VRBO is advising those who have reserved rentals in the area to contact the homeowners to check the status of not only the property itself, but also the nearby beaches and businesses. “Whether or not a traveler can get a trip refunded or rescheduled depends on the cancellation terms they agreed to with the owner in checkout or in the rental agreement,” said Melanie Fish, a VRBO spokeswoman.
Airbnb’s policy in the wake of the hurricane is no different than any other time a host has to cancel a reservation: renters can receive a full refund or get a credit toward another reservation.
Panama City, which had 2,000 rooms of lodging, lost about 65 percent of its available inventory. But Panama City Beach, the county’s primary tourist destination, is mostly intact. Of the 20 hotels in Panama City Beach, a mix of high-rises, chains and boutiques, only the Sheraton Bay Point will remain closed until April, according to Dan Rowe, executive director of the Bay County Tourist Development Council; 90 percent of the city’s inventory was untouched. (The Hombre Golf Course and the Meadows Course at Bay Point have not yet reopened.)
Tourism boards are heartily encouraging people to visit and reassuring vacationers of their offerings and resilience.
“A lot of our visitors are ready to get back down here and help put some money into the economy as soon as they can,” said Kelli Godwin, executive director of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council. (One ad on the “Visit Gulf” website reads: “Thinking of canceling your Gulf County winter or spring vacation? Don’t throw in the beach towel just yet!”)
“We went from impassible roads, no water and no sewer until this week, but our county has opened back up, we have the necessities to keep it safe, and people are welcome to come,” Ms. Godwin said in early November, noting that St. Joe Beach, the county’s hardest-hit area, is one exception where a number of businesses and restaurants, like Paradise Craft House & Grill and Shipwreck Raw Bar, remain closed.
Many of the neighborhoods along the 30A corridor that missed the brunt of the storm, like Walton County, are contributing to relief efforts by offering special hotel rates for rescue workers or hosting families that have been displaced. Others have found an opportunity in displaced renters.