Despite the CDC’s travel warnings, 54% of Americans have stayed in a hotel or vacation rental since the start of the pandemic, according to a recent ValuePenguin study.

The results show that all generations make reservations, but have different opinions on the safest type of accommodation. Baby boomers are more likely to say hotels are the safe choice, while a majority of Millennials and Gen Xers say Airbnbs is the safest option.

If you’re planning on booking a cheap trip when potential tourists are confined to their homes, you might want to dampen your enthusiasm. Only 44% of Airbnb customers say they pay less than usual during the pandemic, and some believe their bookings are actually costing more than normal.

The study commissioned by ValuePenguin interviewed 1,056 Americans, with the sample base proportionate to represent the overall population. Here are the results of the survey:

Main conclusions

  • 54% of Americans have stayed in a hotel and / or vacation rental at some point during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • More consumers have stayed in hotels than Airbnbs during the pandemic, but many consider Airbnbs to be safer. Half of Americans said they’ve checked into a hotel at some point since March, while 41% have visited an Airbnb or other vacation rental. Yet 35% of consumers think Airbnbs are safer than hotels in the era of the novel coronavirus, while only 10% think hotels are a better choice.
  • Almost half (44%) of recent vacation rental customers believe they paid less due to low demand, although 38% believe that the increase in cleaning costs has pushed up prices.
  • 36% of consumers plan to stay in a vacation rental or shared apartment within the next six months. Another 25% have nothing planned but would still consider doing so.

Just over 4 in 10 consumers have checked into a shared vacation rental amid the pandemic

Half of Americans have checked into a hotel at some point since March, and 41% said they had visited a vacation rental or Airbnb during the pandemic.

Generation X, the one between 44 and 55 years old, is the one who reserves the most:

  • 70% of Gen Xers have stayed in an Airbnb since March, compared to 50% of Millennials and just 8% of Boomers.

  • 75% of Gen Xers have stayed in hotels since March, compared to 60% of Millennials and 19% of Baby Boomers.

“Given the age groups most susceptible to major issues with COVID-19, and those who have been hardest hit economically by the epidemic, this breakdown makes a lot of sense,” said Matt Schulz, Chief Credit Analyst at ValuePenguin.

Seniors are at a higher risk of contracting a severe case of COVID-19, which could motivate them to stay home. Millennials who want to go on a trip may not have enough money right now. A study from the Transamerica Center published in May found that Millennials are more likely than Gen X and Baby Boomers to report struggling to make ends meet.

Most Airbnb users travel to cities with their families

Most Airbnb bookings have been a romantic or family affair: 45% of Airbnb travelers stayed with family, 32% went with a spouse or romantic partner, and 13% with family they don’t live with. Only 7% of Airbnb travelers stayed in the rental with friends, and 3% stayed alone.

Urban places are the most popular destination: 56% of Airbnb travelers said they have visited cities. Of those who ventured elsewhere for a getaway, 41% stayed at the beach, 18% stayed by a lake, 15% visited the desert, and 12% went to the mountains.

Airbnb or rental locations consumers booked during the coronavirus pandemic

Even with fewer people traveling and lower demand, less than half of Airbnb customers said they were successful in closing a deal. Only 44% said they paid less than usual for their reservation, and 38% believed they paid more than usual because of the cleaning fee.

“Depending on where you visit, you could definitely pay less for a vacation rental today than a year ago. That doesn’t mean everything is cheap,” said Schulz. Even with fewer people visiting popular tourist spots, there is still a demand there and costs will likely increase during peak periods, like summer vacation and the holiday season.

Then you have to consider that you might be paying more and not less if you want to explore places off the beaten track. “Rentals within the country or near state or national parks could experience excessive demand as more Americans seek out socially distant outdoor entertainment,” Schulz said.

An increase in interest could drive up rates, so you may need to do a bit of shopping if you’re looking for a deal on a mini-getaway.

Americans take precautions when traveling

The majority of people (86%) who have traveled to Airbnbs or vacation rentals since March said they took safety measures. Of those who took precautionary measures, 38% said they wiped down surfaces when they arrived and 30% said they opened the windows to circulate air.

