In the past 20 years, we have seen the vacation rental industry change as no other industry in the history of the world. It has proven to be one of the fastest growing industries- EVER. The short-term vacation rental boom shot to new heights in 2020, but has enjoyed incredible success as it was conceived at the same time that gig economies, referral economies and consumer technology were taking hold. Then, exponential and simultaneous increases in guests and hosts have helped armor the vacation rental industry against the numerous challenges the world continues to face, with each new challenge simply creating another reason to rent a vacation home. When the 2008 economic crash hit, the higher echelon of travelers used to staying in hotels for their ski vacations in the Alps or shopping in Manhattan found it more economically sound to instead book an entire home with other friends and family. Wildfires displaced home owners and travelers to temporarily relocate to vacation homes. And then the pandemic roared onto the scene.

Many vacation rental owners and managers faced unprecedented challenges in 2020, with shut down orders prohibiting travel and guests cancelling trips in record numbers. However, here in Washington State’s Stevens Pass, we once again found our area to be a unique destination as city residents flocked away from the crowded, urban areas to the open spaces of the mountains where they could stay in single family homes, reducing the risk of exposure and contagion. Employees that were allowed to work remotely found that they could still be productive AND enjoy a scenic getaway. Families with children cooped up inside with screen time becoming the only activity were able to unplug and reconnect at a vacation rental cabin.

Now that we are (hopefully) moving out of the crisis, many are eager to return to “normal”- but what does that really mean for the vacation rental industry? I believe this industry has been changed forever as a result of COVID. The way property managers deal with homes and the guests who stay there has been altered. The travel habits and preferences of the population in general has changed too.

For travelers, an entire new population has been exposed and turned on to the benefits of staying at a vacation home, and it is doubtful many of them will be eager to return to expensive and cramped hotel rooms for their trips. They are also certain to share their experiences with friends and family that haven’t yet crossed over- and we know that first hand referrals are a sure way to create new clients. The collective experience of the pandemic has also led many of us to re-evaluate priorities where hiking or white water rafting together as a family becomes more valuable than a resort-style trip filled with consumption and lacking in togetherness. Add in the new population of remote workers, and clearly the number of guests looking to stay in vacation homes will, once again, increase exponentially.

Many of those remote workers are deciding to purchase their own vacation home, and as we all know, the best way to offset that expense is to offer it as a short-term rental in between their own stays. Mountain cabins are the perfect home office for our Pacific Northwesterners. We believe that an investment in a vacation rental is not only an investment in mental health – offering an escape to the peace and solitude of the mountains, but also a solid financial investment. The Cascades were recently identified as one place ripe for vacation rental investment.

As managers, we heard many heartbreaking stories over the past few years about financial losses due to non-refundable weddings, plane tickets, lost jobs and sadly, lost loved ones. Tree Line Rentals refunded 100% for all reservations cancelled, maintaining our ethos of ‘people before profits’. We were able to make personal connection with our guests and owners during a difficult time, reinforcing our belief that live, local hosts making human connections to create memorable experiences is the best way to operate in our rural communities, and the best way to move humanity forward to a better place for everyone. We have already seen the returns on this investment: we’ve had dozens of referrals from our guests that had to cancel, many rebooked for safer times to travel, and word spread that we truly care about our guests and community. Larger, multi-national management companies may find themselves facing a decline in demand for their impersonal, automated management services as people turn to finding that human connection we all realized we need so much.

For our area in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, there is no going back. Spring of 2020 ended up being the busiest spring we have ever encountered, comparable even to summer vacation season. Home sales have sky-rocketed, owners looking to subsidize their new purchases have easily doubled, and as we head toward a so-called “slow” season, the inquiries from guests keep flooding in.

We look forward to welcoming new residents, guests, and partners to this wonderful adventure.