Short-Term Lodging

The Challenge

Cambridge Springs is a great place to visit, but there aren’t enough places to stay!

The Opportunity

Cambridge has been and can continue to be a destination location. Once regarded as a premier resort town with more than fifty hotels, cottages, boarding houses, and spas, Cambridge’s ranking as a vacation destination was rattled first by a landmark storm and then by a series of unfortunate fires – events that would propel the community’s tourism industry into decline.

Fast forward to today, when water tourism and ecotourism are on the rise – and Cambridge has an opportunity to reclaim its fame as a water town.

Getting Started

In the early days of tourism resurgence, visitors will come in small numbers. But as facilities are provided and awareness grows, visitor numbers will increase. With effective marketing and storytelling, and the development of a tourism ecosystem (more places to eat, sleep, shop, and hang out), the area’s popularity and reputation will grow.

A quick “audit” of Cambridge’s existing tourist amenities reveals a few wins in the “eat, play, shop” categories, but highlights a clear opportunity for growth in the “where to stay” department. As demonstrated in the Economic Argument for Water Trails study, towns that already have dining, lodging, and rental services are more likely to see an increase in paddlesports tourism, as contrasted with communities that market their water trail but do not provide standard amenities for paddlers.

Short story? Cambridge needs to have a little bit of everything to round out the tourism opportunity and kickstart the growth of an industry.

Two community identified opportunities for bringing lodging solutions back to Cambridge are:

  • Standalone Cabins (we say cabins, but the world is your oyster! Think yurts, shipping containers, treehouses – any self-contained accommodation that allows you to start small and grow!
  • Community “Short Term Rental” Network

Riverside Lodging


The iconic Riverside Inn was a cornerstone of Cambridge Springs and the loss of the Inn in 2017 was detrimental to the community for many reasons. While the historic structure cannot be resurrected, the welcoming spirit and intention of the Inn can be reproduced through the development of charming, riverfront lodging.

Jumping into the lodging scene with a whopping 74 rooms reminiscent of the Inn isn’t realistic (yet), and jumping in at 20 rooms probably feels a little risky on the cusp of Covid economic recovery. Enter scalable lodging – accommodation solutions that are small and affordable to start, can help you prove the market for growth, and can expand to track with tourism industry demands.

A scalable lodging model, developed in tandem with a French Creek tourism spin, can range from the introduction of primitive campgrounds to the introduction of luxury guest cabins, and will do more than just offer out-of-town visitors a place to spend the night. Riverfront lodging, reimagined with the charming amenities and complementary services associated with the beloved Riverside Inn, would provide a boost to the local economy, as restaurants, retailers and other downtown businesses could expect to see an increase in customers and sales.

The Opportunity

While there are certainly options available along French Creek that could invite new business enterprise, one Cambridge asset seems a prime candidate for this opportunity. Riverside Brewery, built on the site of the historic Riverside Inn, is uniquely positioned as an established leader in Cambridge’s hospitality landscape, to explore this specific growth opportunity.

Keep in mind this is an opportunity only and is not reflective of any ongoing plans by the Howles family.

What could this look like for Riverside Brewery?

The appeal for overnight stays at a brewery reaches an audience beyond outdoor enthusiasts (sometimes it’s best to stay put after a few craft beers, right?), so it makes sense that a business like Riverside Brewing might explore this type of expansion. It’s a model that’s playing out for breweries all across the country, including a handful in Pennsylvania.

Small scale lodging developments along Riverside’s (ahem) riverside property, could be developed incrementally (i.e. start with 1 or so) meeting demand and pacing with supply (i.e. other scaled developments in the community’s AirBnB industry), in a focused effort to maintain an accommodation “sweet spot” that doesn’t saturate the market or overburden the business owner. Lodging models that use independent, standalone units can grow (if developable land / space allows) to meet growing markets, or sell (ship ‘em out) if needed, to adjust for declining markets.

