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Panama City Beach seeing dip in spring vacation rental reservations as COVID-19 lingers

Nathan Cobb
The News Herald

PANAMA CITY BEACH — With Spring Break around the corner, local vacation rental reservations are only a fraction of what they've been. 

As of Tuesday, companies across the Beach reported their spring reservations were down from 40% to 80% compared to years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Officials also said the industry has drastically shifted from a time when visitors would schedule their vacations months in advance. Now, companies are lucky if tourists book their rooms a week before they arrive. 

Local vacation rental companies say reservations are down for this spring compared to years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Reggie Johns, owner of Book that Condo, that "major evolution" began a few years ago as technology made it easier for people to book online. He believes it has been accelerated by the coronavirus. 

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"We have seen our booking window over the last year drop dramatically, and it (now) averages about five to seven days out," Johns said.

Johns, who reported the highest dip in spring reservations of those interviewed, added that his customers now also book shorter stays, averaging about four or fewer days instead of the traditional full week.

Fewer spring reservations fueled by the pandemic is a trend Rodney Lawrence, CEO of Vacations Perfected, and Yasmine Knighten, operations director for Panhandle Getaways Vacation Rentals, also can appreciate. 

"In the years past, our Spring Break would have been booked up (by) December or January," Lawrence said. 

"A lot of guests tend to book more so last minute and so the trend has changed," Knighten added. "We're (still) hopeful that we'll have a decent Spring Break."

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However, unlike Johns, who said his current summer reservations mirrored the spring, Lawrence and Knighten added that bookings for this peak season already were coming in.

Lawrence's company manages about 90 properties on the Beach while Knighten's group rents more than 700 properties across Bay, Walton and Okaloosa counties. 

The two also said one of the reasons this spring might be slow is because many surrounding colleges have canceled their spring breaks because of the pandemic. They added this includes the University of Alabama, the University of Tennessee and the University of Georgia.

"That's really going to impact us in late March because they're not going to have time off to come down," Lawrence said.