I can’t begin to count the number of times when I tell someone I’m from Galveston, they start to share fond memories of staying in their beach houses with their families as children. Those stories made me realize that Galveston has been in the short-term vacation rental business for a very long time.
Indeed, people from Houston and nearby drive markets have owned second homes at the beach for decades. Sand ‘N Sea Properties on the island’s West End, has been managing some of these homes for more than 40 years. Now, companies like Airbnb and VRBO allow consumers to book directly. And this is one reason vacation rentals are on the rise.
In fact, vacation rentals now account for more than 25 percent of all the hotel occupancy tax collected on the island, up from 8 percent since 2014.
“I think that guest travel tastes changed — at least for vacations; now you see an increase in hotel suites and condo occupancy as well as with vacation rentals,” Sand N Sea’s Claire Reiswerg said. “People are sometimes looking for a different vacation experience, and that often (not always) includes more living space, a kitchen, a different location like a beach house or a mountain cabin.”
As the vacation rental industry grows, local control and regulation remains a priority. Especially here in Galveston. In 2015, Galveston City Council in partnership with island residents worked to adjust Land Development Regulations (LDR) and included vacation rentals provisions. The Park Board works on the state and federal level to advocate for local control of vacation rentals.
“It’s my belief that Texas legislators cannot possibly apply one-size-fits-all laws to Texas towns and cities and their various neighborhoods,” Reiswerg said. “What’s right for a tourism-based economy like Galveston isn’t necessarily going to work in downtown Dallas or East El Paso or in the Hill Country.”
The growing vacation rental industry can be a boon for neighborhoods. Homes that were once vacant or dilapidated get purchased and refurbished, adding to the economic value of the property in the areas they’re located.
Balancing that economic impact with the housing needs of residents and would-be residents has become a challenge for the industry. Reiswerg and other local vacation rental professionals said they would be interested in seeing an assessment of the existing lodging and housing stock in Galveston in order to find solutions to this issue.
“I think the first step is to get the data that we need to make good decisions,” Reiswerg said. “That includes a lodging and a housing study to determine how many units exist on the island. And, how many homes are unoccupied or uninhabitable. How many are vacation rentals? Long-term rentals? Owner-occupied? Where are they located? Once we understand the actual data, rather than putting our faith in assumptions, I believe that we will be able to move forward with solutions.”
Park board meetings are typically held at 1:30 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 601 23rd St.