The cost of an effort like this is variable and will be determined by many factors including the possible need for infrastructure improvements (think roads and utilities), the size of the units and preferred materials, and the amenities that will be included. This design process can be full-on DIY and locally developed or there are some reputable outfits in Pennsylvania who can help you through the process from blueprint to construction. For example, Zook Cabins in Atglen, PA is building cabins of all shapes and sizes and shipping them to communities across the country.

Amenities available to guests could also include access to kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, etc. The addition of a kayak launch (open to the public) could serve as a value-add to overnight guests while also inviting passing paddlers to pull up and grab a beer and a bite at the Brewery. Alternatively, kayaking could be offered as a public-facing rental operation, with a fleet available to both guests and the general population.

What could this look like for an independent business owner?

The opportunity to engage in the lodging industry isn’t limited to folks who are already in the hospitality business. Scalable lodging could be an appealing option for first-time business owners or existing entrepreneurs interested in diversifying their business portfolio.

For any property owners or business-minded individuals looking to capitalize on this opportunity, the action steps and funding opportunities included below will help you get started!

What if no one local is interested in the lodging business?

Two different opportunities have been identified (hover to read more).


In the void of a for-profit business owner, the Boro might consider the development of cabins in an effort to support tourism-related investments. Since the Boro won’t want to compete with private enterprise, their involvement could be capped or limited (i.e. maximum number of cabins) and used as a catalyst or proof-of-concept project to encourage successful private development. Any proceeds from the rental of borough-owned cabins could be used to seed a grant fund in support of tourism related developments or to offset staffing costs associated with management of the operation.


Another way for Cambridge Springs to attract business owners is through effective storytelling. Using your new brand and outreach strategies identified in the Marketing Playbook, tell the story about how the activation of French Creek will support a healthy tourism ecosystem in Cambridge Springs. Consider hosting a Developers Tour, an event designed to showcase market-supported business opportunities for an audience of business owners, property owners, funders, and other stakeholders critical to the business development process.

Action Steps

Who: Business Owner

How: Scope out local real estate sites for available property. And ask around! Sometimes opportunities pop up by word of mouth,
Search Cambridge Springs via google maps or the Crawford County Property Search Tool and see if there’s a waterfront property that catches your eye – sometimes folks might be interested in selling property, they just haven’t been approached yet

When: Q2 2021

The “cabin” could be a tiny house, shipping container, treehouse, yurt, etc. and the style could be modern, rustic, primitive, luxury, etc.

Who: Business Owner and Cambridge Springs Borough

How: Decide which type of accommodation is most suitable for the location you’ve chosen and which you’d most like to own / manage (this will be further refined during the “preparing your business plan” step to account for feasibility)

Confirm preferred selection with Borough leadership to make sure your selection is compliant/allowable

When: Q3 2021

Who: Business Owner

How: Estimate the revenue and expenses associated with your project (AirDNA is an analytical platform that offers vacation rental data by location and could be one source in estimating nightly rates)

Estimate anticipated financing needs (you’ll refine this during the “preparing your business plan stage” so give it your best shot but don’t stress too much yet)

When: Q3 2021

Who: Business Owner and Cambridge Springs Borough

How: Confirm the current zoning for the parcel you’ve identified. If current zoning doesn’t permit lodging, you might need to request a variance through the Borough

Request a meeting with the Borough Manager and the Zoning Officer to discuss your project. This will ensure that you’re getting firsthand information about the logistical feasibility of what you’re planning.

When: Q3 2021

Who: Business Owner

How: Follow the Water Town Campaign guidelines and recommendations related to Target Audience

Consider amenities that 1) set you apart (porches? grills? hot tubs? fire pits?) and 2) that you think you can afford (don’t stress too much here, this will get refined during the next step – “preparing your business plan”)

When: Q3 2021

Who: Business Owner and SBDC @ Gannon University

How: Build a draft plan using this template from Lodgify

VIsit SBDC online for business plan consulting services to refine your plan – valuable for starting a new business or expanding an existing business, the SBDC is your best resource for business plan assistance

*Remember to update your budget after you confirm financing terms and secure your funding

**You’ll want to revisit your business plan every year to make sure you’re on track and/or update as needed

For more information on building the business plan click here.

