Short-term rentals look to rebound post-pandemic

County still working on potential regulations

Posted 4/30/21

Park County has seen a surge in short-term rentals in recent years, with more and more property owners opening up their homes, cottages and spare bedrooms to paying guests.

However, like …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Short-term rentals look to rebound post-pandemic

County still working on potential regulations


Park County has seen a surge in short-term rentals in recent years, with more and more property owners opening up their homes, cottages and spare bedrooms to paying guests.

However, like everything else in the travel industry, the short-term rental business appears to have slowed amid the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The number of short-term rentals within the 82435 zip code — which stretches from Clark to Powell to Garland — peaked at around 60 offerings in 2020. That was down from a peak of 70 such rentals in 2019, Powell Economic Partnership/Powell Chamber Executive Director Rebekah Burns told Park County commissioners earlier this month.

“There is quite a range, and most of those people are operating during the high [tourism] season for sure,” Burns said.

There are some limitations to the data, which was collected by a third-party program and provided to the chamber. Specifically, Burns said the program only tracks rentals offered through the two most popular marketplaces, Airbnb and VRBO.

“There are, of course, others, like FlipKey and others that are harder to track down,” Burns said.

Short-term rental owners weren’t the only ones in the local lodging industry to sit out 2020; some facilities, including some in Yellowstone National Park, chose not to fully open. Besides COVID-19 precautions, there were fewer people traveling last year.

Overall, tax collection data indicates that the Park County lodging industry took a huge blow in 2020. Between July and November, for example, the amount of money spent on stays at hotels, motels, campgrounds, short-term rentals, etc., fell 37% from the same time period in 2019. That was a more than $25 million drop.

As for the outlook in 2021, a recent report from Airbnb suggests less populated areas — potentially like Park County — may become the destinations of choice as the COVID-19 pandemic eases and its impacts lessen.

“Once people feel safe to travel, they will. But it will look different than before the pandemic,” wrote Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. “Travel will be viewed as an antidote to isolation and disconnection. People don’t generally miss landmarks, crowded shuttles and lines and lobbies packed with tourists.”

Chesky also referenced survey data indicating most people won’t be traveling far from home this year.

“We will get in cars and travel nearby,” he said, “dispersing to thousands of smaller cities, towns and rural communities, making tourism an important part of how local economies recover.”

The Park County Travel Council has predicted a rebound for local tourism, writing in its annual report last fall that, “If 2020 was the year potential travelers dreamed of coming to Cody Yellowstone, 2021 will hopefully be the year those dreams come true.”

Meanwhile, Burns said the Powell Chamber has been working with short-term rental owners to increase the amount of time they open their properties to the traveling public.

“That’s a lot of education around the four seasons of recreation,” Burns said. She specifically mentioned the fall hunting season as an opportunity to grow local tourism, with more sportsmen and women potentially turning to short-term rentals when they recreate in Park County.

“A lot of hunters like to do that as opposed to staying in hotels,” Burns said.

The chamber’s educational efforts have also included the creation of a “vacation binder” that lists every restaurant and attraction within 50 miles and provides helpful information for property owners.

“Unlike a hotel, these folks may or may not be aware of what their visitor needs to know and understands about our county,” Burns said. She said that information can also help property owners with neighbor relations, “because the more the vacation home rentals are aware of the information that they need to share, the easier it is for everybody.”

The rise of short-term rentals hasn’t been entirely painless, as local governments heard some complaints from residents who were surprised or upset to see neighboring homes suddenly become miniature hotels; concerns were also raised about some rural property owners potentially overloading their septic systems and other infrastructure by allowing large numbers of guests to stay in their homes.

In response, both the Powell City Council and the Park County Commission discussed the possibility of creating some kind of short-term rental regulations in 2019. The county, for example, held a series of public meetings in Powell, Cody, Clark, Wapiti and the South Fork in August and September 2019. The Powell council ultimately decided not to move forward with any new regulations at that time, while county planning officials are continuing to discuss possible rules.

Park County Planning Director Joy Hill said COVID-19 put a wrench in process.

“Between meeting limitations and the surge in development, we were stopped cold in our tracks,” she said. However, the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission has set a series of workshops in the next few months “to get the ball rolling again,” Hill said. She added that the workshops will address “many” other potential changes to the county’s regulations that have nothing to do with short-term rentals.

At public meetings in 2019, property owners generally expressed opposition to any additional rules on their rentals, saying the ratings system and oversight provided through marketplaces like Airbnb effectively allow the industry to police itself. Property owners also described a host of benefits from the short-rentals, from meeting new people, to making additional money, to providing a boost to the local economy through the hiring of cleaning crews. However, there  appeared to be some openness to some simple, common sense rules.

A couple speakers referenced the process used by the City of Cody, which has had short-term rental regulations in place since 2017. The city requires a $25 annual fee and an inspection every three years to check for things like working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, proper egress windows and visible address numbers.

Like any other lodging service in Park County, short-term rental owners are required to charge and collect taxes on their accommodations that total 11%. That includes a 4% sales tax and a 7% lodging tax that is used to promote tourism in both Park County and Wyoming as a whole.