INDIANAPOLIS — March Madness brings with it a major economic boost for Indianapolis’ hospitality industry, one that suffered a hit during the pandemic.
One area in particular that was impacted by lower tourism over the last 12 months was the short-term rental industry.
As spring rolled around and the city began to welcome back fans from near and far, property managers like Jim Borthwick with Five Star Property say it’s bringing a great boost of optimism and energy to the short-term rental industry.
“Definitely a huge surge of more of our traditional, Airbnb-type stays,” he said.
Five Star Property manages over 30 properties in the greater Indianapolis area alone, helping homeowners maximize their space as short-term rentals. Borthwick said they list their properties across several platforms, including Expedia and Airbnb.
“Obviously these last 12 months have been kind of an up and down, almost a haunted house of the past year for everybody in the hospitality industry,” he said. “Having this event, March Madness, in town really just showcases the city, showcases the state, different parts of the state, and really just the bolt of optimism for the entire hospitality economy at large.”
He said with COVID-19, it has been sort of a constant off-season. During the winter months and even throughout the year, Borthwick said there have been a lot of multi-week or month-to-month type of requests, rather than short stays that come with peak tourism months or major events in the city.
“It’s really just kind of accelerated a really good recovery process for us,” he said.
In one of the company’s properties, which sits just walking distance from Lucas Oil Stadium, you’ll find a little bit of everything to help make you feel right at home.
“With us being right in the shot of Lucas Oil, the house that Peyton built, we wear our Indiana sports flags and colors with pride,” said Borthwick. “I always tell our guests and our homeowners that being that ambassador for the city and the state and kind of putting that foot forward when it comes to Hoosier hospitality is so important to us.”
He said the thing that makes short-term rentals so special is the ability for hosts to create a home away from home experience for people who may never have been to Indy before.
“We want people from out of town, out of state, when they’re staying with us at Five Star, we want this to be their Indiana home away from home,” shared Borthwick. “It’s really about keeping the family, or multiple families, kind of under one roof and having a great time instead of spread out across a hotel.”
Similar sentiments are being shared by Elissa Swihart, marketing officer at the Michigan-based rental company, Mitten Housing.
Swihart said their company took over several properties in Indianapolis after a different short-term rental company went out of business.
“We took over, right off the bat, about 12 units right in downtown Indy off Mass. Ave,” she said. “I would say probably about a very rough two months before we really started to see our first guests come along.
“Right before March Madness we were sitting — we actually have two buildings in downtown Indy — and we were sitting completely empty.”
As the calendar flipped to March, Swihart said the company saw a major shift in their bookings.
“Thank goodness for March Madness because we’ve been able to completely fill all of our units in Indy. It’s been last minute, but completely fill all of our units,” she said.
Swihart said the pandemic hit the short-term rental industry pretty hard.
“From seeing full calendars completely booked to in a 24-hour period not having anything, and that’s your livelihood.”
She said with fans and travelers from all over coming back to Indy, it’s a promising sign as the company prepares to open three more units this week.
“We thought, just looking into Indy and seeing into the future a little bit, we could see there are going to see so many events, we just thought that it would be a great place to take the next step and grow.”
Both Borthwick and Swihart said if a guest’s team is doing well, they may even extend their checkout a bit longer.
“If their team is winning and doing well, we hope to keep them for a couple weeks at a time, and obviously the houses can do a lot better with this being kind of a premiere event as opposed to what’s kind of been more of an off-peak season during COVID,” said Borthwick.
Swihart shared: “A lot of our messages do come in and say, ‘We’re here for the games,’ and a lot of initial inquiries we do get is, ‘If our teams win can we stay longer?’
“That’s the beauty about short-term rentals is that you can always just contact your host, and if the calendar isn’t blocked, then you can extend.”
She said people traveling into the city find short-term rentals as an attractive option with flexibility.
“For a small sample of time these guests that are coming in to town we can kind of just give them a little taste of Indiana for the time they’re staying here,” said Borthwick. “Now with March Madness being here, it’s really just that sweet spot of people wanting to come out for the big event, but for the weekend, for a long weekend, a week at a time.”
As more events make their way to the city over the next few months, Borthwick said, “This is kind of our big kickoff for the year so after this we hope to have people coming in for Indy 500, Gen Con,” and more.
“We’re so fortunate to have not just March Madness, but so many good events coming into town.”
FOX59 reached out to Airbnb to learn more about the rates of booking in the city during the month of March. Although that data isn’t available just yet, the company said Airbnb hosts who welcomed their first guests during the pandemic and have only one listing made more than $700,000 since March of 2020.