How is Hawaii’s short-term vacation rental market holding up with the coronavirus restrictions?
The pandemic has been devastating for the tourism industry, including legal vacation rentals on Oahu and across the state. Many families in Hawaii have been significantly impacted by the lack of tourism, some more directly than others. The vacation rental industry supports a diverse group of people and businesses including property management companies and their staff, house cleaners, maintenance and yard-care businesses, and so many others. In addition, visitors that stay in vacation rentals often frequent local eateries and shop with local retailers, which have also suffered because of the lack of tourism.
The return of trans-Pacific and interisland travel with Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, along with the reopening of legal vacation rentals on Oahu, has allowed some of these hard-working local entrepreneurs to reopen their businesses. We are all cautiously optimistic that continued compliance with the program will keep our communities safe while allowing a moderate reopening of business. That said, the number of flights into the state is still quite low and thus we are still a long way from a full recovery.
Vacation-rental critics complain that unhosted properties like transient vacation units are businesses improperly operating in residential-zoned neighborhoods. How do you respond?
ROH (Revised Ordinances of Honolulu) 21-4.110-1 limits vacation rentals on Oahu in residentially zoned areas to properties that have a nonconforming use certificate, and strictly prohibits the expansion of unhosted short-term rentals of under 30 days in residential areas. HILSTRA supports the intent of this law and feels that proper enforcement of it is an excellent deterrent for new vacation rentals in residential areas. That removes the opportunity for big investors to pop up and run mini-hotel type operations, which we agree can deteriorate our neighborhoods and communities. We are, and always have been opposed to these illegal operations who treat our neighborhoods like hotels.
That said, the fact is that the majority of Oahu’s legal vacation rentals are not in residential areas, but rather in resort zones such as Waikiki, Ko Olina and Turtle Bay. We firmly believe that vacation rentals in resort zones are a core part of the travel economy. Those zones were specifically designated to accommodate short-term travelers, and to restrict or otherwise discriminate against vacation rentals in resort zones seems like a violation of the intent of those areas.
Should the city Department of Planning and Permitting invest more in enforcement against illegal vacation rentals?
One of the fundamental reasons we created HILSTRA was to bring together legal property management companies. We want to work hand-in-hand with the various county departments to put together smart policies and enforcement around the vacation rental business.
We feel that the most successful way to remove the stigma surrounding vacation rentals is to work together with the enforcement agencies to determine which properties are operating illegally and work to close those operations.
During the public hearings for City Council bills 89 and 85, members of our team were able to present solutions to the DPP. These involved the use of technology and cooperation with legal rental owners and managers to provide lease dates and other basic information so the DPP can verify data against neighbor complaints and better monitor properties.
Who ensures that operators of short-term vacation rentals follow appropriate guidelines for protecting guests from COVID-19?
Professionally managed properties are generally overseen by licensed agents and brokerages, who make it their job to stay on top of regulations along with best practices for ensuring guest safety. The core of our business is to make our guests feel comfortable, secure and to have a great experience while in Hawaii. Now, part of that invariably means giving them peace of mind about what measures we take when following cleaning, arrival, departure and maintenance protocols.
Most professional vacation rental companies are adhering to the latest Vacation Rental Housekeeping Professionals (VRHP) cleaning standards. It goes without saying we all work very hard at compiling and dispersing best practices to statewide HILSTRA members.
What do you envision as the future for short-term vacation rentals in Hawaii? A limited, stable market or one with the potential for much growth?
HILSTRA believes that legal short-term rentals are a viable and valuable part of our economy, and that they can be managed responsibly, and in a way that benefits our local communities and residents. We believe hotels and legal short-term rentals are both equally important to Hawaii’s economic well-being, and the two types of accommodations can certainly co-exist and even collaborate.
We want to work hand-in-hand with government officials to stop the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals and ultimately serve as a resource, as representatives of the legal industry. That said, we don’t believe legal vacation rental businesses’ interests are currently being represented with state and county officials. We hope that in a not-too-distant future we will have a seat at the table and participate in the plans and solutions that the state and Hawaii Tourism Authority are crafting to bring our economy back.
THE BIO FILE
>> Current position: Co-founder, Hawaii Legal Short-Term Rental Alliance (HILSTRA); senior vice president of property management at Elite Pacific
>> Professional background: Before joining Elite, I worked for Luxury Retreats, a company that was acquired by Airbnb in 2017. I had the opportunity of working and launching new vacation rental markets around the world, including Portugal, Morocco, the Swiss and French Alps, and Bali, before making Hawaii my home in 2013.
>> Personal background: Born in Bucharest and grew up in Montreal from age 9. English is actually my third language, after Romanian and French. Studied chemical engineering and business management at McGill University.
>> Outside interests: Playing on the beach with my 15-month-old son, Kai.