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.”