Summit County visitors struggle to secure refunds for canceled lodging reservations due to level red restrictions
Summit Daily News
As cancellations due to lodging restrictions increase, some visitors are struggling to secure refunds for trips booked before restrictions were in place.
Tim Osborn, who lives in Louisiana, planned to visit Breckenridge over the holidays with his wife, children and their significant others. In total, the group comprised three households.
When he booked the reservation over the summer, novel coronavirus restrictions allowed multiple households to stay in one short-term lodging unit. However, the county has since moved into level red restrictions, which permit only one household per reservation.
“When we saw this announcement, we immediately contacted Breckenridge Tourism (Office) to confirm as well as the town manager’s office,” he said.
After hearing from the tourism office and the town that the restrictions would mean his reservation would violate the public health order, Osborn canceled with VRBO, the short-term rental service he used to book the house. However, the property owner initially refused to give Osborn a refund, and he was never notified from VRBO or the property owner that restrictions prohibited their reservation, he said.
“It really took our own research to discover that our rental housing that we had arranged was not going to be able to be used,” Osborn said.
Osborn added that he was eventually able to secure a refund by going to the tourism office and town and asking for assistance.
Breckenridge Lodging Association President Toby Babich said he estimates reservations to be down 20% to 40% since the restrictions went into place in November.
“A lot of these people booked knowing that COVID was an issue across the country, but they booked without these specific restrictions,” he said. “It’s not just that we can’t take bookings for more than one household moving forward, but the expectation from the county in the past … is that we would cancel or modify any bookings that we already have in place.”
That expectation has caused lodging companies to alter customers’ travel plans at a rapid rate, Babich said, placing a hefty load on the work required in a year when sales are already down.
Babich said people like Osborn might be having a difficult time securing a refund because of the added work placed on those in the industry.
“People are not exhibiting the patience requisite for our lodging community to respond,” he said. “They really need to understand the lodging community across the county is dealing with these things on a quick turnaround time, and usually they deal with a lot of them at the same time. We’re all trying to do the best we can to manage this situation.”
Babich added that making a reservation costs property owners and managers money.
“When people are asking us to cancel for free, very often they don’t understand that we’ve spent hundreds and hundreds just surfacing their reservation before they stay,” he said.
Whether a person receives a refund for their reservation also depends on the contract they signed. Although the state and county governments implemented the one household rule, they are not able to require lodging owners or managers to issue a refund for cancellations.
“The county has no role in the resolution of any disputes between the two parties related to either one’s adherence to the terms of the (short-term rental) contract,” county spokesperson Julie Sutor wrote in an email. “Those disputes must be taken up directly between the two parties and/or their respective legal representatives.”
Aside from the work to secure a reservation, Osborn said his bigger worry about his experience is the lack of communication throughout the process. While he said Summit and Breckenridge “should be applauded” for their COVID-19 response, he’d like to see local governments ensure the message about the restrictions is communicated by enforcing repercussions like revoking a lodging license.
“They need to push very actively on these rental companies and homeowners making short-term rentals to reach out to each and every one of the people they’re renting these homes to to inform them that we have these restrictions in place,” he said.
The county has been issuing communication to short-term rental owners and managers. However, those properties are managed under a permitting system rather than licensing system, so the county isn’t able to easily revoke a license from a business that is not complying with the rules.
Sutor added that anyone looking to visit Summit County should read up on the county’s current coronavirus restrictions at SummitCountyCo.gov.