When: Q3-Q4 2021

Who: Business Owner and Project Manager/Contractor

How: Request meeting with local lender to identify how much of your project they’re willing to support

Reach out to alternate lenders like the Progress Fund and VisitPA to explore subordinate funding sources, if needed

When: Q4 2021, Q2-Q3 2022

*timeline will vary based on accommodation type – manufactured or pre-built units won’t be subject to the same seasonal limitations

Who: Business Owner and and VisitCrawford

How: Build your website! And establish your business on relevant social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook)

Link business to the Cambridge Springs Tourism + Events Landing Page

Share marketing materials with local and regional tourism and economic development partners such as EPACC, French Creek Conservancy, VisitPA, etc)

Follow the Water Town Campaign guidelines and recommendations related to Target Audience and External Strategies

When: Q1 2022


Short-Term Rental Cluster

The Challenge

Cambridge Springs has a limited selection for short-term rental. When visitors come to town, they often need to stay overnight in neighboring towns. This reduces the taxable income for the Borough and potentially limits other local revenue.

The Opportunity

Cambridge Springs offers opportunities for music, festivals, hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking down the French River. These people are all looking for overnight accommodations, whether for one night or a long weekend. Small towns with big tourism make great places for home-based short-term rentals. Short-term rentals are advantageous (especially in smaller towns) because hotels are typically the only choice (if they have any at all). Short-term rentals are also a more accommodating alternative which will give them a niche in the tourism industry. This also allows for flexibility in renting options, where owners can host multiple renters during peak tourism season but offer monthly rates for longer-term renters during the off season.

The home-y feel short-term rentals provide also cater to those looking to avoid a stuffy hotel room and provide the space larger groups may be looking for when vacationing.

Bonus Opportunity!

57% of the houses in Cambridge were built prior to 1939. Survey says that folks feel like too many homes are outdated and need improvement. If people are investing in their properties to bring them up to speed for the rental market, that means there’s greater investment occurring in Cambridge’s neighborhoods! An increase in property values creates real opportunity for owners to access resources needed to improve their properties for home, rent, or sale!

What Are Visitors Looking For?

While location (more specifically, proximity to the event or activity that attracted the renter in the first place) is the key attractor for vacation goers, they’re also looking for attractive amenities – things that can (likely) be added to any rental, regardless of where it’s located. Beyond the amenities that first come to mind i.e. wifi, air conditioning, and linens, you might scale up and include bicycles, kayaks, fancy coffee makers, or a pool table – special things that set you apart as an owner and make your rental experience that much more appealing.

Home Amenities

Whether the renter is a large family on summer vacation or a couple celebrating their anniversary, short-term rentals can offer them amenities that hotels cannot. The most obvious one is a kitchen. Eating out for every meal can get old fast, even the option to do a small breakfast or lunch at home is possible solely because there is access to a large fridge and stove/oven. Space is another amenity that is considered, especially for group travelers. Renting entire homes or condos allows for families and friend groups to be in one space and allows for more connection (which is the whole point of the trip in the first place right?)

Authentic Charm

Speaking of connection, renters who stay in homes are bound to make a stronger connection and have a more meaningful experience during their stay. There’s a good chance people visiting from out of town or even out of state are coming to Cambridge because of its uniqueness and charm. It is beneficial to extend that personality trait into the rental property. Rental diversity i.e. castles, boathouses, and treehouses, is an advantage owners have to provide a unique experience for the renter. You want them to return to their communities and tell everyone they stayed in the most charming rental home because it had X, Y or Z.

Why Consider Owning a Short-term Rental?

