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Opinion: Home-Sharing Regulations Could Restrict Neighborhood Revitalization

Zach James Zach James Opinion: Home-Sharing Regulations Could Restrict Neighborhood RevitalizationPhoto via Pixabay.
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America’s best kept secret is out, and the world has taken notice. Each year, millions of people learn what locals have always known: Columbus is a premier destination for whatever reason your occupation, culture, or passion brings you here.

While Columbus continually experiences record tourism years, our Downtown central business district — home to nearly all of our hotels — has soaked up most of the economic activity. Each day, approximately 50,000 visitors to Columbus crowd the 18,000-some hotel rooms available.

In our region, tourism accounts for 39.3 million visitors who spend about $6.4 billion each year. Recently, the growth of home-sharing, or “short-term rentals,” has democratized tourism for our community by, quite literally, spreading the wealth to all neighborhoods and catalyzing tourism in our city. Visitors staying in our neighborhoods presents an unprecedented opportunity to showcase the true depth of Columbus culture.

This trend is most visible through Airbnb, though Columbus residents turn to a number of popular online platforms to welcome travelers into their homes. Columbus is the most popular destination in Ohio for guests of Airbnb as well as most other lodging platforms, as many travelers look to the residents of our city to curate their visit.

This is a positive development, and as a Columbus resident and a host myself, it’s encouraging to see short-term rentals thriving in parallel to meteoric hotel growth in Columbus. As a small business owner (specifically a food truck entrepreneur), what excites me most about this trend is the impact this immersive style of travel has on the local merchant community, as well as neighborhoods that might initially lack the ‘curb appeal’ for the eager tourist.

With so many hotels centralized within in a square mile, the incentive for small business owners to set up shop outside of Downtown or Short North never previously existed in a meaningful way. But Columbus has a bigger story to tell. Those with an extra room to spare can welcome guests through home-sharing platforms, not just in spite of where they live, but on behalf of it.

Studies suggest that 42 percent of Airbnb guest spending occurs in the neighborhood in which they’re staying. There is a very real economic impact for local businesses who perhaps have never previously benefited from tourism revenue.

As the co-founder of the Columbus Hosts Alliance, our community of hosts often collaborates on strategies to provide recommendations to our guests for authentic restaurants, shops and other small businesses that may be off the beaten path and absent from the typical tourist brochures.

What we find is that many short-term rental guests are specifically looking for that hole-in-the-wall coffee shop or the under-the-radar restaurant that only the locals know about. Our guests not only keep our money in our neighborhoods, they keep many of us in business.

Communication is a core value of our organization, we view hosts as front-line ambassadors for our city. Furthermore, our hope is that this trend of visitor immersion in our community encourages more merchants to set up shop in underrepresented neighborhoods that haven’t benefited quite as much from the rapidly growing appeal of our town.

As with any innovative industry, short-term rentals have their skeptics. In particular, some take umbrage with the concept of short-term rentals that are not the owner’s primary residence, arguing that it opens the door to unsupervised partying and neighborhood nuisance. As Columbus lawmakers begin to consider a welcomed regulatory structure to provide clear guidelines for hosts, the scrutiny of “non-owner occupied” units has led to an initial proposal capping their use at 104 days per year.

In addition to being completely arbitrary and virtually unenforceable, this cap would effectively ban these types of short-term rentals, therefore destroying the remarkable amount of economic activity for hosts in our city’s bourgeoning neighborhoods and thereby the support for nearby merchants. It would also extinguish the incentive for more entrepreneurs to invest in our ‘transitional’ neighborhoods and help build our community.

The appeal of these neighborhoods for guests is that they want to experience the local way of life, not disrupt it. While there will always be potential for a bad apple, we feel open communication between the over 250 members of the Columbus Hosts Alliance and city regulators can address the small minority of issues on a case-by-case basis and strengthen quality of life in our neighborhoods.

The growth of home-sharing in our city represents all of the qualities of the expressed ‘Columbus brand’ promise. We are a smart and open-minded city with a progressive attitude. We believe diversity isn’t just a state of being, it’s a state of mind, made real through people, businesses, and neighborhoods every day. Because we share the philosophy that Columbus is open to all, we are always taking risks, always thinking big and always open to new ideas. Let’s protect this promise and help our city once more serve as a beacon for innovation in the Midwest.

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