In a normal year, the cancellation rate for vacation rental bookings hovers between 15% and 20%. This spring, 70% to 80% of April stays across the U.S. were canceled due to COVID-19. The number of cancellations per day peaked in mid-March as states began to implement stay-at-home orders. While the number of cancellations has declined, the rate remains much higher than last year. We’ve also talked a lot about the booking window (how far in advance guests make their reservations) over the last few months - reservations within 30 days have remained more popular than longer windows. Comparing booking windows to canceled reservations reveals some interesting trends.
Reservations with arrivals between March 1 and May 12 were more likely to have been canceled if they had a longer booking window. The difference in the average booking window for canceled stays compared to kept stays increased during April and was almost 70 days apart by May. By that time, the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic were clear so individuals who booked a rental closer to their arrival were aware of the situation when they booked.
The Southeast and Western U.S. have adopted different strategies to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. During a typical year, they also have different average booking windows. In the Southeast, the average booking window for kept stays shrank at the beginning of March, grew throughout the rest of the month, and then shrank again in April. The decrease in the average booking window at the beginning of March occurred as people rushed to book last-minute vacations. Many markets in the Western U.S. were already under COVID-19 restrictions and therefore booking windows have been more stable.
In late March and early- to mid-April, social distance measures were at their most strict in the United States. Guest stays during those few weeks were much more likely to be canceled, regardless of when they were booked. The cancellation rate for reservations made 30 or more days before arrival hovered around 80%. However, the cancellation rate for stays made within 30 days dropped to about 20% in mid-April and has remained steady since then. In other words, guests who booked their trip within 30 days were about 60% less likely to cancel their stay than guests who booked further out.
Travelers to the Western U.S. were more likely to cancel their reservations than travelers to the Southeast IF they booked more than 30 days prior to arrival. For bookings within 30 days, rentals in the Western U.S were less likely to have their reservations canceled than those in the Southeast. These differences highlight the importance of monitoring multiple key performance indicators for your market and properties, especially in these abnormal and unpredictable circumstances.