Advocacy 8 mins read

7 Steps to Advocacy: How to Convince Policymakers and Press That Vacation Rentals Are Actually Good for the Local Community

By June 14, 2019 October 20th, 2021 No Comments
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This how-to guide was inspired by a 2019 VRMA Spring Forum session on vacation rental advocacy with Matt Curtis of SmartCity Policy, Philip Minardi of Expedia Group, and Gregory Holcomb of VRMA.

The imperative of local advocacy, now

The vacation rental industry has long been exempted from most local regulations and rules. But for better or for worse, this is changing. In the next 5-10 years, vacation rentals will become more and more controlled by public policies and regulation.

The end result will eventually be common sense legislation. But along the way, the pendulum will swing back and forth, from less regulation to excessive restrictive policies that are unfair to the vacation rental industry, and back again.

This growing industry is a net positive for local communities, but seems to have caught policymakers off guard. According to Research And Markets, the vacation rental industry was valued at $100 billion in 2016, but is predicted to reach $167 billion by this year alone. It’s not just a big city issue either, with Host Compliance reporting that there are over 1000 local U.S. governments that have 100+ vacation rental listings in their jurisdictions.

As business and regulatory interest increases, Vacation rental managers must join the conversation, especially at local and state levels. And doing that now is even more critical, because influencing the creation of policies is much cheaper and more efficient than reacting with lawsuits or corrective policies.

Step 1: Memorize the angles

There are four important angles to remember when it comes to the community impact of vacation rentals. These angles should be the backbone of your presentation:

  1. Vacation rentals are good for the local economy, because travelers spend significant amounts of money in local businesses
  2. Vacation rentals help local employment. Dozens of local service businesses’ primary revenue comes from vacation rentals – including cleaners, gardeners, maintenance workers, and more
  3. The tax revenues from vacation rentals funds important public projects (e.g. public works improvements, local rec center, public art projects)
  4. Restricting vacation rentals does not fix the affordable housing problem, because the inventory will not be freed up to open more affordable housing units

Internalizing these angles, you’re ready to draw on personal stories to make your presentation memorable and meaningful.

Step 2: Put local facts in your back pocket

The next step is to generate a localized economic impact study so that you have key facts to show the scale and severity of the problem.

Combining direct and indirect economic impact, most communities will see a net impact in the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. What’s important is building the study based on reasonable assumptions that you can point to if questioned.

If you would like a free localized economic impact study, we can help you generate one.

Step 3: Build in human stories

Good stories travel well. They tap into deep emotional places in our brain and remain there, which is what makes them memorable. This is important because you want your stories remembered and retold by policymakers as they consider how to shape vacation rental policies.

The good news is that there is a recipe for a good story:

  1. At least one hero (must be a person)
  2. A juicy problem
  3. Believable facts and/or data (which you have already)

Start your story by introducing your hero, and make sure to name them. Describe their family members and the context of their situation. Then, quickly mention their big problem. Here are a few examples of stories that can be included with the angles mentioned above:

A story about a local property manager:

“My name is…

A local business that benefits from vacation rental traveler spend:

“I want to tell you about Travis, the owner of Whiskers, a local brewery that opened ten years ago at the corner of Main and Mountain Street. Whiskers is a community hub for everyone in Tahoe and Travis and his wife Jane are actively involved in the local chamber of commerce.

One of the things we do for our vacation rental travelers is provide local recommendations, and Whiskers is one of our top places where we encourage guests to go. Last week I spoke with Travis and he gets at least two dozen customers into Whiskers each week from our vacation rentals. He said that his business would take a big hit if these customers were not able to visit Whiskers.

And that’s just one business. Our travelers frequently visit the gas station, grocery store, and local coffee shops when they stay with us. We’re glad to bring this influx of revenue to the local community.”

Example of story about local employment

“When you think of vacation rentals, you might think of how much my company and our property owners benefit. But the people you’re not thinking about are our local service workers who do an excellent job, day in and day out, making sure our homes are cleaned, well cared for, and prepared for guest visits. To date, we hire services from more than 6 local companies, including cleaners, maintenance, gardeners, and hot tub / pool maintenance – totaling approximately 40 people.

One of these people is Blanca, who works at Spring Cleaning, a company based here in [city name]. Blanca manages a staff of five people and her entire revenue stream comes from cleaning our properties.

Blanca lives in [city name] with her husband and two children, who attend [name] elementary school. If we enact policies that restrict vacation rentals, Blanca’s company goes out of business. She will lose her primary revenue stream and be forced to find work elsewhere. How is that servicing our local community and fostering more employment?”

Example of story about public projects:

Did you know that the TOT goes to important public projects in our community? It nets out at approximately $XX in revenue, and contributes to projects including:

  • Improvements to public areas
  • New rec center
  • Local fire and police department
  • Public art

Step 4: Find friends to join you

Now that you’ve spent the mental energy discovering the stories of all the local people you’re helping, it’s time to bring them into the conversation so they can help. There are several ways to do this. You can:

  • Ask locals to give you quotes and their photos and use this in your advocacy campaigns
  • Invite locals to public hearings to present and validate the positive impact of vacation rentals
  • Ask locals to share your campaign materials with their networks and get endorsements
  • Give locals signs to put up in their place of business showing support
  • Ask for monetary or in-kind donations

When you involve local organizations and businesses in your story, it will exponentially increase your credibility. It will also make elected officials pay attention, because they will see this as a bigger issue that may influence their ability to be re-elected.

Step 5: Prepare for the press

With your story and team of allies, it’s time to connect with the press so that they can broadcast your message. But keep in mind that the press needs a story with conflict and tension to make it real news. One way you can create tension in your story is to emphasize the potential negative impact of restrictive legislation. Another way is to talk about the local people who will lose their businesses and livelihood.

On a practical level, there are four key ways that you can tell your story through local media and press:

  1. Send a Quote: Identify which report is covering vacation rental legislation. Email them to give them an on-the-record quote about the negative impacts of bad legislation
  2. Phone Interview: Set up a phone call with a reporter to chat briefly on the record, off the record, or on background
  3. Hearing Interview: Approach a reporter after a hearing and voice your support for short-term rentals
  4. Write an Op-Ed: Submit an article to your local newspaper’s opinion section on the benefits of short-term rentals

Step 6: Practice for the allotted time frame

Telling your story is one thing, and doing it in the right time frame is another. You’d be shocked at how fast 3 minutes can go by when you’re speaking about something you’re passionate about!

Step 7: Meet policymakers on their turf

Vacation rental managers must join the conversation, especially at the local and state level. Joining in now is even more critical, because influencing laws and policies is much cheaper and more efficient than reacting to them with lawsuits or corrective policies.