To associate vacation rentals in the same conversation with extremism, illegal gun sales and the opioid crisis is outrageous in its assertion and downright ludicrous to even suggest. But hotel special interests have done just that. The policy conversation on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is an important one and one that will require reasonable and sensible deliberation to address real issues related to societal challenges.
However, the hotel industry is trying to convince Congress that short-term rentals are a scourge on society akin to the serious opioid epidemic.
The absurdity of this comparison reminds me of when my young children were learning shapes. We showed them three triangles and a square and asked, “which one doesn’t belong?” This is a lesson the hotel industry is still learning, it seems.
The impetus for the inclusion of vacation rentals in the Section 230 conversation is the result of the hotel-backed proposal by former hotel lobbyist turned member of Congress, Representative Ed Case (D-Hawaii).
Section 230 addresses the treatment of internet platforms by stating, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” In short, it ensures platforms are not recognized as the publisher when facilitating the speech of a third party, protecting platforms from being held liable for user-generated content.
Through the foundations for internet use enshrined in Section 230, countless innovative platforms, property managers, homeowners, and start-ups are welcoming traveling families and groups to every corner of our nation. Today’s flexible accommodations marketplace has become a cornerstone of our nation’s tourism economy — with one in three travelers having stayed in a short-term rental, up from one in ten just a few years ago.
While new traveler trends have fostered a new generation of vacation rental travelers, platforms have also stepped up to offer innovative solutions to local concerns. Short-term rental platforms are working with municipalities every day to find reasonable and effective solutions to increase compliance, address non-compliance and foster a short-term rental environment that works for the entire community. In fact, in many cities across America (Chicago, for example), short-term rental platforms have agreements with the city that allows platforms to share data in a way that enables the city to accomplish everything it wants without violating Section 230. With regard to short term rental policy, it is possible to accomplish what is necessary without breaking the internet.
Platforms have been proactive in opening lines of communications with cities and are readily available to help with remediation and to delist ineligible or problematic properties at cities’ requests.
And while these platforms are already working together with local authorities to build solutions, they are also providing significant benefits to their local communities. Homeowners are empowered to make the most of their property by renting it out for brief periods of time. This added income helps seniors age in place and families cover expenses like tuition or medical bills.
Communities benefit too. By distributing travelers in neighborhoods that are not always served by hotels, small businesses are connected to their community’s tourism economy.
The association of vacation rentals with the most pressing societal challenges we face today is not only nonsensical, it’s dangerous and it is simply poor public policy.
Steve Shur is the president of the Travel Tech Association.
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