In April of 2019, I was putting the final touches on my rental house in Prince Edward County to re-open it for the season. It is available for rent year-round, though it is booked sparingly in the winter months when the lake is ice cold and travellers are weary of heavy snowfall and long drives. April to September marks the beginning to end of the main season, with a peak in July and August.
In mid-February, 2020, on a terribly cold and windy day, I made my way up to the house to meet with contractors about tidying up the landscaping in the front and back yards. Each year I allot a budget to renovations and improvements, and last year the amount I had set aside for curb appeal was quickly dissolved by the sudden need for a new stove. I was eager to get the landscaping booked this spring.
2 of 4 local contractors showed up for their appointments, and with each, I discussed ideas for flower beds, hedges, and adding some privacy to our corner lot backyard.
But just a couple weeks later, the world faced a huge and unexpected obstacle – COVID-19. I started to wonder what I should do about my existing bookings, if AirBnB would penalize me for cancelling reservations, whether I should cancel my home improvements for the year, whether guests would still expect to visit The County and many other details. Should I block the calendar? Will this all be over in a couple of weeks? What do I tell the property manager and cleaner?
It is difficult to plan long-term when you feel like you’re living one day at a time. I felt anxious and had a hard time focussing on work for the first couple of weeks. We had guests leave the house once the US government announced they were closing their borders, and the house had to be sanitized and cleaned out after leaving it to sit in quarantine for several days. All around, this was an uncomfortable experience.
Shortly after, the local government announced that rental accommodations should be turning away guests and cancelling bookings up to the May long weekend, and Airbnb introduced a new cancellation policy specifically due to COVID-19. Bookings were cancelled, and hosts were allowed to cancel guest reservations without any penalty. They also informed users that they would be selecting hosts to be interviewed for potential compensation, however, I have yet to hear anything from them on that front.
As a vacation rental operator, what does the future look like for my business? This is what I have been asking myself for the last 6 weeks. What I decided was that I need to make the best of a challenging situation.
This year probably won’t be the year I tidy up the curb appeal of the property, as much as I was looking forward to it. But I can use the time to make other adjustments; replacing worn linens, kitchen items, and doing smaller repairs or tweaks that I would not have had time for if the season kicked off as usual. I will also take this time to add more personality to the house, perhaps with a mural inside, and likely with refreshed artwork in the main living space.
The virus will undoubtedly have an impact on how we manage cleaning going forward, with extra emphasis on sanitizing high touch surfaces such as doorknobs and handles.
For now, all I can do is take the opportunity to make smaller improvements on the house and on my advertising of the listing while I wait for tourism to resume.
I am grateful that this is temporary and that the local government in the county put measures in place early enough to lessen the spread of the virus. And I can look forward to busy seasons to come while enjoying this brief period of quiet.
How will your vacation plans be affected? Let us know in the comments.
Freelance writer and photographer living in Toronto. She is the author and photographer of two cookbooks, Everyone’s Welcome (2019) and Allergen-Free Desserts (2015).