The other side of Airbnb

I am a short-term vacation rental owner in Lake Placid. Over the past couple of months I have seen many articles discussing Airbnb and the negative impact it is having in the region. Some of the written arguments against short-term rentals include: challenges for the local workforce due to the lack of affordable housing, changes in tourist spending, strain on the local police force, and the need for regulation. While these arguments may hold some validity, I believe that this conversation is incomplete without direct input from rental owners. It is for that reason that I am writing you today.

First, it is important to recognize why short-term rentals are advantageous for travelers. It is no secret that the comfort and privacy of a private home far outweigh the offerings of a hotel room. Vacation rentals allow travelers to find local lodgings that are specifically tailored to their wants and needs at a competitive price. For many vacationers, short-term home rentals are simply the best option. It is this fact and the associated outcomes that have many local residents worried about the welfare of our community.

One of the main issues I have heard recently involves difficult commutes for workers from Malone and the Capital Region due to the lack of affordable housing in Lake Placid. I cannot deny that there are fewer long-term rentals available in this town due to the rise in popularity of short-term rentals. However, it is not fair to place sole blame on the growth of Airbnb for these worker’s commute. There are certainly more affordable housing options available in nearby places like Saranac Lake and Wilmington that can be taken advantage of. I realize that people are in unique life situations, but we cannot forget that there are other realistic options that many commuters are not taking advantage of. Further, we can look at this situation as an opportunity for the development of more affordable long-term housing in Lake Placid. I would argue that this type of development would be sustainable and a real positive for investors, local contractors, local businesses and the local workforce.

The next argument I would like to address is the claims about tourist spending. In short, there are suggestions that people who stay in short-term rentals spend less and stay longer than the “traditional” tourist staying in a hotel. In my experience with guests, I see people who are going out to local shops, restaurants, events and venues to spend their money just like anyone else. If there is less spending going on, I have to believe it is only by a small margin due to some meals being prepared in the rental home. Even in this scenario the guests are spending their money in the local grocery stores. Do people staying in hotels spend their money at Hannaford or Price Chopper? The source given for spending information was from a voluntary ROOST (Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism) survey that took place over the course of only one year. I do not question the credibility of ROOST or their survey. However, I believe that we need more information from more people over the course of many years to find out if there is a real economic impact here.

In terms of the strain on the local police force, I see another valid, yet hollow argument. As a member of the hospitality industry, I recognize the potential for issues to occur on my property. There may indeed be times when police involvement becomes necessary. If there are not enough police on staff, then it is possible that these potential issues may not be handled effectively. With this understanding, I would have no problem adhering to reasonable financial regulations from the village that would directly support the growth of our local police department. Let us imagine that there are 300 short-term rental owners in the area who all pay an annual $100 fee ($30,000 annually) to support the local police department. This would be an excellent way for owners to support public safety and to protect their own investments.

It is well known that the Lake Placid village board is working to create regulations for the local short-term rental industry. I do not believe that this is something for owners to fear. We are fortunate to be a part of this community and should recognize the need for some form of regulation in our industry. However, I do hope that those in power also evaluate this situation from our perspective. Short-term rental owners are operating on the basic principles of capitalism. We are private owners who are creating capital with our own investments. We offer high-quality lodgings for new and returning tourists who are essential to our local economy. We are creating healthy market competition that increases capacity and encourages growth within our community. If regulations are passed, I am hopeful that they will be equitable and to the benefit of all parties involved.

There is no question that the emergence of the short-term vacation rental industry has created ripples throughout our community. It is important for community members and officials to take a careful and unbiased look at the changes occurring to address them fairly. Short-term vacation rentals are important to our community, and we must find the best ways to include them for mutual benefit. To accomplish this, we require more valid data, progressive thinking and continuing conversations that include all perspectives.

Chad Elsey lives in Lake Placid.

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