Vacation rentals and homestays typically offer more space, free WIFI and parking, kitchens to cook in, no resort fees, and the ability to stay longer for less than a hotel room.
I’m in the Catskills, lying by the pool on a hot August day, but unlike a typical trip, I’m surrounded by crystals and candles as George, a spiritual healer, rings a Tibetan bowl to restore my vibratory frequencies and rejuvenate me. It’s the last thing I expected during my weekend getaway, but George, the owner of the vacation rental I booked, had offered a complimentary healing session since I was among his first guests. The holistic experience isn’t the only surprise. The new, two-bedroom private cabin in the popular Hunter Mountain region sits on 20 acres bound by miles of nature, a commanding setting that didn’t quite translate through online photos. In fact, the backdrop is like a Disney movie: deer sip from a small reservoir; hawks circle the wide blue sky; and furry rabbits hop across the sprawling lawn with the mountains majestically anchoring the picturesque landscape; and the property comes with a private (and heated) saltwater pool. Our cabin, furnished with antiques and books I adore, is equipped with a kitchen stocked with complimentary comfort foods and drinks, an outdoor grill, and a bathroom featuring a handsome, claw-foot tub and organic bath products. It’s the type of accommodation meant for humble bragging on social media (I didn’t hold back), and while I’ll always love the comfort and service of a luxury hotel, staying like a local with unbelievable space and privacy became the true highlight of my vacation.
The Rise of Vacation Rentals
Vacation rentals have been around for decades, but it wasn’t until the 2010s when major booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo hit a stride connecting travelers to amazing properties across the globe. With these platforms, travelers could find wonderful accommodations cheaper than high-priced hotels, which ultimately allowed them to afford to travel. We can thank millennials for instituting this new way of booking vacations. They unarguably spearheaded the trend of “authentic” experiences, and nothing was truer to form than checking into a homestay property. Millennials (aka “the greatest generation of savers”) also sought “bang for your buck” vacations, and homestays typically offer more space, free WIFI and parking, kitchens to cook in, no resort fees, and the ability to stay longer for less than a hotel room.
Unsurprisingly, the vacation rental market flourished during the mid 2010s, and newer homestay platforms, such as Luxury Retreats (now Hospitality by Luxury Retreats, part of Airbnb Luxe) and onefinestay (offering exclusively luxury vacation homes), debuted globally to meet consumer demands. Even travel fare aggregators and search sites, like Expedia and Booking.com, had begun adding luxury vacation rentals to their inventory.
It was only a matter of time before hotel chains hopped on the rocket ship, and in 2019, Marriott International launched Homes & Villas by Marriott International, tapping into the luxury home rental market with over 2,000 curated homes throughout the US, Europe, Caribbean and Latin America (all of which participate in Marriott Bonvoy’s loyalty program, meaning guests can stay in a vacation rental and continue to rack up loyalty points). Marriott entered the marketplace because customer demands were evolving. In fact, during a pilot program the previous year, Marriott discovered that the average guest stay was more than triple the typical hotel stay, proving that many travelers wanted bigger spaces equipped with multiple bedrooms, kitchens, laundry, and more offerings, such as private pools. Through Marriott, guests can now stay in unique, memorable vacation rentals, whether a cottage in California’s Wine Country or a castle that sleeps 17 in Ireland.
While millennials are credited with starting the vacation rental trend, it’s the pandemic that truly took homestay bookings to a whole other level. The reason is obvious. After being cooped up in lockdown for nearly a year, travelers were eager to vacation (a pastime known to support mental health), but they also wanted to social distance, avoid contact with other humans (including hotel staff), and stay safe. Vacation rentals checked all these boxes and more. Guests had plenty of space to work remotely, a benefit with rentals, which can cost less to book over a hotel if you plan on staying longer. Depending on the rental, guests would also have immediate access to a private outdoor space, whether a balcony, a backyard, or like during my visit in the Catskills, an entire mountain range. Considering the immediate outdoor space provided, vacation rentals are dog friendlier than hotel rooms, since guests don’t have to go through lobbies or use elevators to walk their pup.
Vacation Rentals Have Become An Essential Part of Travel
According to San Francisco-based Grand View Research, the global vacation rental market size was valued at $87 billion in 2019, and it’s expected to reach $113 billion by 2027, proving homestays are here to stay and have unarguably become a fixture in travel.
Now, post pandemic, vacation rentals are getting more attention than ever. To illustrate the significant demand for vacation rentals in the pandemic era, Marriott compared Q3 2019 (pre-pandemic) with Q3 2021 and saw more than a 1400% increase in bookings on its Home & Villas platform. “Part of this was due to our growing footprint, but it was also driven by how well our product spoke to the increase in consumer demand during the pandemic for entire private homes that allowed consumers to reconnect with loved ones, or blend remote work/school with vacation through ‘bleisure’ travel,” says Jennifer Hsieh, Vice President, Homes & Villas by Marriott International. “We expect these trends to continue into 2022 and beyond, with a strong desire to travel and more flexibility on where people can work from.”