Short-term rental property managers around the world struggle with unfair regulations that make it nearly impossible to run their businesses. So what can you do about it? The answer is vacation rental advocacy.
This blog post was inspired by the How to Save Your Vacation Rental Business podcast by Dana Lubner and Matt Landau. The podcast is a 10-part educational series about vacation rental advocacy and building community and sustainability for the industry.
Dana and Matt host guests from all walks of the industry, sharing their stories and discussing possible solutions to the greatest threat that property managers in the US – and all over the world – face: unfair regulation.
As a leading vacation rental software company, we’ve always been passionate about supporting short-term rental advocacy. To dig deeper into the topic, we asked the representatives of two prominent European advocacy associations – FEVITUR in Spain and STAA in the UK – to share their insights.
Read on to hear from Merilee Karr, CEO of UnderTheDoormat and Chairperson of the STAA and Patricia Valenzuela, Director of FEVITUR, about the importance of vacation rental advocacy, what’s at stake, and how we can take action.
“We need to find a way to come together and have a voice, so we can take affirmative action when it comes to lobbying, but also to share knowledge and best practices across the UK, Europe, the US and beyond.”Graham Donoghue, CEO of Sykes (20,000 rentals in the UK and New Zealand) in the ShortTermRentalz RockSTRz webinar
Vacation rental advocacy is all about coming together and making our voices heard. But the ultimate goal isn’t just to achieve the most favourable outcomes possible for short-term rental operators.
As the VRMA Advocacy Fund states, advocacy is aimed at:
Next to this, advocacy also aims to protect the local community and create fair and balanced regulations that benefit both sides.
The media has often painted short-term rentals as the sole culprit of various issues that cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam and Venice face – including housing shortages and gentrification.
However, they have failed to acknowledge that these problems are caused by unauthorized bad actors, and that, within the right regulatory framework, short-term rentals can provide a lot of value to local communities.
Short-term rentals can have a positive impact on local communities by:
When local governments impose restrictive policies on short-term rentals, they deprive their communities of these benefits.
“Responsible actors within the industry have as much to gain by removing rogue operators as anyone else and therefore will always back necessary and proportionate regulation. But those words are crucial. Policymakers need to ask themselves what is the problem that they are trying to solve, and will the solution that they have devised end up having harmful unintended impacts on legitimate operators,” says Merilee Karr, Chairperson of the STAA.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen several instances of unfair policies stripping communities of opportunities.
“Take the new rules in Scotland, for instance. Introducing a licensing system for people who only want to short-let for a couple of weeks in the year is not at all a proportionate response. The likelihood is, unfortunately, that many non-commercial operators will decide that it is not worth their while to continue, depriving them of valuable additional income and taking away the authentic sharing economy side of activity in that market,” Merilee adds.
What’s more, unreasonable limitations often exacerbate problems instead of solving them, because they encourage illegal activity and lead to a complete loss of accountability.
“If you’re not at the table, you’ll be on the menu.”Steve Milo, CEO of VTrips (2000+ rentals in Florida) on the Sarah and T podcast
To protect their businesses, property managers need to make sure that they’re not left out of the conversation.
“As a comparatively new industry in many senses, the short-term rental sector is often poorly understood by policymakers and other stakeholders, who do not always see that there is more to it than a few big global platforms,” says Merilee.
According to her, it’s essential for smaller companies and operators to have their voices heard. Otherwise, regulators may not take into account the complexities of the market and devise policies that exclude smaller players.
“In the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, for example, many of our members have struggled to access government relief, because the eligibility criteria are based on an outdated understanding of what a hospitality business is. It is vital for the viability of short-term rental operators that they have a forum and are able to raise concerns such as these when they arise, and a means of communicating them to the government,” Merilee says.
As a short-term rental property manager, you have business insights and industry expertise that policymakers don’t. The only way to combat misinformation is to stand up, engage and communicate your needs – as well as how your business can contribute to your local community – to the government.
“Inaction, complacency and unwillingness to band together in the face of regulations are the greatest threats to our industry. Community-based advocacy has to be done. And if you don’t participate today you will have no right to complain when things go wrong tomorrow.”Dana Lubner, Director of Sales at Effortless Rental Group and Host of the How to Save Your Vacation Rental Business podcast
It’s difficult to talk about regulations and advocacy in general terms since the challenges that local communities face are so varied.
For example, in Spain, the number one barrier to balanced and sustainable short-term rental activity is the lack of standardized regulations.
