The VRMA is known for its conferences and networking. Kimberly Miles is trying to broaden its partnerships and make it more relevant.
Kimberly Miles, the executive director of the Vacation Rental Management Association, acknowledges that there is a “new normal” for the sector this year as demand softens or over-supply takes hold in certain markets, but there is also a reset for the association in terms of unlikely allies and members.
Miles, who marks her second anniversary leading the property manager-oriented VRMA this month, noted in an interview last week that she previously worked for 19 years for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, and departed in 2020 as its senior vice president of operations.
That’s the same hotel association that praised then-Hawaii Governor David Ige in 2019 for vetoing vacation rental legislation that might have eased the path for hosts and property managers without permits to rent to vacationers in residential areas, and targeted “commercial investors who use online platforms like Airbnb, resulting in depletion of housing options, fracturing of communities and threatening thousands of tourism jobs that support Hawaii’s economy.”
Vacation Rental Group Starts Working With Hotel Industry
But today, Miles said, the two associations, one representing vacation rentals and the other hotels – some of which like Marriott now offer vacation rentals – have worked together on lobbying efforts.
“And I think that now there’s a place for everyone under the tent and there’s a place for those different swim lanes of lodging,” Miles said. “There are areas that we can align for certain advocacy and legislation, and there are certainly going to be areas where we differ.”
The following are additional takeaways from the interview:
VRMA Won’t File Lawsuits Over Vacation Rental Legislation
When Airbnb and Expedia/Vrbo file lawsuits against cities to fight certain regulations, you seldom see VRMA as a litigant.
“We don’t get involved in legal fights once they get to that point, but we can get involved in funding a lobbyist or funding a marketing campaign, or helping those local jurisdictions through our advocacy fund grant program so that we can have a broader reach on the ground,” Miles said.
Companies such as Airbnb and Expedia have much deeper pockets than the vacation rental association, of which they both are members. Airbnb, for example, spent more than $1 million on federal lobbying alone in 2022, according to Open Secrets, but that doesn’t include local campaigns, where it can be very active.
VRMA, which is based in Washington, D.C., with another office in Chicago, has what it calls The Collaborative Committee, which last year had a $690,000 budget to donate to local lobbying or marketing campaigns on regulatory matters. There are three dozen committee members, ranging from Emerald Isle Reality to Red Sky Travel Insurance and Vacasa, which make the calls on where the funding goes.
VRMA Established Individual Member Category
There historically has been friction between property managers and individual hosts because their interests can clash. But the vacation rental association created an Individual Member category in 2022 to support relatively small hosts who manage 0-5 properties to give them access to best practices, education, tools and member benefits. Previously, it had a startup-membership category for small companies.
“We opened up to individual hosts and did campaigns with some of the platforms to try to make sure that people that owned just one or two homes and want to do this themselves and don’t have professional property management companies, that there’s education for them and there’s a pool of resources for them,” Miles said.
Asked to comment about VRMA, an Expedia Group spokesperson said the company partnered with the association to add members with just 0-5 properties.
“We find value in being able to learn and get feedback from our partners at scale via VRMA,” the Expedia spokesperson said. “They are a helpful voice in the short-term rental industry, and we look forward to seeing how they partner with other groups – like Rent Responsibly – to further support all vacation rental hosts.”
The association finished 2022 with record membership of more than 1,200 companies, Miles added. Around 5% of the membership comes from outside North America.
Events Comeback After the Pandemic
Events and networking are one of the big things that vacation rental managers get out of the association, and Miles said “getting our events strategy back on track” was key. Its largest conference in 2021 attracted 1,700 attendees, and there were 2,800 for its international meeting in Las Vegas last year.
As one sign of VRMA’s goal to professionalize the industry and to provide education, it offers a Certified Vacation Rental Housekeeper Program, and educational sessions at its events.
David Jacoby, co-founder and president of Hostfully, which offers hosts vacation rental software and tools, said VRMA’s “International Conference is the most important event of the year, providing excellent education sessions, and ample opportunity to connect with other property managers and vendors to share best practices and foster community.” He also said the association has stepped up as a voice for “fair regulations” and to “clarify important misconceptions” about the industry.
But Jacoby said VRMA’s event strategy could be improved. “At times VRMA has a bit of an ‘old guard’ feel,” Jacoby said. “They used to be the only game in town, but lately many other social media influencers have started organizing successful in-person conferences and other events. These attendees are newer to property management and many have never even heard of VRMA. VRMA can do a better job at reaching out to these newer – and smaller – property managers.”
Affordable Housing and the Vacation Rental Industry
Critics in many communities have tied Airbnb and the vacation rental industry to a lack of affordable housing and rising rents. Miles said VRMA conducts economic studies “so we’re able to provide those facts and to drive our own narrative to say that this is a positive impact on the communities, and travel and tourism in general.”
Oxford Economics recently completed a study for the association that claims from 2014-2021 in the U.S. “only a hundredth (ie. 0.4% of the 32.7%) of the increase in real housing prices” can be tied to short-term rentals/vacation rentals.
“You have data, you have facts,” Miles said. “We can go to federal leaders, but more importantly local and state leaders to say, ‘This is what’s happening in your community.’ We can drill down into their communities and drive our own narrative.”
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Photo credit: The Vacation Rental Management Association looks to broaden its partnerships. A vacation rental in Riverside, New York that was offered on Airbnb. Source: Skift/Dennis Schaal