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The Fall of Vacation Rentals Due to COVID-19 – A Park City Airbnb Host’s Experience

Posted by Scott Maizlish on Thursday, May 14th, 2020 at 1:16pm.

It all happened very quickly. On March 1st, 2020, Linsly Donnelly– a superhost on Airbnb with four properties in Park City, UT – received a cancellation request from a guest. Then, by March 14th she was receiving cancellations left and right, and guests with active bookings were simply not showing up to the houses. 

“It was like the bottom fell out. We had people just not show up. Even with the house all ready, people said on the day of their booking that they weren’t coming,” Linsly said. 

Because of everything happening with COVID-19, we knew that the vacation rental business must be heavily affected. So, we reached out to a client of ours, Linsly, who --with her family has multiple successful vacation rental properties in Park City to hear how all of this has affected her. 

A Little Background – Why She Chose Park City


Linsly and Chris Donnelly and their family came to Park City from San Francisco, California. About ten years ago, the Donnelly's and their families decided that they wanted to own a second home, but at the time, they couldn't afford to pay two mortgages. So, they decided to look into renting out whichever property they weren't living in through a vacation rental program. Once they decided that their plan could work financially for them, they set out to find the perfect home.

The Donnelly's knew they wanted a ski home that their family could enjoy during the winter. Both she and her husband are ex-consultants, so they set out with a model and a map and evaluated about 20 different ski towns in the U.S. Pretty quickly, they homed in on Park City. She said they chose Park City, “For the same reason everyone else comes here. Close airports, beautiful town, great people, beautiful summer and winter conditions.”

They had a property in both San Francisco and Park City for a little while, renting out their San Francisco home while living in Utah, and they soon decided to purchase more properties in Park City. The Donnelly's now have four Park City homes, 3 in Old Town and another between Deer Valley and the circle, and she purchased all four through Scott. 

Their rental properties are listed on both Airbnb and VRBO, and now has all of their listings on Their website as well. 


March 2020 – When Everything Went Downhill

March was when the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic, and when cases began to skyrocket in the United States. It was at this time that the Donnelly's vacation rental business hit an all-time low. 

Something that she never expected to happen was happening. All of her bookings for the next couple of months were either getting no-shows or cancellations. 

She mentioned that Airbnb doesn’t pay hosts until two days after the booking, so for anyone that didn’t show up, she lost all revenue. 

Then, Airbnb released a full-refund cancellation policy for bookings between certain dates. Airbnb did this without speaking to any hosts first, and without allowing hosts to attempt to reschedule bookings, issue credits, or make other amends. All bookings were automatically canceled and refunded. This move took everyone by surprise and left hosts around the world in sticky financial situations. Within only a matter of days, Linsly herself was hitting negative cash flow. 

“I’ve had a lot of colleagues in larger-scale tourism say that they hit zero cash because of all this, and I’m like ‘We have too! We’ve hit negative cash!’”

She said it was as if brakes were applied to the whole operation. It was all so abrupt and sudden, not something you would ever expect to happen, and nothing you could ever prepare for. The Donnelly Team's vacation rental business is a real source of family income, so with the virus and closures hitting the industry so hard, it put them in a very difficult situation. 

A little while after Airbnb auto-cancelled and refunded the bookings, they reached out to owners saying that they would give a recompense of 25% for bookings between March 14th through May 31st. Linsly said that the money certainly helped a little bit, but it was all still a major blow. 

Her experience with VRBO was slightly less difficult. The company allowed owners to work through cancellations and refunds on their own, and they were able to apply credits for the following year.

Moving Forward – Linsly’s Plans for the Future

Unfortunately, this whole situation puts Linsly and most other vacation rental owners in a very difficult spot. The future is so very uncertain. No one knows when everything will return to even a sliver of what we may consider “normal.” No one knows when people will feel comfortable traveling, and when they’ll choose to stay in a vacation rental home again. 

For those relying on their properties for income, the pandemic has certainly impacted them immensely. 

Although she said that she has many bookings still set up for the winter season, Linsly is apprehensive because there’s still a chance that many of those could get canceled as well. She says that hopefully things will improve enough by then that she can count on some of the bookings to stay. 

In regards to her plans for the future, she said, “Scary times are on the horizon. We’re just trying to navigate it all. We’re going to start trying to do long term rentals and potential year leases.” 

Looking into alternative options is the only way to go for many short-term vacation rental owners. Although some states are starting to cautiously open up in hopes of helping the economy, it’s predicted that it will take quite some time before things return to a new state of normalcy. 


Linsly’s Perspective – Are vacation rentals a good idea?

Linsly has been renting out the Donnelly's Park City homes for years and has a lot of experience working with Airbnb and VBRO. Overall, she says that she has loved being a part of the industry. 

“We’ve loved the short-term rental business. It’s very hands-on unless you have property management, but it’s worth it. People are going out and doing things they enjoy.” She says that it’s very rewarding helping to facilitate vacations for others and being part of their good experience in Park City. 

She did mention that the vacation rental business is not necessarily for everyone. “People are either comfortable having other people in their home, or they’re not.” But she went on to say that she’s almost always had good experiences with people staying in her homes. She has even had guests leave puzzles behind for her family, and one guest even set up an Easter egg hunt for her kids. 

In the ten years that she’s been renting out their homes, she’s only had a handful of bad experiences. Overall, it’s been very successful and rewarding. 

Although the pandemic has certainly caused a lot of challenges, Linsly talked about how they are all anxious to move forward and are keeping an optimistic outlook on the future. She’s dedicated to the short-term rental business, and although she may need to look into longer-term rental options temporarily, she’s excited to get back to hosting vacation rentals as soon as possible. 

You can check out The Donnelly's rentals here. 

The Donnelly's Home-Buying Experience Working with Scott

Chris and Linsly knew they didn’t want just any real estate agent when looking to purchase their first vacation home in Park City, so they started the process off by sending out interview questions to a few different agents in the area. 

She said they knew they wanted to work with Scott immediately after hearing from him. “Scott had great responses. He was supper attentive and straight from the get-go was able to get us what we needed.” 

She also said that for most of the home-buying process they had their whole family in tow, sometimes up to 12 people! She mentioned that Scott was great with it all and had the “patience of a saint” throughout the process. 

All four of their homes were purchased through Scott and Natalie because they said the experience was amazing each time. “He stays in touch with us through every transaction, really understands what our criteria are, and doesn’t feel stressed out about [the criteria] because they were not easy.”

Overall, she said that their experience looking for real estate in Park City was great. There were lots of nice options to choose from, so they were quickly able to find the best homes for their business.


Are you a vacation rental owner? Or did you have a vacation planned that got canceled due to COVID-19? Share your experience in the comments.

And, if you want to learn more about buying a home in Park City, reach out to Scott or Natalie at 435-901-4309/801-244-2367.




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