Recently, my team and I attended the United States Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston where we heard time and time again that mayors want help from local groups to make sound decisions that can be viewed as best practices.
We also heard that regions need to work together to recognize the positive impact of cooperation and avoid the negative impact that can harm a region when local governments don’t work together.
One other thing became clear when speaking to mayors: existing, locally active organizations have the presence, the understanding, and the relationships to navigate city hall more effectively. They provide a uniform voice to a problem and a collaborative approach to a solution.
These existing, locally active organizations can help mayors—and city council members—make sound decisions based on data. And they help elected officials understand the greater impact of their decisions on the larger region.
While big-city governments are grappling with emerging technologies and the growth of online, short-term rentals, long-time property managers in vacation destination regions are feeling the reverberating impacts of new restrictions as small destination towns begin to copy those rules.
Why should this matter to a vacation rental property manager? Because your business, and your local visitors’ industry, can be negatively affected without much warning, leaving you stunned and wondering what happened.
Your business could collapse.
In the summer of 1984 Mary Decker was an Olympic superstar headed for greatness. But in a bizarre instant, barefoot South African runner Zola Budd caused Decker to fall in a heap and lose a race she was expected to win.
That same summer my family visited a few vacation destinations that included the Shenandoah Mountains, the Texas coast, and the Poconos. I wore my Mary Decker digital watch throughout the summer, and now I feel ridiculous that I did. But the other thoughts I have from those trips are just as clear, and I will have those memories for the rest of my life.
That’s what vacation rentals give to families: great memories and tremendous experiences.
Vacation rentals also offer great opportunities to every community. The overall economic impact of vacation rental activity includes the traveler’s daily spending, the taxes rentals generate, and the support of local businesses. And those rentals also provide a greater impact: the tremendous word-of-mouth promotion of each destination for the great memories they inspired: “If you visit this beautiful community and travel as we did, you will have a memorable time too.”
But there is a growing problem for vacation rentals and vacation destination communities—the growing “local economic dampening effect” based on a bizarre array of local restrictions.
And there is a growing problem for vacation destination regions—the “negative regional echo” of one community’s restrictions that affect travel behavior and spending across an entire region.
If one prominent mountain town is known for making it bizarrely difficult for a traveling family to rent a vacation home, that means retailers, restaurants, outfitters, and more across the region lose the potential for a positive economic impact.
And think deeper: if that mountain town creates a polarizing effect for travelers visiting the greater area, then vacation homes in neighboring towns also lose their opportunities to rent effectively.
And just like that, the local tourism economy faces an unexpected decline that costs them the chance to win the race. They are tripped up like Mary Decker was.
No mayor or town manager wants to impose negative regulations, but they often do not have all of the information—or engagement—to understand the impacts of their new rules.
But what can one vacation rental property manager do about it? Join an existing, locally active association and educate its members on the importance of your business.
Local associations, such as the chamber of commerce, board of realtors, destination marketing association, or visitors bureau, have existing relationships with regional government. Those existing associations know how to work collaboratively and cooperatively with decision makers; they know how to access and organize needed data, and they know how to position an argument based on community concerns.
Our group has been working with a variety of cities around the world on vacation rental regulations, and time and time again we see that the active participation by local associations can help a vacation rental manager’s effort.
Today, in the areas where my family traveled in the Mary Decker summer of 1984, vacation rental property managers are finding success by working with locally active associations.
In the shadow of the Shenandoah Mountains, one vacation rental manager has found success through early, active participation with the chamber of commerce. The Luray-Page Chamber has studied and discussed the economic impact brought to the area by travelers using vacation rentals. While some travelers will stay in one of the area’s many hotels, traveling families and groups staying for longer periods have expressed a strong desire to rent homes.
The chamber of commerce can serve as a conduit between the area vacation rental property managers and the town and county staff. The resources the chamber can bring will help the local decision makers choose a wise path and create best practices. And the chamber also can help the property manager learn how local government works so the manager will know what to say, how to say it, and to whom.
Along the coast of Texas, property managers have found immense success in working with their local convention and visitors bureau. The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau reviewed vacation rentals long ago and found that home rentals contributed a significant amount to the hotel occupancy tax. The state and local taxes help pay for visitors’ amenities in the area and help keep Galveston’s economy thriving.
Through early and active involvement with the visitors bureau, local property managers were able to count on its support during discussions of vacation rental regulations. The bureau was able to serve as a third-party voice and help the city council understand the importance of vacation rentals to the area economy while serving as a leader for the property managers by helping them understand how to speak effectively and persuasively.
In the corner of northeastern Pennsylvania, along the beautiful Pocono Mountains, property managers have stayed actively engaged with the Pocono Association of Realtors. That group recently held a short-term rental summit for township managers and code enforcement and elected officials to discuss the value vacation rentals bring to the community and the best and worst practices for writing regulations.
The property managers in the Pocono Mountains work closely with the association of realtors to show the positive impact of home investment, construction, and sales of vacation rentals. The collaborative effort has worked to discuss how tourism dollars positively affect area businesses and the overall economy. The group also has worked to dispel the myth that vacation rentals could become workforce or affordable housing options if severe restrictions were adopted.
How Can You Get Started?
Do your research: Find associations that are active and have a desire to further the vacation rental industry. Three great groups to investigate are the chamber of commerce, the visitors bureau, and the association of realtors.
Start now: Local governments can act on passing regulations of vacation rentals within days of initial discussion. To check the pulse of your community, get engaged today and tell your association about the value vacation rentals offer and your role in the local economy.
When you become an active member in an existing local association you can help that group educate and inform mayors and city managers on how best to view your business. In addition, you can help your fellow association members understand the local economic dampening effect that can occur if bad policies are enacted and the potential negative regional echo that could collapse part of the visitors’ industry and negatively affect area businesses.
Do your research on area associations, join one quickly, and help promote your community as a great place to create fond memories while helping to grow your local and regional economies.