Addison Seale manages a luxury Airbnb Inc. listing near Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, a short-term rental market that boomed during the pandemic as people fled cramped cities in search of outdoor space. The house is sleek—a single story, three-bedroom concrete home with a deck, hot tub, small above-ground pool and a striking view of the desert. But to set the home apart from the 1,200 other rentals in the area, Seale, 25, and her fiancé decided against an in-ground pool, and chose a pickleball court instead.
“Compared to putting in a pool it was extremely cheap because it’s a concrete slab they had to finish and put the lines on,” she said. “We really just wanted something we could use and make us stand out.”
Seale’s property is one of almost 1,300 short-term rentals across Airbnb and Expedia Group Inc.’s Vrbo that mention pickleball in their listing title or description, according to industry data provider AirDNA. The number of citations has increased 32% from 2019.
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While the number of residences boasting pickleball courts is still small compared with the more than 8 million listings combined for Airbnb and Vrbo, having homes that will entice guests helps the companies compete with hotels. After two years of Covid lockdowns, the travel companies have been enjoying a boom in demand, with revenue in the second quarter topping analysts’ expectations. But shares of Airbnb and Expedia are down about 37% and 48%, respectively, this year as analysts expect travel to taper off toward the end of 2022 amid high inflation and an uncertain economic outlook. Property listings that mention pickleball are down about 200 this year, likely a reflection of softer demand for popular sites near mountain and lake getaways, AirDNA said.
Pickleball—played with a plastic, hollow-ball and wide paddle—resembles a cross between tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Players can compete as singles or as doubles on a court or even a driveway marked with chalk. All that’s needed is a lightweight and inexpensive net and paddles, making the game easily accessible to most people. The popularity of the sport exploded recently, growing 39% over the last two years to 4.8 million players, according to a study from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a global trade group for sports and fitness brands. Players in the 18-34 age range make up almost 29% of total players, but among serious pickleball enthusiasts, those who play eight times or more a year, almost a third are 65 or older.
Advertising pickleball perks can help short-term rental hosts get noticed amid a flood of new properties that have cropped up since the pandemic. Demand for homes has swelled as people take advantage of flexible work options. More guests are looking for stays of a month or more, and many are bringing their whole families in search of a space to combine work and leisure. The top amenities people are looking for include home offices, fast Wi-Fi, backyards and pet-friendly homes, according to Airbnb.
The San Francisco-based company said it doesn’t track searches for pickleball, but does note that travelers say amenities are a top priority for a great trip, especially when guests are booking for longer stays. On a blog post for hosts, Airbnb advises: “Thoughtfully outfitting your space and adding popular amenities to your listing will help you stand out from the crowd.” One host on the site suggested that other hosts “write your listing to invite people who value and enjoy the same things you do.”
That’s what Mike and Barbara Burch did. The Sedona, Arizona, residents converted a guest house on their property into an Airbnb listing and installed a pickleball court in September 2020 after playing at their church’s gym before the pandemic. It’s been a draw for reservations, and the couple, who describe themselves as “very active seniors,” finds new playing partners when their guests pick up the paddles.
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“I have many people who will say, ‘I saw you had a pickleball court and that’s what bought me to your site,’” Barbara Burch said. “We’ve taught a lot of people that have no physical ability at all.”
Pickleball players in the US are concentrated on the coasts, with more than 1 million from Florida to Washington, D.C., and more than 750,000 players on the West Coast, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association report. But tournaments happen all across the country, including one in Sacramento, California, at the end of September that offers a $40,000 prize. That means travelers could be looking for a pickleball-friendly place to stay while competing, or to stay in shape while on vacation. Saint George, Utah, has the most pickleball-related rental listings in the US, with more than 100, followed by the Florida cities of St. Petersburg, Panama City Beach and Naples, according to AirDNA.
Like Lake Tahoe, and Joshua Tree, Arizona saw a boom in the popularity of short-term rentals during the pandemic, along with a hot housing market. The number of short-term listings in Phoenix increased 46% as of August compared with last year, according to AirDNA. While many people flocked to the sunny, dry destinations as an ideal place to weather the pandemic and work from home, not everyone wants to just lounge by the pool after a day of video calls or while on a family trip.
“If you go to a place like Arizona you’re gonna lay at the pool,” said Sarah Bradford, a former vacation rental manager and self-described pickleball fanatic. “A family is tired of playing at the pool after an hour. You need activities; you’re on vacation.”
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