People have different reasons for considering this type of investment – maybe you currently own a vacant property in town and are unsure what to do with it, maybe you own a commercial building in downtown Cambridge Springs with vacant upper floors and realize this could be the perfect way to monetize the rest of your square footage! Or maybe you hadn’t really thought of it before but now you’re considering the purchase of real estate for just this reason. Properties listed at lower-end price-points are also worth watching for – if you can secure and improve a property at a reasonably low price, you can recoup your investment more quickly in a strong rental market.

There are two clear winners in the short-term rental universe: the property owner and the property renter! Both enjoy this cottage industry for different reasons – owners because of flexibility in income, pricing, and aesthetic, and renters for the convenience, comfort, and affordability.


Short-term rental properties can appeal to a multitude of renters, such as holidayers, business travelers and locals who might want to do a staycation. This allows flexibility for how long the property may be rented. That way, you don’t have to rely solely on one population interested in renting your space. 

Less wear and Tear

Because it is a short-term rental, renters are only staying a minimum of one night and potentially a maximum of 30 days. The occupancy will also fluctuate throughout the year, depending on when the high tourism season starts and ends. This allows for less wear and tear on your property when compared to long-term rentals. Maintenance costs should be less due to the lack of constant daily use. Overall, this should prevent long-term damage to the property because of cleanings conducted in-between renters. 

Higher income potential

The income potential for short-term rentals is also more diverse than compared to a long-term rental. You can incorporate fluctuating rates depending on the time of year i.e. higher rates during peak tourism season and lower rates during the off-season. Many renters are willing to pay a higher nightly fee when factoring in accessibility, convenience, and atmosphere.

Tax deductions

This is a perk many short-term rental owners may overlook. Although it may not be the most interesting aspect of owning, you should make it a priority to learn more about when purchasing a short-term rental. There are many ways you can lower your taxable income by owning short-term rentals, here are some of just the few items that qualify as deductions:

  • Repairs, maintenance and cleaning
  • Insurance
  • Utilities & Taxes
  • Accounting Fees
  • Supplies (towels, sheets, etc.)

We are not tax experts but suggest you ask your accountant. Be sure to keep all of your receipts and bills!

What Can I Do to Add Value to My Rental?

Renters enjoy when small details are present throughout a short-term rental. It’s important to add small perks when feasible. As mentioned above, providing the opportunity for activities such as kayaking, biking, or a pool table are great. Here is a list of smaller amenities you may offer that can also add value:

  • Coffee machine with local ground coffee to use
  • List of local events/activities/restaurants/bars, etc.
  • Samples of local beers/wines/liquors
  • Provide small fresh breakfast options
    • This Airbnb in Monroe, LA makes fresh homemade biscuits for renters
  • One-time discount at local stores
  • Allow pets

Are There Restrictions to Owning or Operating a Short-term Rental?

While there are no current regulations or policies regarding short-term rentals in Cambridge Springs, here are some general policies and laws in the U.S., the state of Pennsylvania, and at the county-level. Airbnb also provides sources on general regulations.

Because Cambridge Springs will have to create and adopt short-term rental policies, it is important to remember that the community should decide what these policies will look like. There is opportunity to work together as a community to decide how short-term rentals will fit into its neighborhoods. Large community input will generate policies that are inclusive and representative of neighborhoods supporting short-term rental properties. This toolkit provides a great start on what communities should consider when enacting new policies.

How Do I Get Started?

It’s important to do your research before purchasing a short-term rental property. You want to make sure you understand any potential barriers as well as you understand the amazing perks with becoming an owner! 

If you’re already an owner, these links can also help with creating a sustainable business plan for your rental and potentially offer amenities that you haven’t currently thought of!

Check out: Hosting on Airbnb

Check out: Starting an Airbnb Business

Short-term rentals aren’t just a game for the private market - non-profit organizations need to diversify revenue streams, too! This flexible solution could open the door to more operating capital (if bylaws allow, of course). And remember, if the market slows or gets too saturated, you can always convert the unit(s) to long-term rentals.

