Memorial Day weekend came and went with many Illinoisans stuck at home, but this July Fourth holiday weekend, those who choose to can finally get away thanks to the state’s reopening. And one area that is topping travelers’ lists is “South Shore Lake Michigan,” aka Southwest Michigan, according to home sharing site Airbnb.
“We’re talking about the Berrien County area, not too far from Chicago,” said Airbnb communications manager Sam Randall. “Actually, Chicago is the top origin city of guests traveling to this area — New Buffalo, Grand Beach, St. Joseph. Searches for listings in the area are up by 30% compared to last year. Southwest Michigan is full of some great little towns that have cool little shops, and there are a lot of outdoor activities for hiking and fishing enthusiasts and people that enjoy going to the beach.”
Airbnb host Hannah Heyn is grateful for the surge in summer clientele. The Bridgman, Michigan, resident has four properties in Harbor Country, Michigan, about a half a mile away from one another, that she rents on the Airbnb platform. This being her third summer on the platform, she said that when COVID-19 hit, she realized she didn’t like not being busy.
“COVID-19 hitting in March was kind of a punch to the gut when you saw everything canceled for an unknown amount of time,” she said. “This is our livelihood. Now, I feel like I’m getting more regular inquiries, and the turnaround rate is faster. People are booking faster. I don’t know if it’s because people are staying closer to home, but it seems to be busier this summer.”
Randall said over 20% of bookings over the Fourth of July weekend are in rural areas, driving economic activity in areas that have not traditionally benefited from the tourism economy. Travelers are also looking for pet-friendly retreats.
“It doesn’t seem like people want to leave their pets behind, as people pack up the car and hit the road and get to a nearby place that is accessible,” he said. “As states reopen, people are looking to get out into more wide-open areas. In a survey we did of our guests, nearly three out of four said they felt more comfortable staying in an Airbnb listing over a hotel. … They’re not looking to stay in areas where they may have to interact with many different guests, in high traffic areas and lobbies.”
For those on the fence about traveling, especially when it comes to cleanliness during this pandemic, Heyn said she has a team of family members who make it all work. Check-in is a bit later to make sure the cleaning is thorough, she said. She’s also aware of Airbnb’s enhanced cleaning protocol, which includes a step-by-step cleaning handbook — with guidelines informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — to help hosts elevate their cleaning practices and prepare their home for guests. Guests can identify and book listings that adhere to the protocol.
“I think everyone was kind of watching the calendars of every governor’s order and when the stay-at-home orders were looking like they were being lifted,” Heyn said. “Our area on Red Arrow Highway, starting in Michigan City up to St. Joseph, we’re known for antique stores; we have great restaurants, wineries and breweries that people also come out for. Once people get a taste of our area and realize this is 90 minutes from their door, they’ll stay.”