Safety precautions taken by Americans staying in Airbnb or vacation rentals during the coronavirus pandemic

Surprisingly, only 16% of Airbnb or vacation rental customers said they stayed in the rental alone without the host. Most of the guests (50%) stayed in the same house as their host during the trip, but with a separate entrance.

Another 34% of Airbnb and vacation rental travelers said their host stayed in the same home without a separate entrance.

Hotels vs Airbnbs: Consumers Divided on Safety

When it comes to the safest type of accommodation, 35% of consumers believe Airbnb is safer than hotels in the era of the novel coronavirus. However, Millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than Baby Boomers to say Airbnbs are the safest choice.

Only 10% of respondents think hotels are safer and 21% think Airbnbs and hotels are just as safe. A significant 34% of people still do not know if one is safer than the other, which is a fairly representative response of the time. Decisions about how to live safely can change almost daily as we learn new information about COVID-19.

Perception of Airbnb consumers on hotel safety during the coronavirus pandemic

Of those who think Airbnbs are safer, 57% say it’s because they have less contact with others when staying at an Airbnb. 42% say Airbnbs are safer because they can book a remote location, 23% think Airbnbs are cleaner than hotels, and 13% say they can communicate directly with the Airbnb host about cleaning standards .

As for those who think hotels are safer, 57% say it’s because hotels have more regulations around cleaning and social distancing. Forty-six percent say they trust hotel brands and 40% just think hotels are cleaner overall.

Ultimately, COVID-19 does not distinguish between types of hosting and the virus could be present in either. “Whether you’re staying in a hotel or an Airbnb, you should probably take the time to do at least a little cleaning when you arrive,” said Schulz.

More than a third plan to rent a shared property for fall or winter trips

When it comes to future plans, 22% of Americans have already booked a trip and look forward to staying in an Airbnb or other form of shared accommodation in the next six months; 14% said they were planning to travel but had not yet made the reservation.

Twenty-five percent of Americans said their plans aren’t set in stone, but that they might consider staying in an Airbnb or a shared apartment. Meanwhile, 39% of Americans said they don’t plan to stay in a shared apartment and won’t consider it either.

Future Americans plan to stay in Airbnb or a hotel for the next six months

Following the trend, Gen X and Millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to have Airbnb plans in the next six months – 67% of Gen X and 44% of Millennials plan to stay in an Airbnb, vs. only 6% of baby boomers.

5 things to consider when booking accommodation while traveling during a pandemic

If you decide to travel, safety is paramount. The CDC recommends limiting travel as much as possible, but here are some travel tips when you venture out:

  • Watch out for hot spots: In addition to making a choice of destination based on sites, food, and activities, the state of the epidemics in the area is a factor to consider in your decision. Consider checking local and national news for case statistics before deciding where to travel.
  • Read reviews of hotels and hosts: Whether you’re staying at an Airbnb or a hotel, check out the most recent reviews to see what guests think about the property’s cleanliness.
  • Check safety and cleanliness standards: Check out the Airbnb host profile or the hotel’s website to see what is being done to minimize exposure between guests. Hyatt, for example, has a safety protocol in place that includes regular cleaning of common areas and bedroom surfaces. The hotel also maintains disinfection stations throughout the hotel. Marriott also regularly cleans surfaces with disinfectant and offers disinfectant wipes in rooms. If you don’t see what the Airbnb host or hotel brand is doing on the website, you can contact them first to inquire before making a reservation.
  • Book several days (or weeks) after other customers: If you’re staying at an Airbnb or vacation rental, consider leaving a gap between your stay and that of previous travelers. COVID-19 can live on surfaces for hours or up to several days depending on the surface, so an interval of time could minimize your risk of exposure.
  • Keep your distance during your stay: The CDC says maintaining a distance of six feet reduces the risk of transmission. Try to follow this guideline during transit and after check-in, especially if you share common areas with an Airbnb host.

Methodology

ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,056 Americans, with the sample base proportionate to represent the overall population. The survey was conducted from September 18 to 22, 2020.

The generations are defined as follows from September 2020:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24 years old

  • Millennial: 25 to 43 years old

  • Generation X: 44 to 55 years old

  • Baby boomers: 56 to 74 years old

  • Silent generation: 75 years and over