TRAVERSE CITY — While hotels and resorts have been struggling to bring in guests because of the impact of the coronavirus, Traverse City’s many vacation rentals appear to remain afloat.
A number of Traverse City properties have been booked through the end of April, according to Airbnb listings. The Island View Cottages on Front Street, for example, display a “No Vacancy” sign off the side of the road.
Christian Gissing, of True North Property Management, said that while there have not necessarily been people renting from downstate, the company has seen people who live in Traverse City book vacation rentals for two-week stays — for purposes related to work and COVID-19 quarantine.
Shaun McKolay, who helps manage the Island View Cottages along with his brother-in-law, said a majority of the guests currently staying in his cottages already had been there for long-term stays prior to the virus’ onset.
New requirements from the Grand Traverse County Health Department — urging residents to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning to Traverse City from downstate Michigan and out of state — are posing a concern for him.
“If I were to rent to somebody and they need to self-quarantine for 14 days, that’s not a position I want to be in as somebody who rents out rooms,” McKolay said.
Wendy Hirschenberger, health officer at the Grand Traverse County Health Department, said in a letter posted on the Traverse City Police Department’s Facebook page that people returning to vacation homes “definitely poses a threat to us.”
Hirschenberger wrote that while the health department is urging people to stay home downstate, they cannot tell them they can’t come north.
“We don’t know where these people are returning or coming from,” Hirschenberger said in the memo. “They very well could be coming from an area that has a high rate of community transmission.”
Airbnb extended its extenuating-circumstances policy to provide cancellations and refunds for bookings made between March 14 and May 31.
With cancellations of some of the city’s staple events, like the Bayshore Marathon, within that time frame, the policy change is putting hosts in a tough position.
“We actually don’t have any money coming in, as we would have with the guidelines Airbnb has set up to protect us,” McKolay said.
The company announced it had accommodated $250 million for hosts who had cancellations, offering 25 percent of what they normally would have received through a cancellation policy.
Hosts who are receiving a payout will receive details in early April.
Airbnb on March 26 launched a global initiative to provide housing, free or subsidized, to COVID-19 responders and those traveling for medical purposes. Hosts can opt in to provide homes that follow new cleanliness protocols based on recommendations from medical experts. The stated goal is to provide housing to 100,000. Brian Chesky, the company’s CEO, said in a tweet dated March 27 that 20,000 homes had signed on so far.
Lisa Rapson, host of six Traverse City Vacation Rentals on VRBO, said on an Instagram post that she had joined the effort. Rapson blocked off her four properties to non-essential travel for the entire month of April and plans to assess her situation after that. One property is located across the street from Munson health care’s emergency room.
Airbnb’s representatives, when reached by email Tuesday, declined to provide data on northern Michigan rental rates.