“We literally got the last available room in Valemount,” texted my friends with a picture of a vice grips in place of a door handle. It was a Saturday night in the middle of September.
Last week Andru called for a more strategic approach to tourism. To avoid the “unplanned chaos” of letting the market go unchecked. This was accompanied by a lament from a 5th Ave cafe about how business was so good, it was bad. Not enough staff, too much demand, no local vibe. I don’t disagree with either one of them, but nobody seemed to offer any solutions or strategies, just a call to think about it. So here is my two cents.
Valemount has a vacancy crisis. There are no hotel rooms, there are no rentals, there is no space. Yet we still have archaic bylaws that restrict secondary suites, detached secondary suites (or laneway homes) as well as casual online rental bookings such as Airbnb. Now I am not deaf to the concerns of absentee landlords kicking out tenants to airbnb for the summer, or the horror stories of secondary suites not built to code…..but let’s be serious. How many illegal secondary suites exist in this village right now?
We cannot be the town that refuses to embrace the reality of the future. If a cafe on 5th Ave is so overwhelmed, we need another cafe. Maybe it is time to relax the parking requirements for new businesses on 5th. Why should a Micro-Brewery have any parking? Why are we encouraging people to drink and drive? Maybe the RVs need to stay on the highway strip… they can walk into the charming part of town. Maybe we need Tesla charging stations at the Centennial Park in order to encourage more relaxed tourists on 5th Ave, not the grab-and-go RVers buying groceries and beer.
As for rentals and Airbnb, embrace it. We need a reasonable process to bring these realities into the system legally. The bylaw officer may be able to go online and keep this down now, but make no mistake, it will be impossible into the future. The share economy is a reality. The younger generations are not as obsessed about owning their own space as the older generations are. It is not just about making some more summer money, it is about meeting other people from around the world at the same time. Hotels are lonely, horrible way to vacation, even as a couple. We have no hostel, and even hostels can be too mass-produced. When I travel, I Airbnb. It is a better experience. It also tends to save some money. The other thing about Airbnb is you tend to stay more than one night. Not many Airbnb hosts enjoy one-night clients… too much clean up and admin.
So as Andru stated, we want the right kind of tourist. I agree. We want the share economy tourist. The one that wants not only a bed, but a host. The one that wants to stay for a week, hike and bike the local trials, get to know the locals, and come back in the future for a longer stay because they had such an incredible time. How many hotel owners are out on the bike trails showing their clients a good time? Let the younger generation shape the economy as they see fit. I am not saying that you should not have your American Dream with your 3000 square foot home, 3 bay garage, huge lawn, RV and boat. But you should not prop up this expectation with bylaws just because you demand to be surrounded by neighbours with the same narrow set of values as you. And yes, once in awhile there is a horror story about an Airbnb. But the review system is pretty dam good. And once in awhile you get the last hotel room in town, with disgusting carpet, ants in the wall, and a vice grip instead of a lock. Evolve! Direct the market, don’t regulate the market. The market will win, either the secondary suites and attic rentals will be legal, or illegal. It is easier to regulate them when they are legal. Same with Airbnb. Why not have a “Village of Valemount Approved” decal for these new share-economy businesses? I prefer to think about solutions; laments followed by authoritarian regulations are a waste of time.