The year 2020 sure was an interesting time to become the executive director of the Vacation Rental Management Association (VRMA). In many ways, it was the most tumultuous year ever for the professional vacation rental management industry.
The focal lesson of 2020 is the importance of our collective voices and the incredible power of communities coming together—in times of need, in times of struggle, in all times. In the most recent issue of VRMA’s Arrival, I wrote about my childhood memory of Hurricane Agnes tearing through my little town of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, in 1972. Widespread flooding from the storm made Agnes, at the time, the most destructive hurricane in US history, claiming 117 lives and causing damage estimated at $3.1 billion in 12 states.
What I recalled through the eyes of a seven-year-old child was the feeling of community. I remember how folks in my town took care of one another; I recall kids and adults filling sandbags and stacking them against the wall that protected us from the raging Susquehanna River; I remember garages on my street, stacked from top to bottom with flooded families’ furniture, and the school cafeteria open to anyone who needed a hot meal.
It was my first experience witnessing the concept of strength in numbers. The reactions to the flood were automatic: reach out and take care of your neighbor and protect the community. All of what I experienced during Hurricane Agnes—every bit of it—is applicable to the professional vacation rental management industry today.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities worldwide, but our business community in particular. The spring rental shutdowns threatened many VRMA members’ livelihoods. Never before had there been a threat so all-encompassing that it could cause the vacation rental industry to come to a screeching halt. And now the winter COVID-19 surge is here with a vengeance, leaving our professional community vulnerable and at-risk yet again.
VRMA is taking more steps than ever to make sure we always have your back. In 2020, we doubled our government relations budget, as part of our commitment to being an even more vocal advocate for the profession our organization represents. We are gearing up for even more battles in 2021 (somewhat different battles than those of 2020, but battles nonetheless). We need like-minded organizations in our corner as we fight them. We need to speak with one collective voice.
VRMA’s government relations funding allows us to track local, state, and national issues around the country, often focusing through our state coalitions in Colorado, South Carolina, Georgia, Central Florida, Maui, Southern California, and Oregon, to assist members with numerous regulatory fights. In 2020, at the request of our members, we created a vacation rental-focused political action committee in Florida to protect our community there and advocate for their rights (see vrmaadvocacy.org). We are speaking loudly and clearly, sending your public policy agenda to governors and state legislators across the US.
In mid-March, when the pandemic began to gain a foothold in the US, VRMA staff began immediately gathering resources to assist members, and VRMA Advocacy staff curated internationally sourced resources aimed at recovering from unprecedented travel restrictions and closing of our economies.
We also began organizing with stakeholders and other travel associations to pressure Congressional leadership to provide the vacation rental industry direct stimulus to assist in weathering the storm. Additionally, we asked for other provisions to generally help small businesses and the greater tourism industry.
Thus far, VRMA’s advocacy efforts have produced over 110,000 communications directly to US public officials at all levels of government. We are working closer with stakeholders than ever before to help push a common narrative that vacation rentals are clean and safe lodging options.
As the COVID-19 pandemic surged on, VRMA and our subsidiary, Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP), quickly mobilized to develop recommendations for the reopening of vacation rental properties. The guidelines are part of the VRMA & VRHP SafeCommunity campaign, which, in conjunction with the SafeHome™ program, allows professionals to adopt and execute comprehensive travel standards to ensure the safety of their employees, guests, and community as they reopen their properties. Many county governments have made our guidelines an official part of their reopening requirements.
If we unite as a community, we protect the industry. Joining VRMA is one of the most important ways you can contribute to protecting our business community. Your membership dues fuel the machine that advocates for you and your colleagues. Membership in VRMA connects you to so many outstanding people in our industry, along with all the valuable resources we provide—certification and education programs, publications, online courses, and (soon again) live conferences. You can join VRMA online at vrma.org.
VRMA has what you need to grow your business and navigate the uncertainties COVID-19 has posed. VRMA is your voice and has your back in fighting legislation that negatively affects the industry, both nationally and at the state and local levels. This alone, now more than ever, should be the main reason you join and support VRMA. These efforts have been at the forefront of many fights this year around the country.
Let’s unite, just like my community of Selinsgrove did 48 years ago. Let’s reach out and take care of our neighbors, and let’s fight for what is fair and right when it comes to widespread shutdowns. Together we can speak with one powerful voice on behalf of a united vacation rental industry.