Trying to level the short-term rentals playing field in Parksville Qualicum Beach

Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association and Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce representatives make a presentation to council

The local tourism association and the chamber of commerce are hoping to work with municipalities and the regional district to level the playing field when it comes to vacation rentals by owner.

Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association executive director Blain Sepos and Qualicum Beach Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Evelyn Clark spoke to Qualicum Beach town council on July 11 about changing policies around vacation rentals by owner in Qualicum Beach.

Clark said the trend of short-term rentals is currently operating without much regulation.

“It’s important to understand that not all vacation rental owners want to work under the radar,” Clark said. “There are many of these business owners who want to legitimize their roles and unfortunately, currently, there’s no mechanism for those who want to be in the vacation rental business to be within policy or even be legal.”

Searching on Airbnb’s websites — a popular short-term rental site — shows more than 300 rentals in Parksville Qualicum Beach. The rentals, which can be single rooms or entire homes, range in price from less than $75 per night to thousands of dollars a week.

Back in May, Sandy Herle, the chair of the Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism Association and Kim Burden, the executive director of the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce, spoke at Parksville city council about reigning in the so-called illegal vacation rental businesses.

Like Sepos and Clark, Burden and Herle spoke about requiring the rentals to obtain business licences to operate legitimately.

Sepos said they want to work with local governments, including the City of Parksville and the Regional District of Nanaimo, to help level the playing field.

“Right now we have small — especially in Qualicum Beach — owner-operated businesses with a limited number of rooms and they are definitely competing with the short-term rentals.”

Sepos said vacation rentals could give visitors the foundation that they want.

“If you consider Qualicum Beach that has a limited number of inventory of hotel rooms in the area, vacation rentals could be a good reason for people to stay in Qualicum Beach rather than in another area,” said Sepos.

Referencing a recent survey of people who stayed in rentals in Vancouver, Sepos said 33 per cent of people said they would not have visited Vancouver, nor stayed as long, if they couldn’t have stayed in a vacation rental.

One concern, Sepos said, is protecting neighbourhoods. He added that he’s heard complaints about the safety behind vacation rentals.

“We heard from local elected officials that residents are concerned about vacation rentals,” Sepos said. “We wanted to know what can be done, so the rentals are not shut down and make sure that they’re keeping the best interest of neighbours while still being able to operate.”

Most vacation rentals are in residential areas, which Sepos said don’t allow for this type of zoning.

“If somebody come to the town or city for a business licence in a residential area, they get turned down. Without a business licence, they can’t operate legitimately,” Sepos said. “We see that the core of the issue is to allow vacation rentals to legitimize in residential zones in some way that’s accountable.”

Council approved a motion to invite regional partners, the City of Parksville, the RDN and the tourism association to form a committee to address vacation rental policies in each jurisdiction with the goal of establishing a regional approach to dealing with short-term rentals.

Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer said now is the perfect time to address the growing demand for short-term rentals as the Official Community Plan review is coming up.

“We have a change of culture coming our way, and I think we would be remiss to respond. I think we want to act in advance so that we don’t end up in the position where we’re responding to complaints.”

Sepos and Clark said now is a good opportunity to work with local governments to develop an approach to vacation rentals.

“It’s not going to go away,” Clark said. “It’s a very popular way that people travel these days and it’s really important to be proactive at this point.”

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