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With ‘nowhere else to go,’ fall, winter cottage rentals surge

The arrival of colder weather has done nothing to cool down Southwestern Ontario’s red-hot cottage rental market.

Even amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some rental agencies in the region say there’s a high demand for fall and winter getaways, fueled by a push to stay local, coupled with many still working and learning from home.

“We’ve seen a record number of bookings for October,” said Craig White with CottageLink Rental Management. “More people desire to extend the feeling of getting away … It’s not a real secret that people just have nowhere else to go.”

He said September occupancy for cottage rentals, usually around 50 per cent, has been closer to 100 per cent all month.

After lockdowns forced many Ontarians to seek vacations within the province, most rental cottages were fully booked all summer long, shutting out those who hadn’t booked early in the spring.

Now, White said people who missed out are taking advantage of a getaway in the fall months.

The increased interest in fall cottage rentals also is enabled by families whose children might be doing online learning, with parents working remotely.

“Working from home just means not from the office. If a cottage has a good internet connection, that’s where people are going,” White said.

Thanksgiving weekend is almost entirely booked, he said, even with families recognizing they’re capped at 10 occupants due to pandemic restrictions.

And the interest doesn’t stop in October, with renters seeing a higher volume of bookings for November and even around Christmas.

“I expect Christmas to be crazy this year because there is no other holiday option,” said Jennifer Whaling with CottageStays in Bayfield.

She said many of the fall bookings in her area are from elderly couples taking advantage of off-season pricing and seeking quiet outside of cities.

“I think the idea of a cottage for people, it’s perceived as being a safe way to get away because you can still be in your chosen bubble,” said Susan Mills, manager of the Grand Bend and Area Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s probably people coming in the fall that were maybe a little nervous about coming in the summertime because it was busy.”

Although swimming is likely now off the table, Mills said there’s still an interest in hiking, walking the area beaches, along with shopping and dining, during the fall months.

“It gives everyone a mental break from the hustle and bustle of urban environments,” she said.

Many visitors to the Grand Bend area this year – which was notoriously packed on weekends – were first-timers, and Mills is optimistic they’ll have a desire to return next year. “That could be a silver lining out of this.”

But if you’re looking to rent a Great Lakes cottage next summer, you might want to start making your plans now. Cottage renters already are fielding an increase of inquiries about bookings for next summer, White said.

With much uncertainty lingering around what summer 2021 might look like, and when international travel will be back on the table, many Ontarians are playing it safe with their summer plans and booking a cottage, White said.

Although prime cottage booking season for the summer months typically starts around February and March, CottageLink is already seeing that level of interest now.

“We’re up about five or six times in the number of pre-bookings for next summer,” he said.

Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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