Stays at an Airbnb or other short-term rentals are playing a bigger role in Whatcom County’s tourism industry.
From Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Airbnb estimates Whatcom County had 33,300 guest arrivals. Bellingham ranked fourth in Washington city Airbnb destinations this past summer, according to a report released by the company. The top three destinations in the state were Seattle, Spokane and Port Angeles.
The number of short-term rental properties, Airbnb and VRBO and HomeAway, have increased substantially in the past five years, according to data collected through different reports for Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. According to the data, Whatcom County had 176 short-term rental homes in October 2014. That jumped to 1,605 rentals in July 2019. That’s still a small slice of Whatcom County’s overall housing stock: In July 2018 Whatcom County had 97,855 housing units, according to the U.S. Census.
While the number of Whatcom short-term rentals have risen significantly in five years, growth has been relatively flat the past year, said Sandy Ward, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. She suspects that, at least for the time being, this area has stabilized in terms of those getting into the short-term rental market.
Stays at short-term rentals are generating revenue and lodging taxes for the area. The Airbnb study estimated the past summer guest arrivals netted hosts $5.3 million in Whatcom County; for all of 2018 the company estimates hosts netted $9.9 million. In its study, the company noted that 92% of Airbnb hosts say they recommend restaurants and cafes to guests.
Of the 1,605 July active short-term rentals in Whatcom County, 326 were in Bellingham, which created a set of regulations that began earlier this year. The regulations were put in place after residents expressed concerns about housing stock, noise and safety issues.
Short-term rentals and hotels shared similar occupancy rates this summer. In July the hotel occupancy rate in Bellingham was 77% compared to 80% for short-term rentals, according to the data provided to Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. The average daily Bellingham hotel rate in July was $108.61, while the average rate for a short-term rental was $101.03.
Across all of Whatcom County, short-term rentals had an average daily rate of $153.34 in July, much higher than the $111.47 for Whatcom County hotels.
Occupancy for Bellingham hotels has been on the rise after a surge in new hotel construction around five years ago. Year-to-date, Bellingham’s hotel occupancy rate is 67.3%, up from 64.9% for the same period in 2018.