Hotel stays remain significant piece of the overall market; data show visitors staying longer
By Stephen Leon
Airbnb announced figures earlier this month that underscored a spike in Adirondack visitations, something many locals had already observed anecdotally since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the nine-month period from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2021, Airbnb hosts in the Adirondacks received income of $52.8 million—a 151% increase over the same period two years earlier. In that year, 2019, host income in the region was $21 million.
Airbnb, an online marketplace for vacation and tourism rentals, reported record numbers almost across the board, though the national income totals don’t appear to be quite as robust as those in the Adirondacks. A company representative offered only a third-quarter comparison of national totals for the same two years: in 2021’s third quarter, Airbnb hosts earned a record $12.8 billion in rental income, up 27% from the same quarter of 2019.
Among Adirondack data, Essex County led the way with $20 million in 2021, up 122% from $9 million in 2019. Hamilton County saw the largest percentage increase of 188%, with $2.2 million in income in 2021, up from $787,000 in 2019.
The Airbnb report suggests a boom in tourism overall and a shift in market share from traditional rentals like hotels, motels, guest houses, and B&Bs to short-term rentals (STRs) including Airbnb and other sites such as VRBO. Data from Adirondack tourism professionals also shows traditional accommodations – hotels and motels – staying strong.
Seizing an opportunity
Mary Bartel owns Inner Quest Yoga & Wellness Center on Broadway in Saranac Lake, in a building that also contains her home. At first, she had other practitioners using the studio; as they retired, “I had a hard time finding other practitioners.” Someone suggested short-term rentals, so Bartel carved two small efficiency apartments out of the space. She rents them out to one or two people each; they have separate entrances, with parking in the lot behind her building. Her rentals are registered, and she pays occupancy tax to Franklin County.
“I have the ideal situation for short-term rentals: right on the main drag, walking distance to downtown,” Bartel said.
In 2020, she had to shut it down for a couple of months, but business still increased over 2019.
Then, in 2021: “Oh my god, it was crazy last year.” Bartel said that in the summer, there were bookings just about every day. Off-season, she still had bookings in months that were typically quiet. She raised her rates a bit, mostly to cover additional cleaning supplies.
Hotels remain strong
According to Jim McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), occupancy tax collections from STRs in Essex County increased by 95% from 2019 to 2020 (most of it from June to December), and by 43% from 2020 to 2021. This spike in occupancy tax matches up with the growth shown in Airbnb’s numbers.
Hotel and motel occupancy tax collections increased by 25% over the two-year span, “which is still a historic increase,” McKenna said.
Katie Wojdyla and her sister Kelly Greene co-own the Old Forge businesses Enchanted Forest Water Safari, Calypso’s Cove Family Fun Park, Old Forge Camping Resort, and Water’s Edge Inn. After a tough 2000 when they could not open the Water Safari, business in 2021 was “solid,” Wojdyla said, including at the hotel. “There’s still that clientele that are looking for the amenities that come with a hotel” (breakfast, indoor pool, etc.), she said. “So we haven’t seen any effect” from the growth in short-term rentals.
Longer stays, larger groups
Tourism officials have noted more midweek bookings and more visitors in months not considered to be part of the high season. In 2020 and 2021, McKenna said, people visited for longer periods and in bigger groups. “We’re also seeing that the average age of short-term renters is younger.”
The longer stays, younger renters, and expanding seasons offer evidence for what some believe is a key part of the rental boom: the ability to work from home, or from a vacation home.
Twiggy Collen, an Albany resident who owns a second home in Chestertown, said she has had double the number of inquiries about her Chestertown home since the pandemic began. Her family uses it about half the year and rents it to visitors the other half, using adkbyowner.com.
She said top of mind for potential renters is connectivity. “They would like to have the option to work remotely,” she said.
Not everyone is on board with the growth of STRs. In some communities, residents fear they are losing their neighborhoods to transients and amidst a shrinking inventory of housing for people who live and work here.
“There is a tremendous amount of anger being directed at people who do short-term rentals,” said Collen.
Katelyn Moskos, owner of Northern Living NY, a short-term rental company in Lake George, is pushing back against the anti-STR sentiment. Moskos is the founder of Hands off Our Homes, a group fighting against proposed STR laws in Queensbury and Fort Ann, where she lives. Moskos’ main objection is that the proposed laws are unfair and impose strict regulations on rental properties that do not apply to owner-occupied houses. She compares a rental that would be subject to limitations on the number of guests, the number of cars in the driveway, and a 10 p.m. noise ordinance, to a similar property that is owner-occupied and faces none of those restrictions.
“We have a very strict rental agreement,” Moskos said. “We don’t have direct booking. … It’s very clear that Northern Living has been targeted.”
Also, she emphasized that “we employ over 50 people, and they’re all locals.”