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LETTER: Short-term rental restrictions a gift to hotel industry

(Black Press Media file photo)

Tourism Minister Lana Popham has exalted the strength of the tourism sector in the column “B.C.’s tourism industry a resilient economic driver.”

The column follows a familiar theme: placating fears of visitor impacts from the outfall of the Short Term Rental Accommodations Act while celebrating the government’s apparent partnership with the hotel association.

The CEO of Destination Greater Victoria (DGV), Paul Nursey, recently delivered similar news, saying restrictions on short-term vacation rentals will not hurt the visitor economy. Mr. Nursey informed us, “At the height of summer travel in August 2023, hotel occupancy reached 86 per cent,” reassuring that the visitor economy will be unaffected by the upcoming ban on licensed short-term rentals (STRs).

Popham and the DGV likely grasp the nuances of tourism’s fluctuating demand, which peaks during weekends, holidays, and major events. They understand that 86% occupancy can mean a room is available on Monday but completely booked from Tuesday to Sunday for the entire summer.

Despite Victoria’s accommodation shortfall, no new rooms have been added. Rather, the STRAA removes 634 rooms from licensed and accommodation-zoned STRs in Victoria’s downtown. Even with five hotel projects in development, their combined rooms won’t meet the shortfall. Furthermore, of the two approved projects, only the Hyatt (135 rooms) has a set completion date for 2026.

Popham knows that removing licensed STRs significantly affects visitor spending. Along with occupancy rates, DGV has published surveys showing the median travel party to Victoria is two, and the median spend is $232 per person in the summer. Eliminating licensed STRs creates a potential loss exceeding $20 million in visitor spending during the summer. Ousted from STRs, 100,000 summer visitors will see the Monday night-only vacancy and likely holiday elsewhere (or not at all).

So why would Popham downplay lost visitor dollars, and the DGV contradict a previous stance on accommodation shortages?

It starts with lobbying. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists of BC posts that the BC Hotel Association registered to lobby the housing minister regarding short-term rentals policy and affordable housing. This ‘altruistic’ interest in B.C.’s housing crisis, specifically by getting rid of STRs, makes sense: those licensed STRs account for 17% of Victoria’s visitor market share and limited certainty for hotel investors.

The NDP was willing to forego validating sources of studies and skipping details about downstream economic impacts. The NDP even went the extra mile by demonizing STR owners as the “greedy investors” who, not long ago, were celebrated as part of its “sharing economy.”

On April 18, Premier Eby confirmed that “Hotels are great places for tourists to stay, but without the certainty that visitors will be able to stay in hotels, that there’s going to be an indefinite or uncertain amount of AirBnB’s competing, those investors in those hotel rooms weren’t able to make the decision to proceed. Very clearly with these regulations in place, there will be visitors to stay in hotel rooms, there will be a market for hotel rooms and they are making a decision to proceed.”

As the variety and availability of B.C. accommodations plummet and hotel prices soar, B.C. will become inaccessible for many. The hoteliers, however, will raise a glass, toasting their partners and declaring, “For the long-term health of the visitor economy!”

Nick Reynolds