Whitefish Asks Hotels, Short-Term Rentals to Stop Accepting Reservations

Data suggests people are seeking refuge from the pandemic in the Flathead Valley

By Justin Franz
Whitefish City Hall. Beacon file photo

Amid a growing concern that people from out of the area are seeking refuge from the COVID-19 pandemic in the Flathead Valley, the City of Whitefish is asking hotels, short-term rentals, and other lodging establishments to stop accepting reservations for non-essential visits through April 30.

Last week, local tourism officials began a campaign to ask visitors to cancel their trips to the area. But on March 30, the City of Whitefish took it a step further and directly asked lodging establishments to voluntarily stop taking reservations. 

“The City has been made aware of a recent trend of individuals leaving areas with high concentrations of COVID-19 cases in order to ‘shelter in place’ in small communities such as ours,” Mayor John Muhlfeld and City Manager Dana Smith wrote. “While Whitefish has always taken pride in being a welcoming and inclusive community, this trend presents a very real risk to our citizens.” 

The officials admitted that while canceling reservations could result in a financial burden to those businesses it was ultimately best for the community as a whole. 

According to a Montana Free Press story, data from AirDNA — a company that analyzes data about the short-term rental industry — shows the number of vacation rental reservations made in Montana has increased in recent weeks, especially in the Flathead Valley. Reported rental revenue in Whitefish during the first half of March grew from $1.1 million in 2019 to $2.1 million in 2020, a 92% increase.

Late last week, at least one vacation rental business in Whitefish sent out a promotion encouraging people from out of state to seek refuge in the area. The move was heavily criticized on social media, and the promotion was later dropped. The company apologized.

On Monday, Gov. Steve Bullock directed anyone arriving in Montana from another state or country for non-work-related purposes to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. The order applies to both residents and non-residents.

On Tuesday, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services reported 184 cases of COVID-19 in Montana, including two new ones in Flathead County, bringing the area’s total positive cases to 11. Lincoln County currently has five cases and Lake County has three. 

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