What is really "killing" our mountain towns?

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Outside Magazine recently asked the provocative question: “did Airbnb kill the mountain town?” It’s a compelling read and frames the issue as such: “Living the dream has never been easy in the West’s most beloved adventure hamlets, where homes are a fortune and good jobs are few. But the rise of online short-term rentals may be the tipping point that causes idyllic outposts like Crested Butte, Colorado, to lose their middle class altogether—and with it, their soul.”

Substitute Crested Butte for any other mountain community (Vail, Telluride, Jackson Hole) – or any other resort town for that matter (Cape Cod, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach) – and a dichotomy is clearly established: those who rely on short term rentals to maximize their property investment, and those who despise short term rentals for their impacts on neighborhoods. This has been evident locally in both Avon and Vail in recent months, as our towns grapple with the best way to manage short-term rentals.

The Denver Post also explored the issue of short term rentals in resort communities, as evident by the “tremendous growth” by Expedia-owned vacation rental platform Homeaway “in the number of homeowners offering their residences to short-term guests, with the number of Homeaway-listing hosts in towns like Avon, Frisco, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Vail growing anywhere from 74 percent to 261 percent in the last four years.”

So did short-term rentals kill mountain towns (or are they contributing to the death of our towns)? Or is this simply a cyclical market-driven cycle that will self-adjust in time? Maybe the answer is more nuanced and isn’t about short term rentals at all.

I would suggest that mountain towns are not dead – but we might be slowly dying. However, contrary to popular opinion outlined by Outside Magazine, I don’t believe short term rentals are the thing that are contributing to the ‘death’ (sic) of mountain towns. In my view, it is the transient mountain town mentality that is contributing to killing our mountain towns.

Our communities hold real opportunity for hard-working entrepreneurs, business owners and employees determined to live out the lives of their dreams in the mountains of Colorado. The Vail Valley and other mountain towns offer a unique mixture of small town life, rural character, mountain living, and big city amenities, which creates a “just right” quality of life balance that even Goldilocks would appreciate.

But our story is no fairy tale; our communities hold real opportunity for hard-working entrepreneurs, business owners and employees determined to live out the lives of their dreams in the mountains of Colorado. But it’s a difficult journey; businesses need to invest in our employees through professional development; employees need to commit to businesses and not treat jobs like short term rentals; our governments need to recognize that housing is infrastructure and deed restrictions are as much a public good as park space; planning commissions and boards need to embrace density and relax parking regulations to spur development; collectively, we need to invest in broadband improvements.

What is killing the mountain town? I don’t think it is short term rentals, but rather is our short term attitude and lack of investment in housing, broadband, the business community, and our employees. Our community is a special place, and we can’t rest on our laurels and expect continued success without future investments.

We would like to invite friends, members, and those considering joining VVP to our annual meeting on December 13. Details can be found at https://www.vailvalleypartnership.com/event/openhouse/

Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com