Outlook for the 2021 Vacation Rental Season

Written by Jim Reese
3.6/5 - (7 votes)

Hot Start

It should come as no surprise that the 2021 rental season is off to a hot start. The record demand from the summer of 2020 has persisted throughout the fall and into the start of 2021.  The continued demand comes from both an increase in off-season bookings, when the season was extended due to COVID-19, and those planning earlier for next summer.

Activity in the past month has been consistently above the previous few years. And since December 26th, the number of unique vacationers who have inquired is 72% above the previous year (2019-2020).

No. of individual vacationers inquiring per day

Demand Strong Across All Regions

Since November 1st, the demand has been visible across the entire Cape & Islands region.  The % increases shown in the chart below represent the unique vacationers who have inquired about rentals from November 1st thru the first week of January.

Reasons for the Strong Start

One only has to look back at the reasons for the record demand for rentals last year to understand the desire for so many to return this year.  The Cape & Islands are a desirable vacation destination, easy to reach for anyone in the northeastern US, and many families have made vacations here a yearly tradition. Then the impact of the coronavirus pandemic provided vacationers an additional incentive to plan local vacations at private rentals where they can control their own environment.

So, what is new this year?  In 2020, there was a similar strong start over the previous year (4% increase in inquiries in Jan. 2020 vs 2019), but this year we are seeing not only record demand, but eagerness to book early.

  • Vacationers recognize that the demand is high, and many missed out on finding their preferred rentals last summer.
  • Some vacationers had to cancel plans in 2020 and push their booking to 2021, and many others have already committed to return in 2021, which will limit inventory. Availability for most prime weeks is already below 50%.

  • Many vacationers are unable or do not want to take the risk in planning a vacation over traditional winter breaks (e.g., school vacation weeks). They will instead set their sights on next summer when they can be more confident about a repeat of last summer.
  • Interest in multiple weeks or months is higher and requires early planning.

Vacationers Are Ready to Book

While some of your repeat guests have been hesitant to book, the vast majority will be ready to commit to next summer, understanding that the current situation with the pandemic limits their options for travel.

If you have not reached out to past guests already, we would recommend you do so ASAP.  Given the demand, there is no reason to continue to hold a reservation for them without a commitment as we begin the new year.

What is apparent from the traffic to the WeNeedaVacation.com website is that vacationers are more engaged and actively committing to rentals now.

Google Analytics is showing the following trends over the past month:

Dec 7, 2020 – Jan 7, 2021 vs. Dec 7, 2019 – Jan 7, 2020

  • 31% increase in website users
  • 35% increase in new website users
  • 7% increase in the number of visits per user
  • 8% increase in the average time per visit
  • 6% decrease in bounce rate (users who leave the site by visiting only one page)

Response Times

With this demand also comes eagerness and perhaps anxiousness on the part of vacationers to find and book a home.  Your response time and the level of effort put into your response can be the difference between a prospective guest choosing your home over another.

As of December 19th, we have started tracking response rates and times to inquiries, and we have observed that over 58% of all responses are under 4 hours, and 70% are under 10 hours.  Anything above these timeframes will lower your chances of securing that booking.

Read more about why response time matters.

Cancellation Policy

Some vacationers have raised concern over the potential for COVID-19 impacting summer rentals again and, as a result, often inquire about cancellation policies.  The good news is that a lot more is known about what it takes for an owner to manage a rental in a pandemic this year – and for guests to vacation responsibly.

With this in mind, homeowners need to decide whether they will have a flexible or strict cancellation policy.  Due to the high demand, it may not be as risky for owners to allow for a flexible cancellation policy (e.g., full or partial refund up until 1 or 2 months prior to check-in).  A flexible cancellation policy (that is also noted in your Property Description) has the potential to attract additional prospective guests.

Even with a strict cancellation policy (e.g., no refund unless rental is re-booked), it is still helpful to alleviate concerns about how you would handle a situation in which MA rentals were no longer permitted due to COVID-19.  Many vacationers simply appreciate knowing that refunds would be given if a rental ban was in place, however unlikely.

Travel Insurance

An alternative to providing a flexible cancellation policy is to inform your guests of their option to purchase travel insurance.   You might recommend that your guests review their options with our partner at TravelInsurance.com.  Learn more about travel insurance for vacationers.

Promote the Cape & Islands

For your prospective guests or for guests who were unable to come last year due to the pandemic, you will want to provide assurance about how you as well as the Cape & Islands community have effectively provided a place to vacation responsibly.

Your Rental

  • Inform your guests of your cleaning protocols (cleaning checklist)
  • Describe additional measures you take to ensure their safety during COVID-19 to help build trust and reassurance that you are taking guest safety seriously.


Share these resources to help promote vacationing on the Cape & Islands.

  • Vacationing on the Cape & Islands

What should you be doing?

While vacationer traffic and demand are at significantly high levels, make sure you take advantage of the situation:

  • If your listing is not yet active, update and re-activate it.
  • If it’s active and you have availability, make sure your pictures are great and your Calendar’s date stamp is kept current.
  • Respond to EVERY inquiry as quickly as you can.
  • View your Listing Quality Audit to see if any improvements are suggested.
  • Review your cancellation policy, and consider relaxing it and recommending travel insurance to your guests – both of which will increase their peace of mind about committing to renting your home.

About the author

Jim Reese


  • Thank you Jim.
    As usual you and your company are very informative. Much appreciated.
    Bob Maucione

  • This is great information. I really like that you all are focused on meeting both the needs of the vacationers and the owners.

    Can you share the expectations vacationers had regarding covid and in which areas they felt owners had not met them?

    • Sandy, Fortunately, we received very few negative comments, via the survey or guest reviews, about a lack of preparedness of homes this past summer. By and large, vacationers expressed praise for how well the homes were cleaned and sanitized prior to their arrival.