BEMIDJI, Minn. Since it first began, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the travel landscape, with travelers nixing old vacation habits to make way for new trends that promote better health and safety.

Last year was dubbed the summer of road trips and RV rentals, but according to new data from Airbnb, the pandemic also created a demand for more rural travel, especially here in Minnesota.

This uptick, a release said, is providing a “new economic lifeline” for local Airbnb hosts in rural parts of the state.

“As visitors seek out a safe change of scenery — and the chance to reconnect with nature — unique and remote outdoor spaces have never been more precious or more valuable,” the release said.

In fact, Airbnb estimates that individual hosts in rural Minnesota have earned more than $6,900 each on average since the pandemic was declared last March. Over that same time period, rural hosts in Minnesota have earned $23.3 million in total, which is nearly twice as much as the average from 2019. Based on Airbnb data from 2019, a host in rural Minnesota may earn nearly $3,300 in one summer.

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According to the release, rural hosts make up a quarter of Airbnb hosts in the U.S., and on average, the typical one has earned a total of $8,448 since the start of the pandemic — more than $2,000 more than the average from 2019.

With Memorial Day weekend just a month away, Airbnb said this trend of staying in rural, off-the-beaten-path locales is still desirable to vacationers, with site searches for more remote destinations in the country over the holiday increasing by nearly 40% in the past month.

“From open-air destinations to off-the-grid unique stays, guests are looking for a truly bespoke experience outdoors,” the release said. “In many cases, the stays guests seek are as important as the destinations themselves. From glamping, to farm stays and minimalist tiny homes, these are the one-of-a-kind stay types trending this Memorial Day holiday.”

In total, rural hosts in Minnesota have earned $23.3 million over that same time period, nearly twice as much from the average from 2019. Photo courtesy of Airbnb.com.
In total, rural hosts in Minnesota have earned $23.3 million over that same time period, nearly twice as much from the average from 2019. Photo courtesy of Airbnb.com.

Yet with short-term rentals comes a double-edged sword for communities.

Hosts can reap a sizable profit from them, and tourism and the local economy can benefit when visitors staying in the rentals spend money in the community.

Jamin Carlson, with the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, said there’s been research to show that short-term rentals may also provide some financial benefit to a city through lodging taxes.

In general, there is widespread concern that short-term rentals can transform quiet neighborhoods into noisy vacation districts, which some long-term residents fear will disrupt their property values and way of life. In bigger cities, there are worries that the rentals could cause unavailable housing and skyrocketing housing prices.

Various cities across the country have attempted to reign in and regulate short-term rentals. For example, some have imposed taxes on them as well as limiting them to certain neighborhoods or building types. And some, such as Bemidji, have banned them altogether.

Short-term vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, have not been allowed in Bemidji city limits or Northern Township since the joint planning board passed the ruling in 2018 due to concerns from nearby neighbors.

Carlson said there has been some unofficial discussion in joint planning board meetings about revisiting the topic of reintroducing short-term rentals to the city of Bemidji and Northern Township. But for the time being, he said, it’s all still up in the air.

“There has been some interest from certain elected officials who I think would at least like to discuss it,” Carlson said. “I don't know where it's going to go because at the end of the day it's up to the board.”