Cottage Connections of Maine owner Audrey Miller is convinced Maine’s vacation rental industry can weather the COVID-19 storm. “We've had some cancellations, we've had some who have booked the same time for 2021, but people don't want to cancel. People want to come … They like coming to Boothbay because it's clearly off the beaten path and they feel like once they get down here that they're really away. It's really extraordinary.”
While many visitors, particularly retirees, have to travel by air, Miller said there is still a vital need to keep vacation rentals open for those who can make the trip safely. And she said as Vice President of the Northeast Vacation Rental Professionals (NEVRP), she is working on solutions with some of the industry's greatest professionals.
“And Audrey's one of them,” said Patricia Moore, a professional out of Washington, D.C. Miller met her only weeks ago. “She's got a strong voice running NEVRP. The reason I was referred to her is because she is such an advocate for vacation rental owners in general and … right now everybody in the industry is hanging on by a thread like everybody in any small business out there. We are all really trying to pivot and think about other things.”
Moore said she, Miller and others are working to bring a comprehensive plan to every U.S. governor who has put a ban on vacation rentals. However, rather than launching an offensive on the state leaders, Miller and Moore said efforts will be to educate them on the benefits of looking at short-term rentals as an untapped asset in a pandemic.
Said Moore, “I understand where the thinking is … It's not wrong, but you need to think about how you have an asset that's not being used. How can we help people right now where we are in our own community?”
Many first responders and other essential workers who work directly with the public do not want to go home and risk infecting their loved ones, said Miller and Moore. While rentals should be an option for them, they should also be an option for any family, especially for those moving, running from domestic disputes, or having any number of reasons, they added.
Some of the details that will make a short-term rental safer and more feasible will include partnering with local businesses, said Miller. “There is a lot of opportunity for us to partner with local restaurants to have food delivered to the houses, kayaks delivered, etc. (We are looking into) who can partner with us to make this process easy for guests and for us to coordinate.”
Miller said she has spoken with a few business owners in town who said they would not be opposed to visitors coming to the region, but think they should still self-quarantine for 14 days at the property. She said one owner said she would be happy to deliver visitors anything they need.
“I've had the chance to talk to a lot of my guests and learn more about them than (ever) – they're college professors trying to teach from home, they're 70- and 90-year-olds who are retired from very prestigious occupations. They are very thoughtful, intelligent people and they're all trying to get here.”
Miller said she and the other industry leaders are nearly finished preparing a document to share with all governors showing recommendations on how to clean – proven methods of killing the coronavirus and general check-in and check-out policies she said keep renters and cleaners safe. Miller is hopeful Gov. Janet Mills will not be hard to convince, given her exceptions for essential businesses and employees.
“We have it better than some states where they're just banning it altogether. I think there's a little bit more reasonable, intelligent thought going on in Maine … I think overall, people are being kind and respectful. The guests that I'm talking to love Maine and they've been coming and they're just devastated to think that they might not be able to get here this summer.”