'We all need this': Renters happy vacation rentals approved across Panhandle

By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
May 19, 2020

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. (WCTV) -- Vacation rentals are now back and open in Florida's Panhandle, after the green light was given to seven Gulf Coast counties on Tuesday.

Most anyone can rent, including people from outside of Florida, as long as the state they're from has an infection rate of less than 500 cases per 100,000 people.

If you are coming from a hot spot, your reservation must be at least 14-days in advance.

"Whatever it is we have to push through and make it work, because we all need this," said Sammy Thompson, who manages 60 properties on the island.

Thompson says the reopening is what everyone has been waiting for.

"The guests are ready to come, they are all tired of staying at home and we are ready to work," he said.

The Florida's Department of Business & Professional Regulation says rentals must follow CDC guidelines, give time in between guest stays to disinfect all surfaces and housewares and have minimal contact with renters.

Those safety measures are reassuring for Chris Petty, who visits the island two-three times a year, and is excited to return.

"We are looking forward to getting out of the house and enjoying some sunshine and some good fishing," Petty said.

But, it's not just about what the island has to offer, but what tourists can provide for rental owners.

"Right now my prayer is that I can get those bookings as fast as possible so that I know that I can get through the high season and be able to weather the rest of the year," renter Tom Moses said.

This time of year is usually a money maker for St. George Island, and rentals with ocean views are at the core of it.

"I pay my mortgage for the entire year, I pay my cleaners, my landscapers, my pool people, the whole economy around it happens in these two, two and a half months," said Cheryl Clouse, a renter.

"If we are not able to rent, that stops cleanings, reservations, commissions, all of the income associated and all of the service people under us," Thompson said.

It's an industry that hopes to once again provide for their community while abiding by a new plan to keep themselves, and others, safe.

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