With the Quebec government investigating 2,000 people for renting their properties on a short-term basis – often reportedly resorting to making fake requests – it begs the question: Is this the best and most constructive use of government resources?
Unlike some other places where policy makers have passed heavy-handed restrictions or bans, Quebec has a sensible approach calling for registration and a $250 fee. But the government has resorted to an apparently expensive and unnecessary crackdown on a questionable assumption that visitors to Quebec who stay in short-term rentals represent "lost" customers to other businesses.
The government has chosen to take a hardline approach to dealing with an apparent lack of compliance, despite many other options available, such as an educational campaign to increase compliance paired with warnings for those not following short-term rental laws. A more balanced and less punitive approach is needed given the clear economic benefits short-rentals bring to Quebec.
Recent statistics show Quebec City's tourism economy is booming with activity rising 8.8 per cent in March, 2013, compared to March, 2012. Traditional lodging options, despite allegations that short-term rentals are siphoning business, experienced a 5.8 per cent increase in occupancy rates in Quebec City in March compared to a year ago. Additionally, travellers often choose short-term rentals for longer stays and there is little evidence to support that if short-term rentals were not available they would stay as long in a hotel or bed and breakfast.
All in all, visitors spend $1.7-billion in the Quebec City area, or 3.2 per cent of the area's gross domestic product. In Montreal, the city's tourism bureau predicts that that 8.5 million people will visit the city this year, spending $2.5-million Canadian – a 4.7 per cent increase from last year.
Simply put, the travel economy requires a balanced approach to ensure continued growth, and short-term rentals are an important part of the travel economy.
A recent survey showed travellers are increasingly using short-term rentals. This year, 49 per cent of travellers surveyed said they have or plan to stay in a short-term rental, up from 40 per cent in 2011. Respondents said they like the cost savings, ability to travel with a large group and more space that short-term rentals offer.
Given the importance of short-term rentals to consumers and the local economy, why would government officials seek to go after residents participating in short-term rentals? We believe that fair and appropriate regulations increase compliance, create economic benefits for cities in additional tax revenues and protect the interests of neighborhoods. Wouldn't that be a more productive goal?
We strongly support people complying with local laws, but we've seen other governments take a different tack: treat those engaged in short-term rentals as partners and build a constructive relationship that simultaneously benefits providers, tourists and local residents. Palm Springs, Calif., has registered more than 550 properties and subsequently brought in an additional $600,000 in transient occupancy taxes.
Such an approach would increase compliance and ensure that short-term rentals can continue to benefit all Quebec residents and local economies.
Tim Doyle is the spokesman for the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center ( www.stradvocacy.org ), which works with stakeholders and policymakers to create fair and reasonable short-term rental regulations.