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Sept. 29, 2020, 9:51 a.m. EDT

What’s a snowbird to do? The pandemic has upended plans to head south for the winter

Some are worried about COVID numbers in Florida, and for Canadians, the border isn’t even open

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By Bart Astor


istock
Naples, Florida, is a popular winter destination for Northerners.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .

A year ago (was it only just a year ago?) I wrote these promising words in a Next Avenue article:  In the next few months, thousands of northerners — so-called “snowbirds” — will escape their snowy, cold climates to spend the winter in warm, sunny spots in the southern or western part of the U.S.

Thousands of northerners did, indeed escape to warmer climes for winter 2019-20. Then came 2020 and the pandemic.

Due to the coronavirus, snowbirds are now rethinking, businesses are worrying, rental agencies are discounting, transportation services are marketing, and Chambers of Commerce are scrambling to find a path to recovery and normalcy.

Snowbirds David and Debby Englander have spent their winters near Sarasota, on the west coast of Florida, for the last several years since David retired from his law firm in New York City. Debby, an editor, writer and avid runner, has had a very positive motivation for going.

“I can do my work and also go outside to exercise, as opposed to the New York winters,” she says.

The pros and possible cons of being a snowbird in Florida this year

To some extent, that motivation has only grown due to the pandemic. In New York, Debby says, she’d either be “stuck inside or around so many people on buses and subways,” she says. “In Florida, there’s less interaction with people, so there’s less of a risk [of COVID-19].”

Before they left Florida to return home last May, the Englanders put down a deposit for this winter. Now, they’re keeping their options open.

“If we go, it will be to avoid the cold here in New York,” David said. “But we won’t make our decision until November. It all depends on the [coronavirus] numbers. So, if Florida is a hot spot and shuts down again or we’ll have to quarantine, we’ll cancel. And the worst thing is that we’d lose our deposit.”

Early projections for Sunbelt vacation rentals and the businesses that cater to snowbirds are down significantly.

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Amtrak’s Auto Train — which takes passengers and their cars nonstop and overnight to the Orlando, Fla, area — is normally almost fully booked for the early winter by now. But these trains are showing less than half full. Amtrak is even offering discounted rates of as much as 45% for some dates to shore up bookings.

What Airbnb listings show

A review of homes on Airbnb and VRBO/HomeAway, the largest online rental organizations offering long term rentals in the Sunbelt, reveal that snowbirds have many more options this year than in the past.

In addition, many homes that traditionally required three-month minimum rentals in high-demand places like South Florida and the Gulf Coast are being offered for just one month this winter. Homeowners are trying to accommodate renters who are unsure about the conditions they may face.

Diane Nelson, a Realtor with Paradise Real Estate in Palm Beach County, Fla., has a different take on why rentals are down.

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