Tourism Boards and DMOs offer a seat at the table for vacation rentals
Tourism Boards and DMOs offer a seat at the table for vacation rentals
September 13, 2022
Although election season is upon many communities across the country this year, polls aren’t the only place vacation rental operators are making changes to the industry’s policies and perceptions. Recent developments include the election of vacation rental community leaders to their local tourism boards.
Some tourism boards and destination marketing organisations (DMOs), while private entities, are often public or semi-public entities that are tied to local governments. Public tourism boards are charged with managing sustainable tourism in the area and promoting the destination. They are often funded by local taxes like lodging or hotel taxes.
Local elected officials are responsible for allotting seats to public boards. Except for vacation-rental dominant locations, lodging representation seats have been almost exclusively awarded to traditional hoteliers and B&Bs. However, board makeup is slowly changing to include more vacation rental voices.
“Historically, the only lodging representation was from hotels,” stated Dana Lubner (head of leadership development at Rent Responsibly) and founder of Mile High Hosts for Community Advocacy, Denver, Colorado. “The fact that more seats are going towards the STR community not just acknowledges the economic benefit that home sharing (or STRs), brings to the destination, but also provides an opportunity for STR communities to have a voice on tourism spending and policies.”
There are many reasons to join a tourism board
DMOs and tourism boards may not be active in vacation rental regulatory discussions. However, even if they don’t take a public stance on legislation their reports and programming could influence regulatory outcomes. Property managers must be involved in the discussion about how communities will promote and manage tourist in their markets, given the rapid pace at which new regulations are being developed across the country.
“Imagine a local tourism board that is only composed of [hotel operators], local politicians and administrative leaders,” stated Larry Mallard, CEO, Alpine Lodging, a Telluride-based property management company. “In such a case, vacation rentals could get lost in the discussion and be managed in a manner that benefits everyone.”
Mallard is a member of two tourism-related boards, as well as a hospital board. He served as chairman of the Telluride Tourism Board for many years and the Colorado Flights Alliance, and continues to serve on both.
Mallard stated that Mallard and his partners serve on local boards for two reasons. “First, we have always believed it was important for our company to give back and be visible leaders within the community.”
He said, “In Telluride we’re one the largest employers in this area and want to make sure we are as involved as possible in the direction of our community.” Telluride’s tourism industry is the biggest driver of the economy. The most important pieces of that space are lodging and vacation rentals. Because they often align with the business community, our concerns and goals should be discussed.
Ryan Tigner, the owner and manager of iTrip Vacations, a national vacation rental property management company joined Oregon’s Travel Portland Board of Directors on May 20, 2022.
Tigner stated, “I wanted to join because I could educate the board and bring a new perspective on short-term rentals,”
Around 80% of Travel Portland’s board members work as hotel operators.
Tigner stated that short-term rentals are often opposed by hotels. “If I can educate them about STRs and make them understand that short-term rentals do not compete with hotels, they will have a completely different experience – it might help our industry become more welcoming.”
Changes in perceptions of vacation and short-term rentals
Shannon Hiller-Webb was the first host to serve on Oregon’s Travel Portland Board of Directors. She said that having STR representatives on the Travel Portland Board has “legitimized us in tourism travel space.”
Hiller-Webb stated that it took a few years to correct the old patterns and behavior of vilifying STR rental industries, being reductive about our legitimacy, or being negligent that we were a significant market for consideration. However, as I resigned from the board, I noticed a shift in acceptance, support and dare I even advocate. This took time, relationship building and education.
Sharon Harley, CEO of Jeeves Florida Rentals has been a member of central Florida’s Experience Kissimmee Board for six years. She is currently chair-elect.
Harley stated that she has been able over time to show that vacation rentals offer accommodations and services that are comparable with top hotels and that they have a stake on tourism promotion and spending.
Harley stated, “In difficult times like when vacation rentals were prohibited during Covid,” Harley said.
She stated that “too many people don’t understand the compliance requirements and licensing required.” She aims to increase awareness about how many STR homes are subject to extra taxes in exchange for the privilege to operate, how they contribute to the local economy and tax base, and how they create and sustain job opportunities.
How vacation rental seats have made an impact in tourism
It is important to remember that you are representing all vacation rentals in your area when you serve on a tourism board.
Mallard stated, “My advice is to not enter into any decision with an agenda.” “Represent the entire vacation rental market and don’t make decisions for yourself or a few.
Because they were represented on the local tourism board, Portland hosts had some input into choosing which neighborhoods would feature in promotional materials. Airbnb and Travel Portland formed a partnership to promote the city via an email campaign, with STRs now at the forefront.
Hiller-Webb stated that the inclusion of a representative from STR industry on the board helped to bring about the Travel Portland investment in Airbnb.
Mallard stated that STR representation is important in Telluride, where vacation rental have been a well-recognized part of the tourism industry. It allows the board to stay in tune with high peak, moderate and low peak seasons, as well as better targeted marketing on the right date and demographic.
Visit Telluride has a whole page dedicated to aggregating information and promoting vacation rentals within the community.
Tigner, who joined Travel Portland’s board in May, stated that “it has been great bringing some insight to the group from Travel Portland about short-term rentals, the way we operate and our target market, as well as the measures we use to help the community.” “Of course, everyone has heard about the very rare cases where something goes wrong at a rental property, but they don’t hear about the millions of families who had a wonderful vacation.
How to join your local tourism organization
Your STR community may need to work together to add an STR seat on your local tourism board.
Portland, Oregon hosts had little to no control over the regulations and taxation the city imposed on them. Members of Host2Host (a trade association for STR host hosts) organized in mid-2018 to protest new STR fees being proposed by the Portland City Council. They advocated for the addition of an STR host on the Travel Portland board. They were able demonstrate the economic contribution of their industry – particularly STRs’ role as fueling Portland’s love affair for eating and buying local. Portland hosts often direct guests to their favorite local restaurants.
Two of the 28 tourism board seats are now held by the STR industry.
You can also get involved with your local tourism boards by attending events, getting acquainted with board members, and showing interest in serving. You could also serve on other boards or organizations that could help make connections with the tourism board, or recommend you for a position.
Tigner stated, “Once people get to know you and your values, they recommend you to certain positions through someone who knows somebody.”
Photo courtesy Campaign Creators
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