Short-term rental operators moving out of Hawaii amid pandemic, industry restrictions

HONOLULU — The number of Hawaii properties listed as short-term vacation rentals has declined by as much as half compared with last year, which is likely the result of the coronavirus pandemic and new restrictions on the industry.

The number of properties being used as vacation rentals has declined on all islands, Hawaii Public Radio reported Thursday.

Hotel operators were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 75% of rooms across the islands empty in the normally busy month of December. Bookings for vacation rental properties were also down.

All of the state’s islands experienced occupancy decreases of at least 25% year-over-year from the 2019-2020 holiday season.

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Erik Kloninger, a visitor industry analyst, said the City and County of Honolulu and Hawaii County posted the largest declines in vacation rental supply.

“Oahu had the biggest decrease at about 49%, half as many vacation rentals as 2019,” Kloninger said.

Hawaii island’s rental supply decreased about 43%, he said.

Maui and Kauai counties experienced contractions in vacation rentals of about 21% and 23%, respectively.

Economic forecasts predict Hawaii’s visitor industry will remain below 2019 levels for several years, with the short-term rental market likely to follow suit.

The higher rates of loss on Oahu and Hawaii Island were likely driven by government policies in conjunction with the pandemic, Kloninger said.

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County officials on Oahu and Maui increased legal restrictions on short-term rentals and penalties for violators in 2018. The heightened constraints and penalties likely combined with the pandemic recession to produce the supply decrease.

Although fewer people have visited Hawaii since the pandemic began, their visits have lasted for longer periods of time.

The length of the stays could potentially skew the data on short-term rentals, which are gathered from property listings on booking platforms including Airbnb and Vrbo, Kloninger said.

Vacation rentals could also be occupied even without being listed on booking platforms.

“A particular house might have been removed from Airbnb or Vrbo, but there could very well be someone renting that house right now and they’re not staying there for a week, they’re staying there for three months or six months,” Klonginger said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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