Fewer travelers may be hitting the road right now, but among those still traveling, the top accommodation choices have shifted dramatically from a year ago.
As I wrote last week, more people are choosing vacation rentals over hotels. The change has made Airbnbs more expensive than hotels in most North American markets.
We’ve also seen a huge uptick in the percentage of travelers choosing RVs, tents, farm stays, houseboats, and other forms of lodging where social distancing is easier to control.
Enter VacationHomeRents.com, a new website that made a debut in August as soft as summer rain. Almost no one heard about it, which I suppose isn't surprising in this period of significantly diminished travel.
Although the timing of its introduction was difficult, VacationHomeRents has an advantage. It searches for travel that suits our needs in 2020.
As an aggregator (also known as a metasearch engine), VacationHomeRents.com is a super-searcher that collects results from lots of other accommodation search sites.
It doesn't stop at hotels and vacation rentals, like much of the competition. With one search, it's possible to find a wide range of novel possibilities, including floating options, four-wheeled housing, high-end specialty selections like manor houses and chateaux, plus the usual condos and hotel rooms.
The site manages to gather its unusually long list of options by gathering results from Vrbo, Booking.com, Outdoorsy, Airbnb, and several other major, but wildly varied, sites.
And the results from VacationHomeRents are solid.
A search for San Diego, for example, took me to listings for "Sunset Dream Houseboats" ($399/night), a few hostels ($29/night on average), a range of apartments (from $89 to $875 a night for a "compound"), and a spectrum of hotels from $59 to $289 a night. Those prices hold up well against what I found on other search engines for San Diego for the same time period.
When I looked for vacations in the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park, I was able to cut my costs almost in half by engaging the site's "Type of Place" filter to look for recreational vehicles. Those results started at $79/night for a stationary RV serving as base camp for me to explore the park with a rental car.
I found similarly impressive and varied options when I searched for beds in New York City; Pittsfield, Massachusetts; and Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic.
At my request, the company did an analysis of its bookings in the past two weeks. I learned that some 75% of users were planning travel for October and November—in effect, last-minute bookings. About 44% of those users sought lodgings for stays within two weeks. (This matches trends I've heard reported by other booking engines, too.)
The site's most popular destinations are not the ones we would have seen in 2019 (New York City, Orlando, and Las Vegas). Instead, travelers are heading to rural destinations. The top five right now are Big Bear Lake, California; Gatlinburg, Tennessee; Yosemite National Park, California; Ellicottville in western New York; and Truckee, California, north of Lake Tahoe.
It’s a rough time to launch a travel business. But ease of use combined with its broad search puts VacationHomeRents perfectly on trend with how people travel now.