For Brandon Delgado, it all started when the National Basketball Association suspended its season in early March.

For Christine Robertson and Mary Ann Kaye, it hit just days later, as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham began placing restrictions on business operations around New Mexico.

And for Todd Davis, it took hold as President Donald Trump initiated a travel ban.

But perhaps the beginnings weren’t as important as the net effect: By late March, these owners or managers of vacation and short-term rental properties were essentially out of business.

The culprit, of course, was COVID-19.

“It was pretty devastating,” said Kaye, who manages Casas de Guadalupe, a 12-unit, short-term rental facility in business for over a decade. “We lost most of March and April and then into the first two weeks of May people are pretty much canceling.”

June, she said, “looks dismal.”

Similar words were used by other Santa Fe-based operators to describe how phones started ringing off the hook with news of cancellations as national and state leaders reacted to the spreading respiratory virus by imposing travel, lodging and business restrictions.

Gone for the year are Santa Fe’s biggest draws: Spanish Market, Indian Market and the International Folk Art Market. Those departures have a devastating impact on a short-term rental industry that generates as much as $50 million through the approximately 1,400 properties in the area, according to a recent study by Homewise.

And so, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, travelers put a halt to travel plans for Santa Fe.

Davis, owner of Casas de Santa Fe, which oversees some 130 vacation homes in the city, has seen “almost 100 percent cancellations” for May and June. Some people, he said, are still holding out hope that restrictions loosen up and the Santa Fe Opera — which has yet to make a decision on whether it will cancel its summer season — goes on with the show.

As with the hotel industry, the closure or near shutdowns of these businesses means less money for city coffers, said Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe.

“This means a drop in both the GRT [gross receipts tax] portion funded by tourism and all lodgers tax,” said Randall, who estimated the city could lose $3 million. “It will certainly be at least 12 months, and perhaps 18 months or more, before we see these tax receipts restored to pre-COVID-19 levels.”

Even without the cancellations, these businesses are contending with a state public health order to remain closed — except for health care professionals who may need lodging or long-term renters who are staying longer, perhaps with an eye toward eventually moving here.

As the health care crisis moves from its eighth to ninth week in New Mexico, vacation-rental managers are trying to figure out how to adapt and survive.

For Robertson, things are slightly easier because Fort Marcy Hotel Suites, the 98-unit facility she manages, also has hotel units, which are allowed to host up to 25 percent of capacity during the pandemic.

Once the crisis took hold in March, “We went from 100 percent full to about 10 percent full,” she said. “We have hovered between 8 [percent] and 10 percent since.”

Delgado manages just one Airbnb site, a 1930s-era house located in the city’s Railyard District. He owns the dwelling and said he has money socked away to get through a lot of rainy days. But he wonders if the aftershock from the pandemic won’t affect the industry for a long time to come.

“I could see this going into 2021,” he said.

In the interim, managers are working to prove to their guests that their rental sites are safe.

Cleaning procedures have been intensified. It’s almost certain that in the future they will leave at least one day, if not more, in between rental agreements to ensure sites are thoroughly disinfected per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Davis described a look into the future that includes housekeepers wearing protective masks, gloves and single-use disposable outfits; washing their hands before, during and after a cleaning; and using a one-time disposable mop.

“This is our new reality,” he said.

Robertson said the future is already here. At her site, housekeepers clean and wipe down every item — “doorknobs, countertops, light switches, everything a guest might possibly touch” — as well as furniture pieces, bathroom accouterments and remote control devices.

Business owners also are thinking of ways to adapt and survive. One such pathway could be by offering long-term rentals.

Greg Smith, director of the code compliance division for the city of Santa Fe, said nothing in city statute prevents short-term rental properties from switching to long-term deals. He said his division to date has received just two complaints regarding short-term rental organizations that may be violating the state mandate.

Short-term rental owners and managers interviewed for this story said they are considering the possibility of offering long-term rentals. Some said they would consider rental price reductions as well.

For now, they are pinning their hopes on the possibility that some of the summer months — typically their best season — can be salvaged if people feel it’s safe to travel to Santa Fe.

It’s possible the news won’t be all bad. Eric Fullerton, media spokesman for AirDNA, a company that collects and analyzes data on short-term rental trends around the world, said Thursday that based on a recent look at global trends, the business is “following a path of, as people’s stay-at-home orders are lifted, they are booking their summer vacations” with increasing frequency.

