Destin vacation rental properties are open, and business is booming

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

After short-term rentals were shut down for a few weeks in the spring of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the doors are now open and the vacation rental business on the Emerald Coast is booming.

Ocean Reef, a 40-year-old locally owned and operated vacation rental and real estate company manages 550 vacation homes and condos, and business is on the rise. 

“Thankfully, our market has rebounded tremendously post the state-mandated COVID shutdown,” said Richard Olivarez, chief marketing officer for Ocean Reef. 

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“We enjoyed a banner fall, almost no off-season, a spring break where we were nearly at 100% occupancy throughout, and are looking forward to an incredible summer,” he added. 

Olivarez said word has gotten out about our area. 

“New markets have discovered our area, and our favorite repeat guests are very excited to be back at the beach. We’ve been able to capitalize on the increase in demand,” he said. 

Olivarez said their occupancy in the summer is typically close to 100% for the “duration of the season.” 

“We are sure pacing positively in the number of reservations, but the biggest increases we are seeing are the rates we’ve achieved. Utilizing our approach to yield management, some of our premier beachfront vacation homes are reserving at nearly double the weekly rates from the previous year,” Olivarez said. 

Ocean Reef is not the only rental agency seeing an increase. 

Traffic backs up near rental properties that line Scenic Highway 98 near the Crab Trap in Destin.

RealJoy Vacations, which handles 450 properties in Destin/Miramar Beach, has seen an increase in numbers as well. 

RealJoy’s occupancy rate for spring break ended at 93.3%, compared to 69.9% in 2019, which was strong because of Hurricane Michael and contractor traffic, according to Ryan Olin, chief operating officer for RealJoy. 

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And summer is looking good as well. 

“The summer is showing signs of being extremely busy. We are pacing way ahead of years past, which means we can raise rates, and a lot,” Olin said. 

Beachgoers crowd onto the beach in Destin. Vacation rental operators say business is booming.

Olin gave the example of summer rates in 2019 were on average of $349 per night and now they are $519 per night. 

And the people are renting homes and condos. 

“We do not see a clear distinction in one over the other,” Olin said. 

And they are booked further out than normal, he added. 

“2021 is looking to be, by far, the best year in the history of RealJoy and our area,” Olin said. “The biggest key this year is controlling our rates and not booking out too far. If your summer/fall is almost booked, that is not a good thing right now. Our demand is extremely high, so should your rates.”

Compass Resorts in Destin, which handles more than 300 condominiums and homes,  said its numbers also are on the rise. 

Visitors walk past rental properties that line Scenic Highway 98 near the Crab Trap in Destin.

“Numbers are up,” said Miles Chew, marketing manager at Compass Resorts. “Paid occupancy is up 25% for the year compared to 2019. And we’ve broken a few all-time company records over the past couple of months."

As for summer, “It’s looking really good. It’s pacing to be a solid three months,” he added. 

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And not just for 2021. 

“We already have a few reservations that don’t check in until March and April 2022,” Chew said. 

However, most of their bookings during the past two weeks are checking in within three weeks or closer to that 60-day mark, Chew added. 

A woman walks past rental properties that line Scenic Highway 98 near the Crab Trap in Destin.

“Spring break was very busy and I expect summer to be the same way, if not busier,” Chew said. 

“Over the last 90 days, searches for Destin have steadily increased, meaning more and more people are getting ready to relax,” said Chew, who noted Google Trends. “With airlines coming back into the fold, especially Allegiant's new direct flights, there’s going to be more demand than we’ve had in a while.”