It wasn’t his story that shook me. It was the way he fought back the tears.
On any given night, the US government and public affairs team at Expedia Group—made up of vacation rental policy and communications staff based in Washington, DC, Austin, and Seattle—host happy hour events in communities facing new vacation rental laws. They collaborate with property managers on the minutia of policy discussions and assist in building local alliances of managers and owners to push back against poorly crafted, and sometimes nefariously intended, policies.
On June 14, the team was in Crescent City for a happy hour discussion with over 110 HomeAway partners and members of the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP), a well-organized advocacy group for vacation rental stakeholders in New Orleans. Over cocktails and finger food, a lively dialogue took place covering the city’s new moratorium on vacation rental permits, the release of a new economic impact report from the University of New Orleans, and the ANP’s new video series entitled We Are the Faces of NOLA Vacation Rentals.
Once formal presentations were done, the fun started. We huddled with local managers and owners over pints of NOLA-brewed IPA and heard their stories of how they came to the vacation rental industry—some from real estate, others seeking a change from the cubicle farms of corporate America. One of those managers was East Coast Dave. Dave owns a management company that oversees properties across the city. Emigrating from the East Coast fifteen years ago and having a dangerous obsession with the city’s noodle food scene, David has come to call NOLA home. When he started telling me about his business and the impact a ban on vacation rentals would have on not only himself but also the individuals who work for him and the homeowners who rely upon him, the jovial conversation changed. Quickly, he began to get emotional when talking about all that was at stake. It wasn’t his story that shook me. It was the way he fought back the tears.
David’s story is not unique, is it? Over the last few years, the vacation rental industry has seen an explosion in the number of cities trying to implement misguided laws or harmful bans, and the toll it takes on members of our industry is real. This year alone, we have seen similar anti-vacation rental efforts pop up in cities from Los Angeles to Charleston to Washington, DC. To be clear, most of the vacation rental industry does not oppose regulations. Across the country, managers support reasonable regulations that protect property rights while addressing community concerns, but in too many of these cities, reasonable regulations have never been the goal.
Rather, opposition groups, sometimes well-meaning but misinformed and other times incentivized by special interests, are pushing for onerous restrictions or blanket bans on vacation rental activity. In Charleston, traditional nonowner-occupied vacation rentals have been outlawed. In Austin, they’re set to be phased out by 2020. In Boston, our nearly one-hundred-year-old industry is set to be banned. Oftentimes, the negative consequences of lost local revenue, loss of income to managers and homeowners, and the hindrance to the travel and tourism community are not adequately examined before local policymakers push through odious regulations. At the end of the day, it’s the vacation rental industry—more specifically its manager and owner community—that bear the brunt of these dangerous new laws. Whether through lost supply, increased costs, hard-to-follow regulations and registration schemes, or outright illegalization of traditional vacation rentals, rules made at city hall or the statehouse could have a dangerous impact on small and large rental management firms, platforms, and homeowners alike.
“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”—Theodore Roosevelt
As an industry, we know the intrinsic value that vacation rentals bring to communities and economies; it’s a part of our daily lives. But all too often we let the anti-short-term rental crowd define us. Newspapers across the nation are strewn with stories regarding “illegal hotels” and a perceived wave of fraternity men and bachelorette ladies coming into their communities. All too rarely do they hear from Dave or the millions of responsible managers who work tirelessly to welcome traveling families to their little slice of heaven. In an age of mass communication, instant digital updates, and constant social media conversation, it is critical that we take ahold of the narrative for our industry. It is up to us to take action and organize and set the record straight regarding the benefits that vacation rentals bring to our families and communities. Your simple engagement can help protect your business from an uncertain policy landscape.
Can we prevent negative policies from being proposed in your community? Maybe not. But we can take simple steps to be prepared when they do. As local vacation rental leaders, you can heed the advice of President Teddy Roosevelt by doing “What you can, where you are, with what you have.”
Every time I engage with policymakers at the local level, I hear a similar sentiment: local officials want to hear real experiences from their constituents. They care about your opinions on this issue, your personal story managing and operating vacation rentals. You are the one who elects them, and, consequently, your voice is the voice that matters most.
It was a small band of managers who helped shape a national best practice in Breckenridge, Colorado. It was emails from over 600 managers and owners in twenty-four hours in Nashville, Tennessee, that slowed the march toward poor regulations. It was the voice and collaboration of local managers in Palm Springs, California, who fought off a ban at the ballot box, securing 70 percent of the vote! An industry united can stand up to burdensome legislation and unite behind sensible policies.
There are many ways to get involved in local, state, and federal advocacy efforts today, and Expedia Group’s Government and Public Affairs team is here to help every step of the way. Here are simple ways to start getting engaged today:
- Sign up to be an industry advocate: Simply sign up at https://actnow.io/VRMIntel to let us know you want to get involved, read more about your local regulations, and learn how you can start engaging.
- Join or start a local advocacy alliance: There are over 200 active vacation rental alliances, groups, and associations in communities coast-to-coast. Reach out to fellow managers in your city, the Expedia Group policy team, or the Vacation Rental Management Association to explore what groups may already exist. If you are interested in starting a new group, Expedia Group can help you connect with fellow managers and owners in your community, develop a platform for communicating among members, and effectively leverage your collective voice with policymakers using digital engagement platforms.
- Share your voice: We must stand up and bear witness to the incredible value we bring to our communities. The conversations around short-term rental policy are happening in local chamber of commerce and Realtor Association meetings, on community-based online forums like com, on Facebook and Twitter, at city council meetings, or just in the aisles of your grocery store. Making the effort to share your story in some or all of these forums not only sets the record straight but inspires others to do the same.
If Dave’s passion resonates with you, you think your vacation rentals are a travel industry asset worth protecting, and you want to be an active defender of your business from onerous regulations, now is the time to get involved. The threats to the vacation rental industry and the broader travel and tourism economy are real. By coming together and using our collective voice to define our industry and the value we bring to communities, we can change the narrative and help craft fair, effective, and enforceable policies. Now is the time to be a leader in your vacation rental community and protect it for future generations of owners, managers, and travelers to enjoy.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out; Expedia Group’s policy team is here to help.