Inaugural Short-term Rental Regulations Forum Coming to Austin, August 16
When I was coming up in local politics, a community leader would hold meetings throughout the day with people from opposing sides of any issue. Those meetings could be chaotic at times, with people representing different positions sitting together and outlining their separate points.
He seemed to bring many opposing sides together this way because they would find some common ground on which to build a solution.
He said to me, “I believe if you get them in the room and put them around a table together, the answers will find themselves. The groups will learn about each other, understand their various positions, and find an answer to their shared problem.”
Cities and towns of all sizes have been troubled for the past ten years with a shared problem: how to create effective regulations of vacation rentals (or short-term rentals) that work and achieve compliance.
On August 16, in Austin, Texas, a first-of-its-kind summit will bring together the three core groups who have been working to address this issue—tourism boards, local government, and vacation rental leaders.
The goal is simple: learn from one another about how to communicate better and create local rules that address management, registration, inspection, auditing, accounting, tax remittance, safety, quality of life, and more.
We want to get the biggest group of tourism, city, and vacation rental leaders together and find solutions to their challenges.
As the old community leader told me, “Get them around the table.”
Our firm has held dozens of these conversations around the world over the past two years, but none were so enlightening as the most recent in Sonoma, California. There, on a gorgeous spring day, we assembled representatives from local townships, the regional travel association, and vacation rental managers.
I threw out questions and posed topics to address the standard challenges that each side faces, and the attendees began to answer. At first their answers came slowly and only to me, but eventually they began to look at one other and converse.
Before I knew it, they were sitting around the table and finding answers to their problems.
For the travel industry leaders, problems seemed to revolve around questions about safety and quality of the local experience for travelers. They also cared about creating regulations to ensure any applicable taxes are paid.
The city leaders, including planning department and code enforcement staff, had questions about how to communicate and educate operators about new regulations, how to fully understand the industry so that they could appropriately write land use rules, and how to regulate inspections and quality of life rules so travelers’ safety could be guaranteed.
The vacation rental managers wanted to work with the travel and city leaders to educate them on new trends and demands of family visitors, to let each group know what they were already doing to ensure compliance, and to discuss how they were operating legal vacation rentals in a professional manner that maintained a high degree of safety and accounting precautions.
As the conversation continued, the three groups began to understand the concerns—and the solutions—each group brought to the table. They began asking one another questions, and my occasional moderation merely kept the conversation flowing toward solutions. By the end of the discussion, the three groups seemed to find an understanding on key issues.
For questions about travel trends and family demands, the vacation rental managers were able to point to important data and show that the average length of stay was longer than the length of hotel stay. They were able to show that the typical family size for rental stays was much larger than that for hotel stays, and they were able to point to survey information showing that travelers insisted on homes with certain amenities to make their stays enjoyable.
For questions about registration and concerns about quality of life, the city leaders expressed their desire to see homes and operators enter a simple registration program; this would allow local authorities to more easily communicate with operators and maintain a comfort level in knowing rules were being followed. The city leaders were able to show they had legitimate concerns regarding quality of life issues, such as inspections and records maintenance.
For questions about tax remittance and marketing, the travel industry leaders heard from vacation rental managers that safeguards are in place to collect and remit all necessary taxes. The managers also expressed an equal level of desire to assure every operator remits these taxes—they understood that the success of the local economy depends on these tax obligations.
All three sides articulated their wish to maintain the highest visitor experience satisfaction levels so that the region could be successfully marketed as a travel destination for years to come.
The three different groups found agreement on these issues and others. They worked together to find a level of understanding regarding each other’s concerns and the ability for each to help address those concerns.
The Sonoma summit was a success, and the long-term goal is to see successful regulations created from that conversation in each of the areas.
On August 16 in Austin, Texas, we will test the model for a larger global summit. This summit will bring together concerned stakeholders worldwide with travel, city, and vacation rental backgrounds; and the effort to bring them “around the table” will focus on solutions.
Sessions will include conversations with code directors and city leaders who have faced the most difficult discussions on vacation rental (or short-term rental) regulations. These sessions will focus on gaining an understanding of code and planning departments’ concerns to help them navigate the nuances of the industry and find solutions that can help them achieve their goals.
Other sessions will include discussions with lawyers who have battled state legislation, courtroom debates, and tax law. They will educate attendees on how judges and state actions typically address vacation rental activity and what laws apply to tax remittance.
Other sessions will include vacation rental managers and travel leaders, who will discuss the benefits they bring to communities, the challenges as seen by those in the travel fields, and how communities can benefit from a robust array of accommodations that include professionally managed vacation rental properties.
The audience will learn about new trends in urban environments and vacation destinations and how these trends rapidly change—this constantly evolving industry is seeing the latest online technology features make it easy for some travelers to find desired properties and add activities to their trips.
This summit—A Conference on Short-Term Rental Regulations—will occur on the last day of a major government conference and the day before a major travel industry conference, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be fully surrounded by interested stakeholders.
Getting these stakeholders around the table helps. It helps cities to discover whether their existing regulations achieve compliance and to create regulations that work for issues they have yet to address. It helps travel industry leaders get the best from their entire spectrum of travel options, and it helps vacation rental managers avoid the unnecessary anxiety of burdensome, ineffective regulations or bans.
We hope to bring the different sides together and help them find solutions.
As the old community leader said, “Get them around the table and the answers will find themselves.”
Visit www.SmartCityPolicySummit.com for more information.