Letter writer: Short-term rentals provide meaningful tourism

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Asheville has been a popular tourist town for many decades. Over the years, Asheville tourism has taken a turn for the worse — accommodating only the entitled to visit. With hotel prices skyrocketing, oftentimes well over $200 per night, it affords only a certain type of visitor to come, thereby eliminating the very diversity that makes Asheville unique in its visitors. Asheville should be welcoming those very same sort of people that make up our population — artisans, young people and world wanderers.

Often they cannot, and will not, spend that sort of money on accommodations and may choose to bypass Asheville altogether as a vacation option if they are priced out of the market. These tourists look to experience the community during their stay.  Giving tourists another option other than hotels is a wonderful way to share our community.

Websites that act as liaisons to these tourists, and locals who wish to host them, like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, etc., offer accommodations to those who are wishing for a more home-felt experience, rather than a sterile hotel. Hotels cater to a different crowd in general [who] want a more disconnected experience.

Vacation-rental tourism supports the local mom-and-pop or out-of-the-way business locations that make Asheville truly unique. Supporting these businesses helps our community thrive. Furthermore, the money hotels earn from visitors doesn’t stay in Asheville or get spent in Asheville. Large hotels are nationwide chains, and that money leaves town. What happened to “keeping it local”?

Tourists paying less for their accommodations often have more spending money to spend at our local restaurants, cafes, breweries, etc. According to Wolfstreet.com (a business and financial website), a recent study showed Airbnb guests spent 2.3 times more money than those of hotel guests. Vacation-rental tourists ask specifically for “where the locals go.” They will likely be going to places like Waking Life café, High Five Coffee Bar or Nine Mile. Since their lodging can cost considerably less, it makes sense they can spend more. It also opens up vacations to those who could normally not afford a nice vacation out of town. Hosts of these short-term rentals love to help facilitate this.

Creating meaningful tourism creates closeness with the visitors and a connection to the community visitors would otherwise miss out on. Hotel customers often aren’t looking for this experience, and luckily, Asheville is home to a lot of hotels — with more coming! The short-term rental market caters to an entirely different clientele. Economically, a major upside is the income gained from these tourists seeking a more meaningful vacation is [that] their visits directly impact the hosts of these homes. Their dollars are spent locally. It doesn’t get any more local than that.

— Cat Smith
Asheville

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8 thoughts on “Letter writer: Short-term rentals provide meaningful tourism

  1. NFB

    Short term rentals also turn residential areas into commercial areas they were not meant to be. They drive up housing costs by taking housing off the residential market, and investors from outside the area who buy up homes to turn them into short term rentals hardly constitute being a “local” business.

    People who buy a house as a residence in a residential area should be able to expect that the area’s residential zoning be respected and enforced. People who buy a house in a residential area for the purposes of turning it into a short term rental should not expect to be given a pass when the violate the zoning restrictions. If you want to run a bed and breakfast buy a house in an area where that is permitted.

  2. henry

    This is a well written, thoughtful and thorough letter identifying the positives of short-term rentals (STRs), which no doubt add revenue to Asheville .

    There are two areas that were not discussed. First, who are the actual recipients of STRs fees? Not all STR owners are local people, who then are spending these rental fees locally. We don’t know how many STRs are owned by absentee owners, who spend these dollars in their distant primary location. Since the STRs market is a grey one, there doesn’t appear to be any financial reports as to the sums collected by STRs and what percentage of these sums go to actual local owners. STRs may be meaningful for tourists, but the reason they exist is to create revenue for their owners. It’s unlikely that many (or even any) STRs owners decided “I think I’ll help out middle and low income tourists who want to visit Asheville.” The meaningful benefit to tourism is a secondary gain.

    Secondly, there is the lengthy argument that STRs detract from long-term rentals in an almost no vacancy market. If Asheville was not such a hot tourism location, there would be far fewer STRs as rates would not be as lucrative and fewer people would be looking for them to rent. Also, if the City truly enforced permitting, inspection, licensing, regulation and taxing of STRs those dollars could go to other work force housing centered budgets. How many STRs in backyards, garages, attics and basements were built under a building permit to insure safety codes were met? I have personally seen several that were added on the top of garages with very steep and narrow stairs leading to a space with less than 7 foot ceilings. All STRs should have a Certificate of Occupancy (CO), issued by the City, insuring that building codes were met and specifying the use of that facility.

    STR owners seem to want no regulations at all applied to them. These are actual small personal businesses that should be treated as any other personal business, such as a hair salon, with the same level of oversight. STRs may be meaningful for tourism and the owners, but there are many other equally important counter issues to consider.

    • Yours truly

      This is true, the data hasn’t been collected yet as to who exactly owns the local area STRs, but it is in the works. As for taking away affordable and available housing, this isn’t true, and no one has proven this to be true. With 700+ STRs in the Asheville area, many having existed for many years, and an influx of 6000+ per year moving into Asheville, these 700+ STRs aren’t making a dent in the lack of housing. The trouble is with lack of apartment structures, duplexes, and the trouble getting developers in to build more housing that’s affordable. According to the Citizen Times, ” The Asheville metro gained 17,457 people over a four-year period that ended in July 2014″ The 700+ STRs have nothing to do with lack of affordable housing.

  3. STR Myths

    Among other things, the report in the below link shows:
    The majority of Airbnb hosts are working families who rent out their primary residence for an average of 66 days a year.
    Those hosts make approximately $7,530 in supplementary income per year with just a single property.
    This money is the equivalent of real household income growing 0.5% over inflation for the past 15 years, instead of shrinking.

    http://publicpolicy.airbnb.com/new-report-impact-airbnb-middle-class-income-stagnation/

    • henry

      This is a report put out by Airbnb and doesn’t provide any data as to the percentage of resident owned STRs in Asheville. Those are broadly generalized statistics. We need specific Asheville related data.

  4. Ben Scales

    Attempting to eliminate STRs by banning them is a fool’s errand. The market will always work around an outright ban (see, e.g., alcohol prohibition) with uncontrolled negative impacts on safety and neighborhood quality of life. A better approach is to license, tax and regulate them, as Savannah did this year: http://www.savannahga.gov/stvr.

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