When COVID-19 first hit Saskatchewan, guests cancelled wedding celebrations and large gatherings they had booked at Kevin and Jaime Jordens’s beachfront rental property.
But as public health restrictions lifted, the Jordens noticed families were keen to scoop up the open spots.
“We are renting this spot for $275 a night. It’s not cheap but it’s a refuge or a place of solace where they can go and get away from everything and get back to nature and find some silence and some respite,” said Kevin Jordens.
The Airbnb with a private beach on Last Mountain Lake northwest of Regina has become so popular that it has created a secondary income for the Jordens family during the pandemic.
“It’s good for us, and it’s good for the economy,” said Kevin.
The Jordens had wanted to sell their luxury cottage, as they had been taking family vacations abroad and weren’t using it, but felt the market was poor. So, they decided to list it as an Airbnb. Today, they are glad to share the space with other families.
“You have families going out there that are running with school and sports and I almost feel like it’s been positive and have slowed down and realized what’s important,” said Jaime. “Maybe bonding with your close family is more in the forefront now.”
Jaime works for the Saskatchewan Health Authority and is using the new Airbnb cleaning guidelines to keep guests safe. In June, Airbnb released an enhanced cleaning protocol with an emphasis on cleaning first, then sanitizing to reduce the risk of transmission. Cleaning the high-traffic cottage has created ongoing work for another local family with two young children and a husband who was laid off because of COVID-19.
The popularity of their cottage has given the Jordens a sense of a community.
“It’s like making instant friends,” said Kevin. “It’s very rewarding.”
Interest in Airbnbs began to recover in June
Data from Tourism Saskatchewan’s recent resident sentiment survey showed that people were as likely to book an Airbnb this year as they would a hotel room. As with the hotel industry, business for Airbnbs started to recover in June, as people became more comfortable with travelling around the province again.
July 8 was the turning point for Airbnb since COVID-era changes began: the company reported that guests booked over one million nights of stays in over 175 different countries.
“What we are seeing is that it is individuals or families travelling by themselves. They are looking for a unique experience of something you normally wouldn’t do,” wrote Nathan Rotman, the public policy manager for Airbnb Canada, in the statement. “People want to go to grocery stores and cook their own food, do their own laundry … people are using Airbnb for that.”
In Canada, 60 per cent of current bookings are non-urban. Forty per cent of filter searches are for cabins, chalets and barns, and if the trend from the U.S. is holding here, no destination accounted for over three per cent of guest arrivals.
“People are spreading out across the country in ways that they haven’t before and we are certain the trend is similar in Canada,” said Rotman.
Saskatoon Airbnb turns into refuge for host and guests
Airbnb host Adam Clarkson got on a plane for Saskatoon from New York City when it became apparent that the U.S. metropolis had become a hotspot for COVID-19. Clarkson remains at his Saskatoon refuge, an Airbnb he owns called the Hayloft.
Clarkson found the Hayloft on Airbnb several years ago when he was travelling to Saskatoon for work. He became a frequent guest. When he learned that it was for sale, he decided to purchase the grocery-store-turned-concert-venue-then-Airbnb.
“It was one of the most interesting places I had seen, kind of anywhere, really,” said Clarkson. “I was using it six months of the year and I had gotten really comfortable here.”
When he arrived in Saskatoon this latest time, Clarkson decided to keep his obligations and has hosted several guests at the Hayloft during the pandemic, including one wedding.
“That was maybe one of the toughest times I think in the evolution of the events that have transpired since COVID really first disrupted all our lives. It was at a time when a lot of us were feeling pretty lonely. There wasn’t a lot of socializing,” said Clarkson.
“It really emphasized the fact that the things they were celebrating together as a couple couldn’t have been timed better because there was a chance to not take those things for granted, to really reach in and appreciate them and to celebrate them. The positivity, the appreciation, the thankfulness, the level of enthusiasm that they had for the Hayloft and for one another and being able to just celebrate was really tangible.”
Success inspiring future business plans
Some Saskatchewan rentals have been so successful, their owners are contemplating expanding their Airbnb offerings at a time when many other tourism-related businesses are suffering.
Alison Stobbart-Schultz, a manager in health care, opened one of the first AirBnb cabins at Thomson Lake Regional Park near Gravelbourg in 2019, hoping to fulfil her passion for customer service. Stobbart-Schultz’s property has been so popular that she hopes to purchase more cabins to offer as rentals.
She recounted the story of a family who stayed with her recently from Weyburn. The father had never gone fishing with his boys.
“We gave them ice fishing rods and he put his hook in the water and wouldn’t you know it, he caught a fish,” said Stobbart-Schultz. They gave us a great review and it gave me a smile to read it. To know that we could offer up a spot to have something of that magnitude happen.”