Vacation rental cancellations send visitors scrambling for other accommodations

Published: Aug. 13, 2019 at 10:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A city crackdown on illegal vacation rentals has nervous hosts cancelling reservations ― and visitors scrambling for a place to stay for their upcoming vacations.

Tammy Donaldson and her family of 12 from California are among those left in the lurch.

She’s planning to visit the island in November, and said they booked the perfect home in Wahiawa through Airbnb back in February. It even came with a crib for her newest grandchild.

And at $2,200 for five days, the home was well within their budget.

But two weeks ago, Donaldson says they got an email from their Airbnb host saying their reservation was canceled.

"At first, I couldn't believe it," said Donaldson. "(The host) had told me that because of the new law and the fines that she could get, she couldn't rent to us unless we were willing to do it for 30 days or more, which is an impossible thing."

Now the family is forced to look for a new place to stay, and they say hotels are too expensive.

“The prices were completely outrageous. They ranged anywhere from $7,000 to $14,000 (total) for the trip. We can’t afford that whatsoever. I’m a little bit worried about going on Airbnb or VRBO again just because of the fact I don’t know that the same thing is not going to happen,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson and her family aren’t alone.

Since a new city vacation rental law went into effect Aug. 1, thousands of illegal vacation rentals have been taken off the popular websites.

The city estimates that the number of illegal units advertising on Oahu has dropped from about 5,000 to roughly 3,000.

Bruce Fisher, owner of Hawaii Aloha Travel, says he’s been fielding calls from visitors scrambling for a place to stay, some just weeks out from their trips.

He said one woman called him crying on the phone.

“They were getting a $100/day room and the best that I could find them was $250/day," he said.

While supporters of the new law applaud the city’s enforcement and say the crackdown on the industry is long overdue, opponents fear the drop in inventory will be devastating for tourism.

With the average daily hotel room rate at $280 a night, they say Hawaii will become a destination out of reach for many.

"We're supposed to be this great family destination, but if you have a family of five or six, where are you going to stay? A regular hotel won't be big enough. I think the jury is still out as to what impact we're having and it may mean people don't come," Fisher said.

Some vacation rental groups are suing the city over the new law, but Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the lawsuits will not stop the city from enforcement.

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