How hotels and vacation rentals have changed since the pandemic

Hotels and vacation rentals have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. New cleaning procedures and guest restrictions are in effect. So what are the new rules for hotels and vacation rental stays after the pandemic?

It depends on your accommodations. If you’re staying in a hotel, the rules favor you. If you’re in a vacation rental, the rules favor the owner.

And, as with airlines, the most significant rules are largely unknown by the traveling public.

“Selfish” for not taking a credit?

Shawn Adams’ case comes to mind. She rented a home in Florida just before the pandemic started. But when Florida closed all vacation rentals, her rental manager canceled her reservation.

Her rental contract was vague when it came to cancellations by the owner.

“I have tried and tried and tried to get my money back,” she told me. “Emails, phone calls, you name it — I’ve done it. They’ve been very rude and arrogant, demeaning and telling me how selfish I am to not take a credit.”

Even after I contacted the vacation rental company on her behalf, it refused to refund Adams’ $1,271 deposit.

Her case illustrates a paradox of post-pandemic lodging. Vacation rentals are acting like it’s 2019. Hotels, not so much.

It’s a confusing time for everyone.

“This has been an incredibly challenging time for travel companies,” says Stephen Scott, a travel advisor with Protravel International. “Since the beginning of the year, revenues and staffing have been decimated. We spent endless hours canceling and rescheduling everything from large corporate events, to business trips, then family vacations and entire wedding parties.”

What has changed since the pandemic?

When it comes to hotels and vacation rentals, here’s what has changed since the pandemic:

Hotels: more cleaning, fewer rules and low prices

Hotels have dropped some of their more customer-unfriendly policies, allowing guests to cancel their rooms without a penalty. For example, Hilton allows you to change or cancel any reservation made through Aug. 31 up to 24 hours before your scheduled arrival day. At the same time, they’ve pledged to clean their rooms more thoroughly. The domestic hotel industry just reported its worst quarter on record, with average daily rates plummeting 37% to $83.

Vacation rentals: cleaner but in high demand

Vacation rental sites also have promoted cleaner accommodations. And initially, they also loosened some of their rules, allowing customers to get refunds for COVID-19 related cancellations. But as travelers flocked to vacation rentals, believing they are safer alternatives to hotels, the old rules have quickly returned. Vacation rental managers have reported that they’re busier than ever during the pandemic.

What are the new rules for hotel stays?

Hotel guests need to be aware of a few things in this post-pandemic travel environment. The lenient hotel refund policies have an expiration date. Marriott’s already expired on June 30. I’ve also been hearing from guests about extra fees added to their bill to make up for lost revenue. Budget hotels, for example, love to add cleaning fees of up to $200 to their bills as late charges on guests’ credit cards. A few have claimed — often falsely — that customers have smoked in their rooms.

Another new rule: face masks. Many hotels now require them in public areas. Marriott just announced a new face mask rule starting July 27. For obvious reasons, the hotel face mask rule won’t be observed or enforced the same way as the airline face mask rule. Guests aren’t in a confined space with no way out, as they are on an aircraft. Still, if you’re planning to stay at a hotel in the near future, you might want to bring a face mask — and wear it.

But the most significant new hotel rule is economic. With hotel rates half of what they were a year ago, finding a bargain for a late summer trip (if you want to risk it) is easier than ever. And, although no one knows the future, it will probably get better before it gets worse, in terms of bargains. Fall is a slow time of year, and it looks as if COVID-19 will be with us for a while. The lodging industry is unlikely to recover its pricing power until 2022.

How vacation rentals have changed

Like the hotel industry, vacation rental companies relaxed some of their refund rules. But not forever. Airbnb’s extenuating circumstances rule, which allowed guests to cancel their vacation rental stays and receive a refund, expires Aug. 31. Vrbo’s rule made refunds optional for owners, but it reflected a new reality in the industry.

Vacation rentals are in high demand. Expedia, which owns Vrbo, says its vacation rental unit has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal travel landscape. That means owners and managers are reluctant to negotiate with travelers or to lower their rates. As travelers continue to favor domestic destinations for their next getaway, and with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, they will likely book even more vacation rentals.

So what are the new vacation rental rules? They make the rules. If they want to keep your money, as they did with Adams, they can. If they want to charge you more, or add a surprise fee, they will. This is the behavior of an industry that knows it is in a position of power. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it — except, perhaps, to file a credit card dispute and hope your bank sides with you. You can also ask my advocacy team for help if you run into an insurmountable problem.

Now more than ever, your approach to solving any problem matters.

“Be nice,” advises Heather Dowd, director of sales and customer service at Tourissimo. “Thank the customer service rep for their hard work in these challenging times and be sincere. That disarms them and makes them more likely to find a solution that works.”

Maybe the best strategy is to remember how your hotel or vacation rental treated you when you tried to rent safe accommodations during the pandemic. If they didn’t treat you well, never give them your business again.

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Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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