Airbnb bookings flat-line for owners looking to have ‘best month ever’

Airbnb owners feeling the strain of COVID-19

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A popular side hustle for many people is turning homes into short-term rental properties. The industry has taken a huge hit during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Traveling anywhere right now might be taboo, but for the Cornells, their pockets depend on it. Things were looking good for Bob and Sharon Cornell a year and a half into their Airbnb investment.

“We were looking to have our best month ever,” Sharon said. “All of our properties were booked.”

The couple has five rental properties throughout Baton Rouge.

“It just looked like, man, this is really going to blossom,” Bob said, with a projection to make several thousand dollars.

But in mid-March, a portion of their steady cash flow took a deep dive. The Airbnb bookings flat-lined.

“Two days before people were supposed to check in we started getting cancellations, one house after the other," Bob said.

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Bookings from June through August are nonexistent for them now. The couple says they had several travelers coming for the LSU graduation. That has since been moved to a virtual graduation celebration scheduled for May 15.

The Cornells lived in Baton Rouge for almost 30 years and just recently moved to Tennessee to start a church.

“We had five services before we had to shut down gatherings,” said Bob.

Their startup is one of the many reasons they need travelers’ money. They even slashed prices to draw attention.

“We were really dependent upon the income from the Airbnb,” Bob said.

Sharon says some months are better than others, but normally, they make around $9,000 per month from all of their properties combined. The couple says they still have mortgages on each rental home, so that money goes toward those payments.

Despite the empty spaces, they’ve been able to make do. They’re not so sure about next month though. The same goes for Cheryl Knapp in New Orleans.

“Within three days, I had lost two months’ worth of bookings. I basically lost all bookings until the end of June,” Knapp said. “I’ve been struggling.”

Born and raised in the Big Easy, she’s used to the bustling crowds on the streets.

“I miss all my tourists. I really do," she said.

Knapp works at an animal shelter on the side. Renting out this home away from home is her livelihood.

“I have less than 20 open days a year,” Knapp said.

She says normally, bookings are fairly steady. Although she wants people to be safe, she’s hoping tourists pick her rental as their next destination.

“I’m just trying to take it like a week at a time,” she said. “I’m watching for the tour buses to start coming back around. When I see the tour buses, I know that people will be traveling again.”

For the people that do plan to visit anytime soon, Knapp has wipes, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant in every room of the house.

These Airbnb owners say it’s a lucrative business when tourists are traveling, but right now, it’s a guessing game trying to figure out the future.

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