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Ontario cottage rentals already in high demand for spring and summer

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The co-founder of CottageLink Rental Management says demand for cottages this spring and summer is “unprecedented.”

Heather Bayer says the trend began last June when short-term rentals were allowed to resume operations amid the coronavirus pandemic and has shown no sign of stopping.

Read more: ‘You just take what you can’ — Demand surges for cottage rentals during coronavirus pandemic (July 2020)

Property booking sites Airbnb and Vrbo have also issued reports offering a similar outlook, with Airbnb predicting that travellers will want to stick fairly close to home and Vrbo reporting that demand for cabins increased nearly 25 per cent year-over-year.

Bayer says of the 140 properties they have, 90 per cent are already booked for the summer.

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“I hate to use the word unprecedented because I think we use it for too much, but: unprecedented. It started June the 5th last year when rentals opened up again, kept steady through the summer and, really, reservations started in September,” she told Global News.

Bayer says typically they’d see a few bookings at this time but volume would pick up in March and April, “so this is very, very early.”

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She also says that prospective vacationers don’t appear to be picky about where they’re going.

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“We’d expect normally the really popular Muskoka, Haliburton areas to be booking up first. But there is no discrimination in areas whatsoever this year. People are just saying to us, ‘What have you got? We don’t care where it is and we don’t really care what week of the summer it is. Just find us something.'”

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In a forward-looking statement in late January, Airbnb also suggested that people are flexible about where they travel, but that there is “a strong desire to avoid the crowds of popular destinations.”

“People don’t generally miss landmarks, crowded shuttles, and lines and lobbies packed with tourists,” wrote co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky.

Read more: ‘Banner year’ amid coronavirus pandemic for London, Ont.-area beach towns

While Airbnb did not provide Ontario-specific data, a spokesperson did point to insights from last summer that found that over the Labour Day long weekend, remote areas accounted for more than 30 per cent of booked trips.

In August 2020, “cabins in Canada accounted for 10 per cent of all searches — more than double the searches for apartments.”

For those who haven’t yet booked a cottage, Bayer says rental agencies will have waiting lists that you can get on. She says she expects that there will be cancellations and that more cottages will be listed for rent as time goes on.

She also suggests that vacationers ask about cancellation policies “because it can be very easy to just book something because it’s there and then have a bit of buyer’s remorse later on.” As well, she anticipates that “there’s going to be scammers around this year because of the high demand.”

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For anyone looking to rent out their place, she advises that it’s not something “you can do on a whim.”

“It is a business. It’s tough. Expectations are higher this year. You’ve got to consider things like COVID-19 cleaning. It’s much more stringent. People are expecting to walk into an absolutely pristine property that’s been fully sanitized and disinfected. So that’s something to bear in mind,” she said.

“Secondly, there’s been in the background over the last year a lot of rental regulations have come about and I’ve heard of people buying in places and then finding that they aren’t allowed to rent or they can only rent for 30 days minimum. So definitely check local bylaws and rental regulations before you consider it.”

Read more: What the COVID-19 variants could mean for masks, lockdowns and vaccines

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While Ontarians may be looking ahead to warmer weather, the pandemic should still be a consideration in any plans.

Modelling data by Ontario’s COVID-19 science and modelling advisory tables released last Thursday shows cases overall are declining, but the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., poses a “significant threat.”

Officials said the variant is likely at least 30 per cent more transmissible compared to COVID-19 and evidence out of the United Kingdom suggests there is potentially a higher chance of death.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based out of Toronto General Hospital, previously told Global News that all the same prevention and safety protocols still apply but now, more than ever, they need full compliance.

That includes mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene and sanitization, avoiding touching your face and simply staying home as much as possible.

— with files from Global News’ Nick Westoll and Rachael D’Amore.