But such trends are different for each market and it’s too early to say how New Mexico’s short-term rental businesses might fare, he said.

Davis said he’s worried about the entire year, not just the season.

“We believe this is gonna be a ‘skip year,’ ” he said. “Many regular guests like to skip a year at a particular site — maybe instead go to San Diego one year, or the lakes of Minnesota or somewhere in Wisconsin — and then come back to Santa Fe. But I think this will be a skip year without them going anywhere else.”

Robertson is more optimistic.

“I think it’s gonna come back with a vengeance,” she said of the travel industry. “A lot of people waiting, but I think a lot of people are gonna come back.”

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General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

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(14) comments

Claudia Chavez

Enjoy Santa Fe and stay in a HOTEL. Homes built by our ancestros weren’t meant to be “exclusive vacation rentals”

Tiago Stock

I think we need both hotels and airbnbs, and both types of visitors to our economy. And although some airbnb's are owned by out of town owners, a majority is probably owned by locals.

Mollie Mitchell

A lot of people cannot afford to eat out three meals a day. And for those traveling with children, a home is often a much better option. In regular times, there is room in Santa Fe for both hotels and STRs.

Stefanie Beninato

Why is the city complaining or pointing out about the lack of lodger's taxes? The city suspended lodgers tax when the shutdown began. Now it is whining about not enough money. And according to the city's consultant's report, there are over 1600 STR about half were operating without a permit. Long term rentals would be good. And I do not think $1400 for 450 sq ft studio is a market rate--it is gouging IMHO.

Connie Lopez

Maybe the City of Santa Fe or State of NM can provide some type of bail out money to the local short-term landlords. Connie Lopez-Lucero

Muyska Santa Fe

If you’re an owner of a short term rental like I am you may want to consider turning your units into long-term rentals immediately, while you have a chance. There is no short term rental market for at least 18 months or more. Many people in the local community are looking for rentals. Let go of your fantasy that you are going to rent your unit out any time soon. That market is in the tank and will be for quite some time. Be realistic about your goals and think of our community of Santa Feans who are going to be your base moving forward. Be grateful that you have options.

Phyllis Roybal

I like the idea of changing from short term to long term. The people who work at the center of tourism (restaurants, hotels, museums, and galleries, can't find housing in Santa Fe because of the 1400 or so short term rentals. So they have to commute. I wish there weren't so many short term rentals here. Thank you Muyska

Connie Lopez

Wrong. They can find housing. That's not the issue. It's just people are unable to pay fair market rate, especially downtown Santa Fe area, and want landlord to subsidize rent. Convert short-term to long-term housing and expect all the low-income people to apply. Plus, be careful with tenant's inability to pay monthly rent due COVID-19 circumstances, which is broad. Difficult to evict is what news is saying. Connie Lopez-Lucero

Jeff Clark

The reason why "fair market" is so high is because the huge number of housing units that have been taken off the market to be converted into STR. STR's should be restricted to casitas or 2nd home owners who rent out their homes when they're not using them. And that should be restricted. There are plenty of hotel rooms in Santa Fe. Housing in our neighborhoods shouldn't be turned into commercial districts.

Buying housing units to convert to a business is morally wrong in a time of housing shortages.

Tiago Stock

airbnb visitors are going to restaurants, museums, and galleries, and giving those workers work. Many visitors prefer airbnbs because of a variety or reasons. I have a grade schooler, when I stay in a place for more than day or two, it's easier for my family having a kitchen and a yard.

Betheny Winkler

Can you suggest where I might look for a 6 or 12 mo rental, perhaps a former short-term? I'd like to move, but they aren't showing up on Craigslist.

Mollie Mitchell

I would check Zillow.

Carlos Vasquez

I have short terms that are now mid terms! 603-1100

Angela Velez

Hi my name is Angela Velez. I am currently a resident at the midtown crisis center I have tested negative for coronavirus and I have a voucher for housing and am unable to find a apartment I have searched for about 3 months now and I'm about to lose my voucher there are several people here at the midtown campus who are looking for a long-term residence. some have vouchers like myself and some are in the process of obtaining a housing voucher but the market is very low out there there is nothing available for us. when the midtown campus closes because it is temporary we will be back on the streets unless we can find housing if you have anything available please my voucher is for an efficiency apartment and my cap is 818 with utilities my phone number is 505-930-8811 if you or anyone you may know has a apartment efficiency please give me a call I am about to lose my voucher on the 23rd of May.

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