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Kelly Doherty had to make some compromises when she booked her cottage retreat this year.

Her big family getaway to a cabin in Parry Sound, Ont., has been scaled back and shifted north to account for rising costs and tighter supply.

“Every year we’d go to the same cottage for the same week, and my son and his family would rent the next cottage down from us for the same week,” she said.

“Since COVID-19 started, they got a rush of people from Toronto wanting to get out of the city and go out there. And so they jacked the prices up and they got all these people in, and our cottages weren’t available to us anymore for the weeks we wanted.”

Instead, Doherty and her husband will spend a week together at a cabin on Manitoulin Island that costs $1,800 to rent, and her son’s family will go cottaging separately.

The solution works, Doherty said, but it leaves something to be desired.

“Laying on the beach with the grandkids while they swim in the water, and ... sitting out on the deck or covered porch and watching the thunderstorms and the rain on the lake – it’s just an experience that everybody needs,” she said.

But she said high demand, and even higher prices, has left that experience out of reach for many, to the point that people may opt to stray farther afield when they want to get away.

“We also want to go to Ireland and Iceland and Amsterdam, places like that,” she said. “And it’s actually cheaper to go a lot of places right now than it is to go to cottage country in Ontario.”

Those international trips weren’t an option for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to vaccine mandates, mandatory isolation periods and other restrictions in place, said Martin Firestone, a travel insurance broker in Toronto.

While that’s changed over time, he said there are still barriers to travelling abroad.

“Travel as we know it is mayhem, chaos, call it whatever you want. Lost bags, missed flights, everything. There is a an element of people that are now saying, ‘I’m not going to be part of it, and I’m going to stay domestic,”’ Firestone said.

Some governments have introduced incentives for those looking to holiday close to home in an effort to help the tourism sector, which was hit hard by the pandemic.

This year Ontarians can apply for a “Staycation Tax Credit” that reimburses up to $200 for an individual’s accommodations or $400 for those of a family.

Last year and in 2020, New Brunswick offered a 20 per cent rebate on eligible expenses up to $1,000 to residents who vacationed in the province.

Airbnb spokesman Matt McNama said the vacation rental website’s search function helps paint a picture of where Canadians’ heads have been at, with Muskoka serving as the top trending domestic destination to be searched in the first quarter of this year.

Jasper and Banff, Alta., Sooke, B.C., Inverness, N.S., and Bonavista, N.L., were also popular searches.

In 2021, 43 per cent of trips in Canada were to rural destinations, which McNama said includes cottage country.

Other venues for cottage rentals, such as Facebook groups and purpose-built websites, are flooded with inquiries and listings.

The demand for cottages is also increasing on the real estate market. Both Royal LePage and Re/Max Canada reported prices in recreational markets were on the rise, in some cases by 50 per cent or more year-over-year.

That demand seems to have spilled over into rentals.

Meaghan Daly-Pinchen of Kingston, Ont., said she and her family booked a cottage nine months in advance, a nine-hour drive from home – and even then, there were only two weeks left for them to choose from.

It’s also a pricey trip, doable in part because her extended family is coming too.

“If it was just my family – the four of us – I don’t know that this would be the vacation of choice for us,” she said. “I’m looking at probably three tanks of gas in my car, plus the cost of renting the cottage plus groceries and everything else for the week.”

Were they not splitting the cost with her parents, her brother and his girlfriend, she estimated the cost at $3,000 for a week’s vacation.

“For me, I would rather put that money toward a vacation somewhere warm in the middle of winter,” she said.

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