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Osceola County’s vacation rentals slowly rebounding, Experience Kissimmee leader says

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 10/21/2020 By Gabrielle Russon, Orlando Sentinel
a house on the side of a road: Mostly vacant vacation rental properties at Encore Resort at Reunion, on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. \rEmpty neighborhoods of vacation homes are hurting Osceola County’s economy, angry property managers say as they are upset the governor hasn’t loosened restrictions on vacation rentals. In Osceola County alone, there are 30,000 licensed vacation homes. Some people are calling to try and book a vacation home so they can isolate with more space and with a pool but properties are having to turn customers away. The governor doesn’t want out-of-towners traveling to Florida; vacation home owners argue their industry is much safer than hotels.\r © Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Mostly vacant vacation rental properties at Encore Resort at Reunion, on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. \rEmpty neighborhoods of vacation homes are hurting Osceola County’s economy, angry property managers say as they are upset the governor hasn’t loosened restrictions on vacation rentals. In Osceola County alone, there are 30,000 licensed vacation homes. Some people are calling to try and book a vacation home so they can isolate with more space and with a pool but properties are having to turn customers away. The governor doesn’t want out-of-towners traveling to Florida; vacation home owners argue their industry is much safer than hotels.\r

Osceola County’s luxury vacation rental industry has rebounded to about 60% average occupancy after the coronavirus pandemic abruptly canceled people’s plans earlier this year, Experience Kissimmee’s CEO DT Minich says.

“We have seen a steady increase in recovery. We’re still nowhere near where we would have been a year ago in terms of occupancy and economic impact,” Minich said Tuesday during a virtual news conference held by Experience Kissimmee intended to promote tourism and help build consumer confidence as fears still exist of traveling during the pandemic.

Experience Kissimmee is a publicly funded tourism marketing agency.

Osceola has built a reputation touting itself as Florida’s vacation rental capital where some neighborhoods were built almost completely for vacationers and their families to rent. But during the pandemic, vacation rentals weren’t allowed to operate by the state until May.

Looking ahead, Minich spoke optimistically about future reservations with the holiday season weeks away, although he did not provide specific figures.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods, so I would advise people if they want that perfect home, they should book now,” Minich said.

To make sure vacation rentals aren’t rented to hold parties for large gatherings, Minich said Experience Kissimmee is working with rental properties and law enforcement.

“We’ve really worked actively and successfully in downplaying this and not having this activity,” Minich said.

Joining Minich in the news conference were leaders who operated hotels and vacation homes who highlighted their social distancing and health safety protocols.

Many of the visitors are traveling by car to Reunion Resort and Golf Club, as in-state travel grows, said Mariela Perre, a manager at the resort.

“We all still have a need to travel. We all still have a need to get a break,” said Perre, who highlighted the vacation rental homes where families stay under one roof and have their own pool.

The new trend: Last-minute bookings.

People book their trip the week of or within days before the weekend, she said.

“That’s why the weekends have become very popular,” she said. “We’ve had a downsizing of staff that we’ve started having to bring everyone back and help because you’re talking about a resort of 2,300 acres.”

grusson@orlandosentinel.com

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