Heading to the beach isn't your only inexpensive vacation option this summer.
While Miami, Orlando and the Gulf Shores remain some of the most in-demand markets for vacation rentals, HomeAway.com data shows listings have been booming in some less-expected spots over the past year.
The general allure of vacation rentals over hotels is price. "The savings can be substantial, especially for bigger groups," said George Hobica, founder of deal sites AirfareWatchdog.com and Tingo.com. Rates vary by property and market, but the average rental is $1,500 per week or $217 per night for a home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, said Jon Gray, chief revenue officer of HomeAway Americas.
Rentals also offer travelers savings opportunities in the form of cheaper meals thanks to a full kitchen, and more privacy than a hotel, said Hobica. But scrutinize listings and any previous visitor reviews carefully before booking, to make sure you understand what is and isn't included. There can be extra fees for housekeeping, for example, and certain household supplies like linens may not be provided.
According to HomeAway.com data, listings are booming in these 10 markets.
—By CNBC.com's Kelli B. Grant
Posted 7 June 2015
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 270 percent
Average hotel price: $136 in the closest covered market (Hill City, South Dakota) according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
While most of the top summer rental destinations are at the beach, travelers are increasingly looking to the mountains for hiking, fishing and other outdoor pursuits, Gray said. That has spurred listings. "You see a couple of markets that are less conventional," he said, "Like the Black Hills in South Dakota, which I frankly didn't think of as a vacation rental market until I saw this [data]." It makes sense, said Gabe Saglie, senior editor for deal site Travelzoo. The Black Hills area is home to Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower (nearby in Wyoming) and numerous other national and state parks and attractions. The allure of rentals is lengthier exploration of those sites than tours allow, he said, and practical advantages like a laundry room to clean up clothes and gear.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 218 percent
Average hotel price: $123 according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
"The most exciting two minutes in sports"—a.k.a. the Kentucky Derby—may be behind some of the listings increase, said Saglie. Vacation rental listings often bloom when owners see an opportunity from big events filling up local hotels. The expansion bodes well for travelers year round. "Louisville as a destination, the buzz is growing from a cultural and culinary standpoint," he said. "It's increasingly on people's radar." The area boasts more than two dozen distilleries and breweries, and attractions including the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum and (of course) the Derby Museum and Churchill Downs.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 183 percent
Average hotel price: $163 for all areas of Naples, according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
The area's big draw is, of course, the shore: In 2014, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park ranked No. 10 on a list of top beaches nationwide, put together by the directors of Florida International University's Laboratory for Coastal Research. Rental demand is also big in East Naples, which made HomeAway's list of fastest-growing markets by inquiries. Compared with 2014, the area saw a 149 percent increase in the number of consumers looking at rentals.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 158 percent
Average hotel price: $128 according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
Vacation rentals have become more prevalent in big cities such as Houston as hotel prices rise, said Gray. "You're seeing more urban markets start pushing supply into the marketplace, and that meets with demand," he said. Major tourism draws—outside standout restaurants and theater—include attractions such as Space Center Houston (the visitor center of NASA's Johnson Space Center), the Houston Museum of Science and the Menil Collection.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 153 percent
Average hotel price: $151 according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
"Philly is another one of those cities where there's a finite number of hotels in the downtown areas," said Saglie—and a lot of conventions that fill them up. For leisure travelers, vacation rentals could free up cash to enjoy a buzzing food scene and attractions including Reading Terminal Market, the Philadelphia Zoo and The Franklin Institute. Even better: Some of the most popular sights are free, such as the Liberty Bell Center, Valley Forge National Historical Park and the Rocky Steps. "Philly is always going to have that historical allure," Saglie said.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 121 percent
Average hotel price: $160 according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
Happily for travelers, D.C. has a bevy of free attractions, from the Smithsonian Institution's museums and zoo to sights including the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. "D.C. can be one of the most budget-friendly cities because of that," Saglie said. But it's often not budget-friendly for airfare or hotel due to a steady stream of business, diplomatic and leisure travelers, he said—hence the rising interest in vacation rentals.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 96 percent
Average hotel price: $184 according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
Steamboat Springs is also one of HomeAway's fastest-growing markets by inquiries, with a 133 percent increase in the number of consumers looking at rentals in the area compared with 2014. There's year-round appeal: Summer activities include hiking at Fish Creek Falls and Emerald Mountain, and soaking in one of the area's popular hot springs. In the winter there's skiing and snowboarding, snow biking and even dog-sledding.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 94 percent in Windsor Hills and 83 percent in Reunion
Average hotel price: $82 according to year-to-date records from hotel market data firm, STR, Inc.
Kissimmee overall is one of HomeAway's most popular rental markets. It's also within easy distance of Orlando, another popular market. (There, the average hotel price was $103, according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.) The big local draw, of course, are the big theme parks including Walt Disney World Resort, Sea World and Universal Studios Orlando. (Universal Studios is an NBCUniversal company. NBCUniversal is also the parent of CNBC.) Vacation rental visitors are often willing to book further out from destinations, which nets a better value, said Gray. "Disney, by Day 3, you'll be pretty exhausted," he said—that's where the house pool or beach access at Kissimmee comes in.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 88 percent
Average hotel price: $164 according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
"The trick with L.A. is that it's very spread out," said Saglie. "You're going to need a rental car." Especially to visit spread-out sights including the Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive shops and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, not to mention big theme parks like Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm or Universal Studios Hollywood. (Universal Studios is an NBCUniversal company. NBCUniversal is also the parent of CNBC.) Vacation rental homes often include free parking, which is a boon for big groups who might otherwise pay $25 or more per day for hotel parking.
Year-over-year rental listing growth: 88 percent
Average hotel price: $97 in Pigeon Forge, according to Hotels.com's 2014 Hotel Price Index data.
Nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park is highly trafficked, likely contributing to the boost in rentals from tourists looking for a home base, said Gray. The park boasts some 800 miles of trails, and visitors to the area can find ample opportunities to fish or whitewater raft in summer and ski and snowboard in the winter. Pigeon Forge is also home to Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park.