Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Without a doubt, 2020 will go down as a very strange, and difficult year for the travel sector.  

Almost overnight, lodging properties around the world were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these challenges live on today with new hotspots emerging throughout the United States.

Clearly, larger hotel chains are the most impacted, but how are things looking for independent innkeepers?  Surprisingly (or perhaps not,) things may be looking up for many inns and B&Bs – especially those located in rural areas.

According to a recent American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) survey, only 44 percent of Americans are planning overnight vacation or leisure travel in 2020.

However, the good news is that 68 percent of these expectant travelers are likely to stay in a hotel, and only nine percent plan to stay at a short-term rental such as Airbnb or VRBO. With many travelers concerned about the safety of larger hotels – especially those with elevators – it seems reasonable to believe that travelers are more apt to stay at smaller properties, such as boutique hotels, inns, or B&Bs.

While our analysis may seem speculative on the surface, we have recently spoken to several innkeepers and industry consultants, and discovered that many inns are seeing a significant surge in new guests. This especially appears to be a trend with properties located outside of urban areas.

In addition, the vast majority of guests are driving to these properties, sometimes many hours away from their homes. It’s clear that Americans have not lost their desire to travel.

“Travel is part of the fabric of who we are,” said Lori Pennington-Gray, Director of the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative, in this recent CNN article. “There’s this innate desire to travel and explore, and when we’re asked to stay home and not engage in that part of our life it becomes more evident how important it is to us.”

Americans also want to feel confident in the safety of their destinations. With short-term rentals, it’s not always clear how well hosts are cleaning the properties, and if there are long enough disinfection periods between guest stays.

Again, it may be a leap but we believe that travelers are more likely to trust innkeepers to keep their properties disinfected compared to short-term rentals or larger hotels, because innkeepers are concerned with their own health while spending time at their property. In addition, innkeepers often have hands-on or oversight responsibility of the actual cleaning and disinfecting that happens at their inn or B&B.

For innkeepers, there’s an opportunity to reinforce this trust and show how you have the guest’s best interest, and safety at heart. This can be achieved through embracing the best cleaning and disinfection strategies available (see our recent post about this topic here) and openly communicating your approach to your current and prospective guests.

So, while the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on independent innkeepers, we’re hopeful that there is a trend toward people who want to get away and are willing to drive a reasonable distance to visit an independent property. And though we can expect demand to vary with the ebb and flow of the news cycle, we’re optimistic that the elevated trust that travelers have in innkeepers of smaller properties will have them choosing to stay at inns, B&Bs, and boutique hotels above other lodging options.