Airbnb hosts say rental car shortage is costing them bookings in rural N.S.

·4 min read
'You definitely need a car to get around at our Airbnb,' says Becky Matheson, who rents out her rural cabin in Margaree.  (Submitted by Becky Matheson - image credit)
'You definitely need a car to get around at our Airbnb,' says Becky Matheson, who rents out her rural cabin in Margaree. (Submitted by Becky Matheson - image credit)

After two summers of COVID-related travel restrictions and fewer short-term rental bookings, Carolyn Banks was excited to welcome guests back to her two rental properties near Windsor, N.S.

"We saw our calendars just start to blow up, booked so much sooner for the summer than they ever had been before," Banks said.

Then the cancellations started to roll in as visitors realized they couldn't find a rental car.

"It's unfortunate for them," Banks said. "To have your trip cancelled because you can't get a vehicle is a downer for sure."

Car agencies in Nova Scotia cut their fleets due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now a surge in demand is outpacing supply as travellers scramble to book rental cars for summer vacations.

Banks has had four cancellations from people travelling to Nova Scotia this summer from out of province, or out of country, because they could not secure a car rental.

She said travellers likely had to cancel other bookings within the Maritimes, too. "It doesn't just affect us, it affects all the other people that also would have been booked for their vacation," Banks said.

Airbnb hosts across Nova Scotia say they are seeing an increase in cancellations during peak tourism season due to the ongoing rental car shortage – especially those located in rural areas that are not accessible by public transportation or taxi services.

No cars available 

Eva Holland and her partner are travelling to Nova Scotia for a family reunion this summer. They wanted to fly into Halifax, rent a car, and drive to the event in a rural area just north of the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border.

Then they tried to book a rental car.

"We tried the airport, we tried every location, every company we could think of," Holland said. "It was like, 'There's no rental cars available for your location.' "

Holland said they even looked at flying into Moncton, N.B., instead. "No dice there either," she said.

After checking five or six rental companies, Holland said their options were slim. "Like, are we going to hitchhike to New Brunswick?"

In the end, a relative is giving the couple a lift.

Rural transit options lacking

Submitted by Becky Matheson
Submitted by Becky Matheson

Airbnb host Becky Matheson said she's hearing similar stories from guests who planned to visit her cabin in Margaree, Cape Breton.

One week in mid-July has been booked and cancelled twice. Guests keep telling her the same thing: "There are literally no cars to rent," Matheson said.

Her cabin is located in rural Cape Breton, about a two-hour drive from the Sydney airport, or nearly four hours from Halifax Stanfield Airport. There is no public transit in the area.

"You definitely need a car to get around at our Airbnb," she said, especially for those hoping to drive the Cabot Trail.

Matheson said she's missed out on about $2,000 in rental income.

There are some creative solutions to the car rental shortage, but they're not perfect. Turo, a car sharing service that Banks describes as "Airbnb for cars" is one option, but vehicles for rent can be costly or unavailable.

Matheson said some Airbnb hosts are even suggesting guests rent U-Haul cargo vans or trucks to get around. "People are desperate," she said.

While it's unfortunate that out of province visitors are cancelling their trips, Matheson said she's switching gears to find Nova Scotians looking for a staycation.

Staycation

She wants to team up with local Instagram influencers and outdoor enthusiasts who can help get the word out about her cabin to potential guests who already have cars.

Ashley MacPhee Photography
Ashley MacPhee Photography

In Windsor, Banks has been proactive by reaching out to guests who are booked for later in the summer to check whether they have their vehicle rental arranged. That way she can minimize last minute cancellations and maybe fill the vacancy with a local guest.

"Back in the day, you could get off the plane, go to the counter and get a car rental," Banks said.

"But now you almost need to secure that car rental first before you even think about planning a trip, booking flights, booking Airbnbs."

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