Over the past decade, technological advances have made it easier than ever for businesses and individuals to enter the short-term rental marketplace by allowing consumers to easily find, book, pay for and stay in rentals when away from home. While this has fueled a dramatic growth in the industry and increased awareness of vacation rentals as an option in both resort and urban destinations, it has also attracted an increased level of scrutiny for those who operate within the industry.
As a result, several narratives damaging to the industry have taken root and continue to persist. As is the case with any rapidly-growing industry, the conduct of a small minority of bad actors jeopardizes the industry as a whole, attracting the attention of policymakers to the detriment of professional managers. There are positive stories to tell, but without a unified voice and a proactive effort, they get lost amidst the false claims promoted by industry opponents.
Across the country, we are seeing the proposal or enactment of strict rules, outright bans and new taxation structures under the guise of protecting consumers, preserving neighborhoods, protecting affordable housing, controlling unruly guests and a host of other concerns. Further complicating things, the media portrayals often focus on these negative storylines, buying the arguments against short-term rentals hook, line and sinker.
The time is now for each professional property manager and vacation rental business to respond via an organized strategic communications campaign. When starting to develop any plan to respond to threats like these or promote a positive story, you likely have an idea of what your end goal is, but it can be hard to know where to start.
Fortunately, VRMA has contracted with LEVICK, a leading strategic communication and public relations firm, to develop the critical elements of a strategic response and help VRMA members put them into place.
At the heart of any strategic communications campaign is a story that needs to be told and an audience that needs to hear it. Once you’ve determined those two pieces of information, the possibilities for tactical execution are endless. As part of VRMA’s advocacy efforts to combat negative portrayals, tell the positive story about short-term rentals, and respond accordingly when regulations are proposed or put in place in local communities, we recently developed the VRMA Voice: Vacation Rental Messaging Guide. In creating this book, we’ve laid the foundation for your strategic communications response by laying out a robust set of messages segmented by audience, topic and issue.
This comprehensive guidebook is a new and exciting tool in VRMA’s Advocacy Toolkit, and we hope that it will be a valuable resource that will help you get in front of threats before they arise, address them when they are presented, and ultimately protect your business in the face of detractors who are fearful of the industry’s growth.
When we set out to create this messaging guide, we performed interviews throughout the industry, including VRMA board members, VRMA staff, and professional vacation rental managers in urban destinations and traditional vacation communities. We designed it to empower you to play both offense and defense — offense where you can condition the environment before a threat occurs, and defense when you are faced with the specific action that might impact you.
If you are currently under the scrutiny of local policymakers, it’s important to realize that speed is important to an effective response. To that end, this guide was designed to help you act rapidly when needed. In these situations, your primary audience is usually clear: the city council, zoning board, or other regulatory authority looking to take action. However, you also should acknowledge and engage your secondary audiences — real estate associations, supportive neighbors, homeowners and others – all of whom are outlined in the guidebook. Your messaging to all of these groups should address the issue spurring action head on and forcefully rebut false claims or portrayals directly to interested groups and publicly through the media.
In these situations, the impetus for action is usually easily discernable. Authorities may be looking to respond to complaints from neighbors who are concerned about unruly guests. They may be responding to pressure from housing advocate groups who feel short-term rentals are reducing housing stock and making long-term housing unaffordable. They may be looking to raise additional tax revenue by imposing new occupancy taxes on short-term rentals.
In any case, it is important that you get a seat at the table so you can work with them to address their concerns in a way that does not negatively impact your business. In many cases, they may not have heard your side of the story and in most cases, they do not fully understand the tangible benefits that your business offers to the community. Making these arguments in a clear, concise and compelling way can change the debate.
Furthermore, if regulations are proposed in your community, local media may report on them, influencing the greater public perception either toward or against you. You cannot underestimate the impact that public perception can have. In my experience, far too often these debates are lost before they even get underway because public perception is lost and cannot be recovered. The messages in the VRMA Voice: Vacation Rental Messaging Guide should also be used to respond to inaccurate media portrayals through direct journalist engagement, letters to the editor, or opinion columns from you and your partners.
Most importantly, the VRMA Voice: Vacation Rental Messaging Guide was designed for practical use. It might help to think about the message points in this book as building blocks that can be assembled and configured to meet whatever need you might have and however might be helpful to your individual efforts. They can be used in written materials or provide the backbone of spoken remarks, including letters to the editor, letters or speeches to the city council, outreach to local tourism boards, or with guests, neighbors, or even law enforcement authorities.
An example of utilizing these building blocks could be a letter to local law enforcement providing contact information and advocating that your business is a first line of defense. You, as the author of the letter, select relevant talking points, from the VRMA Voice: Vacation Rental Messaging Guide, based on the subject matter of the letter and various topic areas. You can simply copy and paste these selected statements to construct an entire letter (see inset).
At the end of the day, while the VRMA Voice: Vacation Rental Messaging Guide is part of the VRMA Advocacy Toolkit, it is best interpreted as a toolkit within itself. It was designed to support your efforts by providing you with a turnkey arsenal that you can deploy on a moment’s notice. It will allow all VRMA members to speak with a coordinated and unified voice on the issues that face the vacation rental industry, breaking through the clutter, conditioning the environment and changing the debate, when necessary. In doing these things, we hope that this strategic messaging guide will become an integral part of your strategic toolbox and help preserve the industry for travelers and vacation rental managers in the years to come.