Flexible Booking Strategies for 2020

Written by Joan Talmadge
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This 2020 rental season is unlike any others. Due to the coronavirus, vacation rental homeowners need to think creatively to book their homes without risking the health of their guests, their cleaning staff, or even themselves.

Even if we get the surge in last-minute renters we expect, there will most likely be fewer renters overall than during a normal summer.  So, competition will be stiffer than usual, making flexibility key.

But we all know that cleaning and disinfecting our vacation rental homes will be of paramount concern this rental season, too.  A home’s cleanliness is always of great importance to vacationers, but this year, your guests will be fanatical about it. So, how will it be possible to adequately disinfect our homes in the already-short hours we have between guests?

Why the need for flexible bookings?

When merely being able to rent out our homes at all this summer may be a “win,” homeowners and vacationers alike must understand that things won’t be normal this season, and sacrifices will need to be made by all.

Additionally, it’s possible that providing a time buffer between rental parties will become a recommendation, if not a requirement, once the actual ban on short-term rentals has been lifted, allowing for a slower, more cautious re-opening of businesses.  Homeowners should be prepared to make adjustments in case such a buffer becomes a  state or local requirement.

For homes that are almost or fully booked

Some of you are fortunate enough to have your summer fully or nearly booked. If so, you may well be committed to guests checking out in the morning and your next guests checking in that same afternoon.  In this case, emphasize to incoming guests that their check-in time may be delayed in order to allow sufficient time for the cleaners to complete their job.  It’s also important that they leave promptly at check-out time.

And if you’ve received a couple of cancellations, consider offering those vacancies as shorter stays than a full week. Yes, you will probably not be able to get your normal weekly revenue for those bookings, but they will give you and your cleaners some valuable time and flexibility.

Homes that have a significant amount of availability

In general, try to be as flexible as you can to increase your home’s attractiveness to vacationers and accommodate more time for cleaning. But here are some specific options to consider:

  • Stretch out a week’s stay to an 8 or 9 day stay. Naturally, you won’t be able to fill every day of the summer.
  • Rent every other week but possibly for longer stays. And then, post a free Owner Special such as, “Stay for 8 or 9 days and get 2 extra days free!” or something similar.
  • Shorten your bookings to 6 nights so that you have a day in between bookings. Or have guests depart on Friday night and next one arrives Sat. afternoon.  Or one leaves on Saturday, and the next arrives on Sunday.
  • Try to book one or two long-term stays of a month or more.  If the tenancy is more than 31 days, there’s no tax. Also, these bookings impact the local community less due to fewer people coming and going (reducing contagion risk) and less traffic. (Read our post about the recent uptick in inquiries for longer stays.)
  • Try to convert May or June bookings to September or October, when COVID-19 may not be as big an issue.

Considering the options and making decisions

Since the onslaught of the coronavirus, we have written about such issues as addressing vacationer concerns regarding the virus, options to consider related to cancellation policies this year, and how to clean and disinfect your vacation rental home.

Unfortunately, creating more time between guests to accommodate more extensive cleaning requires sacrifice from either you, or from your guests, or both. But this season is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. We firmly believe that homeowners will need to manage their expectations and do what it takes to salvage as many of their bookings as possible. And adequate measures must be taken to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for their guests at all costs.

About the author

Joan Talmadge

Joan Talmadge - My husband Jeff and I created WeNeedaVacation.com in 1997, shortly after buying our Cape home. My background includes teaching fifth grade for 8 years and writing and editing educational publications for 15. I get great joy from helping fellow homeowners successfully rent their homes. Jeff and I are proud to have two of our three grown children working for WeNeedaVacation.com, truly a family-run business. For me, the Cape and Islands are magical all times of the year -- whether it's walking on Nauset Beach, playing golf, or enjoying family and friends. Email Joan


  • Do you have a form or suggested language we can use to make short term vacation renter release us from liability for any COVID-19 infections they have receive while staying in our vacation home?