Summer cottage rentals in Southwestern Ontario are being booked quicker than ever this year, despite rising prices, as lockdown-weary folk plan safe vacation options amid the ongoing pandemic, some renters say.
Although he hates using the now cliché pandemic buzzword "unprecedented," Craig White with CottageLink Rental Management says that’s exactly what the summer rental market is like less than one month into 2021.
“Demand is there like never before,” he said. “We’ve never really experienced a January like this.”
While cottage bookings often start early in the year, White said they’re already at a point where running out of inventory is on the horizon.
“The move to early booking definitely has been exacerbated this year,” White said.
White said people are booking cottages early to give themselves “a reason to be optimistic” amid surging COVID-19 case counts, ongoing border restrictions and a second provincewide lockdown.
“I think it’s really just a desire to get away from things, to get away from the city, the barrage of news, the restrictions,” he said.
Those who waited too late last year and missed out also don’t want to be shut out again, driving the early booking, White said.
But the abnormally high demand — a continuation of last year’s red-hot rental market — is driving up prices.
White said cottage rental prices have increased by at least 10 to 20 per cent in 2021.
“Economics 101 is supply and demand, so certainly that raises prices,” he said.
Increased cleaning protocols and costs also have contributed to higher rental fees, White said.
The No. 1 amenity request: good Wi-Fi and internet.
White said that reflects more people working remotely, opting to bring their laptops and conference calls to the lakeside.
“Work from home really means work from not the office,” he said. “If people see the opportunity to have their office in a really nice place with a nice view looking over a lake, it’s very appealing.”
Last year, cottages were snapped up quickly when spring pandemic lockdowns lifted and cottage rentals were given the green light in June.
The trend continued all through the summer and even spilled into the winter months, an uncommon occurrence.
White said they’d typically only see a handful of bookings in an offseason month like November, but last year, there were more than 70.
While the prime months of July and August are nearly fully booked for Jennifer Whaling of CottageStays in Bayfield, she’s noticed an increased number of bookings in shoulder months such as June and September as well.
“The demand is really, really high,” she said.
Whaling shied away from a big price jump on her Bayfield-region rentals, saying hers rose only by a typical yearly amount. “Maybe I didn’t capitalize,” she said.
She said the price of most cottages in Ontario, especially those in the Muskoka and Haliburton regions, have “increased dramatically.”
But folks who log on to booking sites and can’t find a cottage should be patient.
With cottage real estate sales also booming last year, Whaling expects more rentals to come on board as deals close.
She also advises getting placed on waiting lists, as cancellations are inevitable, especially during an uncertain pandemic year.
Still, that might not be enough to accommodate the booming demand. Whaling expects interest in cottage rentals only to increase ahead of the summer when more details about what kind of activities or travel will be permitted.
“The cottage is nice because you can go with your family and have all the amenities and luxuries of home,” she said.
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press