By Drew Dodson/The Star-News
Kelly Hill stood in a cavernous entertainment room inside a short-term rental in McCall and pondered how she will be able keep the bills paid if the threat of the COVID-19 virus keeps tourists away into the summer.
“As we plot our course for the future, we can only speculate on certain outcomes based on the worst-case scenario to steer the company as best we can given the circumstances,” Hill said.
Hill, who owns DoneRight Management in McCall, has prepared for the worst by applying for federal small business loans to help the company as cancellations and lost profits mount.
Those losses worsened on Monday after Valley County commissioners set May 15 as the soonest short-term rentals could begin renting to non-essential personnel again.
About 75% of the company’s annual income is earned through its 66 short-term rental properties capable of housing up to 740 guests from Cascade to New Meadows, Hill said.
The company has seen over 80 reservations canceled as far out as August since Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide isolation order on March 25, she said.
“Even more disturbing is the lack of new reservations being made,” she said.
Hill is preparing for an 85% decrease from the $150,000 the company made last April booking short-term rentals, most of which were for summertime stays.
“Until this pandemic is under control and there is some sense of normal again, people are hesitant to make reservations for anything,” Hill said.
Frost Property Management reported similar losses, with 59 short-term rental reservations amounting to about $50,000 in revenue cancelled since March 16, Owner Jonathan Frost said.
“That is significantly more than the combined total number of altered or refunded reservations we’ve had since we were founded in 2012,” Frost said.
Reservations for May, June and July have also not been coming in as they normally would this time of year, he said.
Overall, the company has 32-short-term rentals from Smiths Ferry to McCall with a total capacity of up to 430 guests.
McCallcabins.com Owner Joel Hellerman also reported financial devastation courtesy of COVID-19, but for different reasons than DoneRight and Frost.
“Our main concern is our long-term tenants as we know that a significant portion of them have been laid off and are anticipating great difficulty in paying rent in the foreseeable future,” Hellerman said.
“As a commissioned company if we don’t get rent, we don’t get paid,” he said.
Of 97 properties from Donnelly to New Meadows overseen by the company, 85 are long-term rentals.
So far, about 25% of long-term tenants are unable to pay rent, Hellerman said. “I think next month will get worse,” he said.
Hellerman said the company has applied for federal small business loans and told client homeowners that payments could be delayed while tenants receive unemployment checks and federal stimulus money.
Meanwhile, short-term rental booking websites like Airbnb, Vacasa and VRBO have taken various measures to alert prospective customers of restrictions.
When booking one of Vacasa’s 150-plus local short-term rentals online, the calendar is blocked off until May 15 and notes the restrictions, preventing new reservations from being made.
Banners on vrbo.com warn customers that restrictions are in place and invite them to click for more details, but do not prevent them from booking one of the company’s 192 local rentals.
A similar banner on booking.com encourages customers to check with property owners about changing reservations due to COVID-19, but does not alert customers to existing restrictions or prevent them from making reservations.
Guests booking one of Airbnb’s 300-plus local short-term rentals online are greeted with a small textbox urging adherence to local restrictions, but it does not specify the restrictions or prevent reservations from being made.
Violators of restrictions on short-term rentals are subject to misdemeanor citations, fines and jail time, according to the county’s order, which is tentatively set to expire May 15.