Surging demand is making coastal holiday rentals more expensive as Melburnians prepare to flood regional Victoria with the easing of travel restrictions within the state.
At 11.59pm on Sunday the so-called "ring of steel" lifted, allowing Melbourne's 5 million residents to travel beyond the 25-kilometre radius that had prevented them from visiting the regions.
Joel Rudd manages 140 properties through his family-owned business Phillip Island Holiday Homes. He has been inundated with bookings since Premier Daniel Andrews nominated November 9 as the day Melburnians could once again travel anywhere within the state.
Mr Rudd said his holiday homes were between 5 and 15 per cent more expensive than this time last year, to help owners offset months of lost income. He estimated he could charge 50 per cent more and still be booked out during peak periods, but he resents the idea of price-gouging.
"We've taken a longer term view to what is ridiculously high demand," he said. "For us reputation matters and doing the right thing matters."
Mr Rudd has received "plenty" of phone calls from people offering to pay extra to outbid other people with confirmed bookings.
"We're not going to kick someone else out because someone offers to pay more."
Data from AirDNA, which analyses Airbnb and Stayz listings, shows the number of advertised properties in coastal Victoria between November and January has collapsed as much as 35 per cent compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile demand is rising across these regions, leading to higher occupancy rates as well as higher price in some places.
The AirDNA data shows the average daily rate of holiday rental properties in Otway Colac Shire is $393 during the week over New Year's Eve, 9 per cent higher than $362 last year.
Mr Rudd said it was already "too late" to book during the New Year peak, with some tourists rewarded for their gamble after they booked ahead in faith during lockdown.
"Basically the people who have waited for that iron-clad guarantee have waited too long," he said.
Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said the demand for holiday homes was not surprising after months of lockdown.
"People are looking at the self-contained accommodation. They feel safer about the notion of staying somewhere with their own bubble," she said.
While prices tend to rise at this time of year approaching peak season, Ms Mariani warned blatant attempts by property owners to rip off guests would backfire.
"People have long memories, if [operators] were price gouging that would impact their desire to come back later."
Airbnb country manager Susan Wheeldon said there was "incredible enthusiasm" for regional holiday homes within driving distance of Melbourne and Geelong. The top three most searched locations for December and January are Blairgowrie, Aireys Inlet and Port Fairy.
"People are actively searching for authentic experiences that allow them to switch off and reconnect with family and friends while taking in the great outdoors," Ms Wheeldon said.
Mr Rudd said some property owners had taken advantage of the lockdown to complete refurbishments so their houses were extra fresh when guests arrived.
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