Blog 15 of 78

Government Officials Driving Tourism Economy Away

By Ron Lee
Published: 06/01/12 Topics: Government Comments:

Businesses, Chambers and tourism groups in every destination throughout the United States are spending money to grow their tourism segment of their economies.

That is a wise move.

Tourism is a clean, responsible industry that brings in visitors anxious to shop, attend events, tour attractions, rent lodging, and pay the taxes that go with them.

Manufacturing, distribution and other market segments sometimes seem more attractive to civic leaders, but those businesses are hard to attract, require years of courting and subject towns to intense review and - for many - rejection. Plus, big industries can leave town far quicker than they arrive, dumping lots of people out of work. Like it or not, Vacation Rentals are here to stay.

All destinations will have some luck and attract some visitors with good advertising, promotions, public relations and business participation.

Trouble is, however, many will fall short of their potential. Sometimes what the area offers just doesn't compare well with other desirable destinations. But another big mistake is when local government officials fail to offer what consumers want. Today, that one big thing is tourists who ask for, and even demand, access to good, clean, upscale vacation rental homes.

For at least a decade, the vacation rental industry has been exploding. Even during the recession the number of visitors who demand to stay in a house or condo instead of a hotel room has continued to climb.

So it is surprising to find small communities, who beg for tourists, then kill the industry by disallowing vacation rentals, making it ridiculously expensive to get permitted, or making them impossibly difficult to get approved.

They implement overzealous regulations and requirements that they would never impose on long-term rentals or full-time residents. What is good for the goose is good for the gander - as the old saying goes. So, if leaders believe that vacation homes must have new standards for health and safety, then why do they not require them for everyone? Failure to do so is just old fashioned hypocrisy.

On a recent trip to a beautiful Washington State Destination, a review of city and county rental regulations revealed a lack of insight by elected officials.

A clerk at the county office said, "We don't have any rentals in many areas of the county and it's surprising because some of the areas are so beautiful." she then paused and added, "Or maybe that's because vacation rentals aren't allowed there." Duh.

The geography of the area is gorgeous. The land is pristine and beautiful, with cute villages, attractive shops and periodic festivals and events. Agriculture is big business with products esteemed worldwide.

There are a number of conventional well-kept motels and cottages. But there are also properties that have seen better days and detract from the scenery. Many appear abandoned. They are not shabby chic, they are just plain shabby.

New home developments have been stymied by the economy, although some recent additions bode well for demand. Peeking out among nicely kept homes, are houses and cottages that have seen better days. Many of those, as well as some of the nicer second homes, sit empty year round, even during the busy summer season.

The reason?

City and county officials have made short-term vacation type rentals illegal, or permits difficult to get. The up to $750 annual special use permit is one of the highest known in the country and requires begging neighbors for permission, and having the kind of inspections that would cause long-term rental home owners to go ballistic. With the inspections and other nonsense they require, costs can exceed many thousands of dollars.

And for what reason?

Like most areas, the reasons cited are that vacation rental homes "could" get used as party houses. Or that "Tourists drive cars through the neighborhoods and sometimes the trash isn't taken out to the street on time." complained one person at a county "scoping session."

No one wants trouble in their neighborhoods, but these possible issues never materialize. Some neighbors even say they "do not want people in the area that I don't know personally." Supposedly, "It destroys the character of the neighborhood", whatever that means.

There is no right in the Constitution that you must know and like your neighbors. But it is a foundation of American liberty that owners have a bundle or rights related to their real estate, including the right to right them out. So much for freedom.

In jurisdictions where rental permission is more easily obtained, but just as rigorously policed, and where owners must engage a competent local manager or management firm, problems do not happen.

The County even caved into neighbors in one desirable neighborhood who don't want "to have different neighbors each week," as the County clerk explained. Fear of problems is valid, but refusing entry to visitors feels a lot like simple xenophobia, the "fear of others."

A local real estate leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said, "You know the reasons for the lack of vacation rentals is regulations, don't you? Most people just won't spend the money to see if their neighbors will allow them to rent." How come the expensive applications fees are non-refundable, if the permit is denied? Looks like just another shake-down by officials.

Communities who enacted vacation rental prohibitions years ago, are seeing the light and revising laws to allow vacation rentals in all residential areas with proper permitting; and the requirement that properties be occupied within reasonable rules.

Doing otherwise scares away visitors. Consumers have decided they want to stay in vacation rentals and no amount of meddling in the free market by officials will dissuade them. Take away vacation rentals and they are sending visitors elsewhere, while local shops, restaurants and attractions lose out. It is not just home owners who lose.

The cities and counties where vacation rentals are allowed gain fee income; shops, events and attractions do more business; additional jobs are created; and tourism taxes flow.

Let's hope that officials in counties and communities, all over the country, wake up and stop killing the tourism business they so desperately need - by giving consumers what they want - many more vacation rentals.

Author: Ron Lee – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0212 – 06/01/12
Sponsor: VRAI – VRIA.org

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