“In Spain, the competences in tourism regulation are conferred on the autonomous communities and this generates the current chaos in which each community seems to go it alone. We need a state law. A large part of the legal problems derives from the fact that we have 17 different definitions, one for each autonomous community,” says Patricia Valenzuela, Director of FEVITUR.
According to Patricia, another key factor would be to create a nationwide digital registry where owners could register their homes for tourist use.
FEVITUR is committed to promoting the creation of such a national registry, which would “provide additional levers of rigour in matters such as national security, consumer defence and, even more, fiscal rigour. The solution is to make a simple definition of what is a home for tourist use from the LAU , in which its residential classification is clear. Without a clear definition of what a VUT is, it can hardly be regulated,” Patricia says.
Merilee is optimistic that after the crisis, securing fair regulations will help to rebuild the industry.
“Indeed, our sector was born following the last recession, when people needed to do something to make a little bit of extra money. The sharing economy is well placed to do that following this economic crisis. We believe that ensuring people are able to monetise what, for most, is by far their largest asset, with the uncertain times we are likely to see ahead of us will help us as an industry to grow and help democratise accommodation so that many more can benefit from our industry in the years to come,” she says.
Merilee believes that ultimately, self-regulation in the form of accreditation is the best way forward. The STAA has developed an accreditation in collaboration with Quality in Tourism, which “helps define what professional operators should be delivering and provides that stamp of approval so consumers can understand and choose operators they trust,” Merilee says.
“There should be no need for onerous regulations of our sector if we can prove we operate to the right standards around the UK and across the world,” she adds.
As for FEVITUR, they will continue “working to fight against all those unfair regulations and dismantle the theories that accuse the sector of being responsible for many of the evils that affect tourism, and our cities in general,” says Patricia.
As it stands, the last quarter of the year will be very tough and recovery will depend on local demand. But even during the fight for survival, it’s important not to forget about the ultimate goal of creating “a regulatory framework that prioritises free competition, fiscal rigour, quality and the promotion of competitiveness in our industry,” says Patricia.
So, if you want to become an advocate for fair regulations, where should you start?
Before you do anything else, make sure you have your finger on the pulse of your local community. What’s the general feeling towards short-term rentals? What regulations are currently in place? What new regulations do local policymakers have on their agenda? Once you understand the current state of affairs, you’ll know what issues you need to address in your advocacy.
Next, find or create a local short-term rental advocacy group. Remember: when it comes to effective advocacy, collaboration is everything.
“We would encourage property managers to join the STAA or your local association. Working with other companies across the sector to develop a common position we can advocate for is critical. It is important to speak with a single voice to government at a local and national level to impact change, or indeed to prevent knee-jerk regulation which might severely impact the industry,” says Merilee.
Once you’ve banded together, you can work on crafting a compelling story and telling that story in different formats. Whether it’s social media or the press that you’ll turn to, you need to create a narrative that will help get your local community on your side.
The next step is to take your seat at the table. Reach out to local policymakers through your advocacy group and make sure you have some good arguments up your sleeves.
Advocacy doesn’t end with enacting a policy that you agree with. Advocacy groups often dismantle after they’ve won a small victory – don’t fall into that trap! Keep engaging because you never know what the future holds. Protecting your vacation rental business is constant work, and you don’t want to be left out of the conversation as regulations evolve.
You can learn more about specific steps to take in the How to Save Your Vacation Rental Business podcast.
The Short-Term Accommodation Association (STAA) is the trade association for short-term rental companies operating in the UK. It represents global platforms, property management companies and support service companies in the industry.
The STAA exists to both bring the industry together so that its members can learn from each other and share best practices, and to represent the industry externally, to make sure that all short-term rental operators have a voice which is heard by government and other key stakeholders.
The association’s key aim is to make sure that the regulatory environment is balanced, stable, and supports the responsible growth of the industry.
The Spanish Federation of Holiday Rentals Associations (FEVITUR) was born out of the commitment of 23 associations of tourist apartments and holiday homes that work every day to offer the best services to their associates. FEVITUR represents more than 185.000 apartments managed by its 23 member associations.
FEVITUR was established in September 2013 with the aim of articulating the sector around common objectives, giving voice and vote to all the associations that form it and serving as an interlocutor before administrations and other public and private institutions.
The organisation aims to consolidate the short-term rental industry, improve the quality of the services of the activity and guarantee their integration and coordination with the rest of the tourism sector and public authorities.
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