My wife and I had a recent dilemma: What do we do in a hotel room when our six-month-old daughter has fallen asleep? The solution: Next time, stay in a vacation rental.
Like many parents, we got to the point when we needed to have our daughter on a sleep schedule. This hit us especially hard when we found ourselves in a small hotel room at 7:30 p.m. after we had finally gotten the baby to fall asleep. That’s when we realized we had no idea what to do! With extremely limited options, we sat on the floor on the opposite side of the room from the baby and watched TV shows on our iPads. In truth, we were staying for only one night, but when Christie turned to me and said, “If we were here for more than three nights we would have to rent a house or I would probably kill you,” I knew exactly what she meant.
As parents of one six-month-old I can’t begin to fathom this same scenario for families with more than one child.
As city policymakers discuss regulations, they might want to consider trading places with parents like us first to understand the demand for private home accommodations, otherwise they may also be hiding in the dark as they create onerous vacation rental regulations that drive family travelers away.
Property managers and owners can help policymakers cast the right vote; they can join the conversation, serve on decision-making boards, and give their time to organize the industry.
People have used vacation rentals for years when traveling, for all kinds of reasons. Typically, it’s a family staying for a longer than normal length of time. In fact, recent surveys show the average stay in a vacation rental is just over seven nights, which is a huge shift from the average stay in a hotel of just over one night. And the average size of the group is significantly different—four people in a vacation rental versus just over one person in a hotel.
The research group Longwood International recently outlined some of the reasons families travel. These travelers bring heaps of economic impact to communities, and the research found that this type of travel is often part of a decision to make a new life in the place being visited. The Longwood International study found that some families research towns based on whether they are a good place to live or a good place to start a business or career.
The research also showed that some families decide to visit communities when seeking to determine whether they are good places to attend college, retire, or purchase a vacation home.
Of course, when families are making travel choices, we know they may need the option to rent a home for their visit, and as cities decide on regulations around home rentals, they may want to remember the needs of family travelers.
And why not? The need is clear, especially for families, and the economics are clear, too.
In the United States the travel industry has created 972,000 jobs and expanded employment 18 percent faster than the rest of the economy. Travel industry salaries have risen 10 percent faster than overall private sector salaries, and since 2010 the industry has created more jobs than the entire manufacturing sector.
In Nashville the community benefited from $5.4 billion in visitor spending, and the visitors helped to support over 58,000 jobs. Now, that wasn’t all due to the traditional short-term rentals of visiting families, but an economic impact study of Nashville’s peer city, Austin, Texas, shows that the vacation rental industry helped bring $234.1 million in economic impact to that city and helped support 2,500 jobs.
In little St. Joseph, Michigan, the vacation rental industry brings $24.4 million dollars per year to the community and supports more than 300 jobs. In larger Galveston, Texas, the vacation rental industry helps bring $283 million to the community and support over 3,100 jobs.
At the recent U.S. Travel Association annual conference, ESTO, the attendees spoke at length about some incredible statistics on vacations, including the following: 55 percent of Americans don’t use all their vacation time, 222 million vacation days went unused in 2015, and only 36 percent of Americans go into a new year with confidence they’ll take a vacation.
In addition, the attendees discussed some other fascinating statistics. Traveling families are spending more on their vacations. In fact, families are spending on average 11 percent more, and families staying in vacation rentals in some destinations have been found to be spending two times the amount daily spent by the average traveler.
These conversations led to a common theme from tourism leaders: They want vacation rental managers and owners to get involved.
Time and again at recent tourism conferences we have heard heads of convention centers and visitors bureaus, tourism boards, and destination marketing organizations say that the demand for vacation rentals by family travelers is too great and the economic impact is too massive for property managers and owners to be left out of the discussion. One solution has been all too commonly discussed: Join your Convention and Visitors Bureau. Be a part of the conversation.
Property managers and owners who want to help frame discussions occurring at the local or state level should join their tourism industry stakeholders. Strong consideration should also be given to joining local and state real estate and home-builders associations. These organizations should be part of discussions on how vacation rentals bring many jobs and have a massive impact on the economy and also meet the huge demand of family travelers.
Managers and owners seeking to help advocate for effective, commonsense regulations should sign up to serve on local planning commissions, zoning boards, or building committees. These local advisory groups give policy direction to city councils and can benefit from sound voices of individuals who understand the industry.
To prepare for the growing discussions of how vacation rentals are becoming a more important aspect of the visitor industry and to prepare for the increasing conversations about regulations for vacation home rentals, managers and owners should also give their time and resources to form local and state alliances. Only when you are part of an organized group will policymakers fully hear your suggestions on how regulations should be created that are realistic to the needs of family travelers and property owners.
Join, serve, and give. It’s that easy.
The economic impact of the visitor industry is gargantuan. City policymakers prepare to capture visitor dollars by investing in public spaces, parking, wayfinding, and cultural events. They analyze and decide how best to fund public art and bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and they encourage and invest in concerts and art festivals. Policymakers do all this while working to preserve heritage structures and the environment and provide walkable, transit-friendly town centers. And they know that visitors help fund all these efforts.
These city policymakers need to understand why some people travel, why some families choose longer stays, and why for visiting families a vacation rental or traditional short-term rental is the best option.
One great mayor once said, “The visitors industry is the ultimate green industry. Visitors leave their money in our local economy, and take up very little footprint.” That is true, and policymakers need to hear from industry stakeholders on how to best understand the demand, the family traveler, and your business.
Although my wife and I found a way to get through the night in our tiny hotel room, cowering on the other side of the bed and watching iPads while our baby slept, I know that we will need the option to rent a home when we are staying for longer periods of time—there is no way we can go through life hiding in a dark room. I’d rather take a few extra minutes next time to research and find a great vacation rental.
The demands of traveling families are great, and the economic impact they have is even greater. Cities will continue to benefit from visitors who choose to rent homes when they travel with their families or friends. And to help policymakers create effective, commonsense regulations, property managers and owners should join their local tourism bureaus, serve on planning commissions, and give their time and resources to organize local and state vacation rental alliances.