Airbnb, VRBO react to new Summit County short-term rental regulations and programs

The service the two companies provide has been a topic of debate this year as the county’s affordable housing shortage has worsened due to the pandemic

Jenna deJong
Summit Daily News
Short-term rental properties in the Copper Mountain Resort village are pictured Aug. 13. Community leaders from across the county are overhauling short-term rental regulations in an effort to mitigate impacts on the community.
Ashley Low/For the Summit Daily News

When Summit County and its towns began discussing ways to reduce the number of short-term rentals in the community in hopes of creating more affordable housing, representatives from VRBO and Airbnb began advocating for their special interests. One leader from VRBO reported that he wasn’t surprised the county and its towns were taking action.

Philip Minardi, director of public affairs at Expedia Group, the company that owns VRBO, said that when leaders in Summit County began discussing moratoriums, caps, conversion programs and more, it wasn’t a shock to the company. In fact, Minardi said the company was prepared.

“That wasn’t something new for us,” Minardi said about the county’s initial discussion on short-term rental programs. “We’ve spent the better part of a decade working with cities and states and towns across the United States to come up with fair and effective regulations that meet the needs not only of our customers, our hosts, our managers, the service providers that make up our ecosystem but also the communities in which we operate.”

Summit County isn’t the only community — or even the first — in the nation to overhaul its short-term rental regulations, but Minardi said the fact that it considered all angles before taking any action was worth commending.

“We were well-positioned and happy to be as helpful to communities across Colorado as we could be, and obviously bringing all stakeholders to the table was the first step,” Minardi said. “Summit County did an amazing job of that. I think it deserves to be credited with a very prudent and thoughtful process.”

Minardi noted that all communities are unique, and a program or measure implemented in one place won’t always work in another. Even still, he pointed to Seattle as a community that overhauled its system. Four years ago, the city placed limits on how many units an owner could operate, and it initially passed a tax on all rentals that would be used to accrue funding for affordable housing projects.

Minardi also pointed to Louisville, Kentucky, which placed restrictions on short-term rental density in 2019, and to leaders in San Diego who recently passed an ordinance that limits how many whole-home short-term rentals there can be in the city.

“I think we’ve evolved the conversation to a place where we’re not talking about bans anymore, and we’re not talking about not regulating the industry,” Minardi said. “I think to a large extent, the conversation is now how do we limit the industry in a way that makes sense and that recognizes that coming out of the pandemic, recovering travel and tourism, especially in a market like Colorado, is critically important.

“The good thing is now there are quite a few cities we can point to and say they’ve done it right, or they are thinking about it right or they are taking a deliberative process that is going to set the city up for long-term success.”

As for Airbnb, the company didn’t speak directly on the county’s programs but noted that short-term rentals are part of a tourist community’s economic vitality.

“Short-term rentals are an economic lifeline for local residents who share their homes to supplement their income and small businesses that rely on visitor spending to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic,” company spokesperson Mattie Zazueta wrote in an email. “Airbnb is focused on being a good partner to local leaders, and we’ll continue to engage with them to encourage sensible policies that preserve the benefits of home-sharing.”

In the email, Zazueta said a recent Oxford Economics’ analysis found that in 2019, spending by Airbnb guests supported more than 1,450 jobs in Summit County, and one-third of them were in the restaurant industry. In addition, the study found that for 1,000 Airbnb guests who stay in Summit County, four jobs are supported.

When asked which programs or measures the leaders at VRBO did not support, Minardi said he’d prefer not to comment since the county’s short-term rental code is still in the process of being amended. He reiterated that the county’s approach to the issue deserves to be praised.

“I think they’re looking at solutions in a way that is pretty holistic and comes at it from multiple angles,” Minardi said. “The message we’ve told to Summit and Breckenridge and all these communities is that we’re here to help you find a path forward that works. I think we’ve been focused on giving them ideas that could make sense for their challenges, and I think Summit has done a great job to date.”