Examples and Inspiration

The links below highlight popular Airbnbs located in rural areas throughout the U.S. Sometimes renters are seeking out a certain experience or feel when booking a short-term renter. It may be advantageous as the owner to have a certain aesthetic within your rental property, whether that be a play-on of the quirkiness of your town like this Airbnb did in Idaho with the home being in the shape of a potato or this Airbnb in Minnesota that allows renters a stay in a spooky castle for Halloween festivities. Either way, have fun with it! Let it reflect your personality and your own sense of style. 

Check out: 9 uniquely remote Airbnbs for a socially distanced getaway

Check out: These Remote Airbnbs Will Make You Want to Escape the City

Check out: Rural Airbnb bookings are surging as vacationers look to escape the coronavirus

Check out: Rural Airbnbs are the stars of the suddenly struggling vacation-rental platform

Action Steps

Who: Business owner + Financial advisor, if applicable, or business coach (SBDC at Gannon University is a local business resource)

How: Identify how much you can afford to spend on an investment property (What are your assets? What is your anticipated financial situation over the next few years?)

Cost:While there may be charges associated with a financial advisor, the SBDC provides most services free of charge

Who: Business owner + Borough of Cambridge Springs

How: There don’t appear to be any codified ordinances that would prohibit short-term rentals in Cambridge Springs (available online HERE)

Cost: While there may be charges associated with a financial advisor, the SBDC provides most services free of charge

Who: Business owner + Trusted Realtor

How: There are lots of sources for real estate shopping! Search MLS Listings (available through your realtor), investor websites (i.e., BiggerPockets), word of mouth for off-market sales, foreclosures, etc. for an opportunity that fits your identified budget.

Conduct an investment property analysis to understand how good the investment opportunity is.

Cost: This step can be free of charge if you go it alone. There are lots of online resources (i.e. Mashvisor) that provide basic support through free accounts and then broader resources through paid memberships.

Who: Business owner

How: Conduct a rental property analysis to understand how good the investment opportunity is. BiggerPockets offers a series of free tools, one of the most valuable being their Short-Term and Vacation Rental Discussion Forum, where you can get property analysis guidance from people active in the industry.

Cost: Once again, there are free resources available online. This resource provides step-by-step instructions for conducting an analysis

Who: Business owner + lender (or investor), if needed

How: Contact multiple lenders (local and institutional) and understand terms and rates available to you (your goal here is to choose a lender and get a pre-approval letter)

Identify amount available to you AND estimated monthly payments so you can better evaluate your investment opportunity

Cost: Free of charge!

Who: Business owner + Trusted Realtor

How: Work with your realtor to negotiate and close the deal

Cost: Realtor commissions vary, but an average rate is between five and six percent of the property sales price.

Who: Business owner

How: Implement necessary improvements

Furnish your rental (remember to include the extras as mentioned – things that will set you apart)

Coordinate partnerships with local businesses to promote and highlight area services and amenities

Cost: Costs will vary based on needed repairs, size of rental, and preferred style for decor. These costs will have been estimated and largely accounted for in your property and investment analyses.

Who: Business owner +

How: Compare home sharing platforms (Airbnb, VRBO,, etc) and find the best fit for your needs

Create a portfolio of high resolution images for your property to support your listing.

Write an honest description of your property, highlighting area attractions and relative proximity of the property.

Choose a daily rate comparable to others in the area. This can be estimated fairly easily by searching online listings for properties within 20 miles or so of Cambridge.

Cost: The cost of listing a property will vary by site. Some sites charge a processing fee per transaction, others will charge an annual fee in lieu of commissions on each booking. This will be something to weigh when comparing and choosing the right platform for your project.

Unless you hire a photographer or use an online resource to help establish your rate (i.e. AirDNA), these remaining steps are free of charge.