reeling from the hurricane and is made only worse by the pandemic. Rep. Jayer Williamson, who represents the Pensacola area, and Congressman Matt Gaetz, whose district includes most of the Panhandle, have both called for vacation rentals to reopen.
Airbnb is obviously calling for reopening, but so too are Florida Realtors, Expedia (which owns HomeAway and VRBO) and the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association (FVRMA.)
“This affects property owners, property managers, support staff, and maintenance personnel whose small businesses often make up the backbone of their local communities and provide employment to a large percentage of Florida’s population,” FVRMA wrote in a change.org petition calling for reopening, which has garnered more than 20,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
Vacation rental owners and managers aren’t interested in bunking social distancing standards in the interest of their bottom line. They, like other businesses clamoring to reopen, are ready to do so under increased scrutiny and regulation.
However, it makes little sense to keep them shuttered when hotels, many of which remain closed because they can’t attract the numbers they need to viably stay open, are allowed to continue booking rooms.
Maintaining the executive order closing vacation rentals is not only shortsighted, it picks winners and losers in the hospitality industry with no rhyme or reason.
I appreciate Gov. Desantis’ prudence and caution in his progressive approach to reopening the economy and his careful balance of economy and public health, but continuing to close vacation rentals when the same standard does not apply to high-occupancy hotels is just silly.
Lift the ban, Governor. An entire industry is waiting.