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The accommodation challenges facing Vail: Could the resort learn from Barcelona? 

June 2, 2023, 9:48 am

In recent years, the resort town of Vail has gone from strength, with visitors coming from all around the globe to ski and snowboard its unrivalled, expansive terrain, and pistes. However, the town of Vail is facing a crisis – one that is shared by many of the world’s leading ski resorts. 

Despite attracting skiers and snowboarders in their droves that bring a massive influx of revenue to the town’s many cafes, bars, restaurants, and apartments, there remains a critical housing crisis for resort employees.  

The Effects of Airbnb and Second-Homes

Vail is far from alone in facing this problem. Other world-renowned resorts across the US, Canada (e.g. Whistler, Banff, etc), and Europe (e.g. Val d’Isère, La Plagne, Méribel, etc) also have significant issues when it comes to finding accommodation for the considerable workforce required to run a ski resort and its associated amenities. 

Unfortunately, the choice is often crystal clear when it comes to property owners. With the considerably higher price tags achievable using services like Airbnb and other private letting services, it’s frequently far too tempting to go for the higher-buck, short-term rentals than consider letting properties at a reduced rate to (normally) comparatively impoverished seasonnaires. 

Also, similar to other high-end ski resorts, Vail has a high percentage of second-home owners – those with enough funds in the bank to not even be tempted by the idea of renting to seasonal workers. 

Of course, the upshot of all this is having a hugely popular ski resort and facilities but with few staff able to stay on-site to run them. As the town continues to grow in popularity, options for accommodation remain limited due mostly to the limitations of being in the mountains, perhaps enlisting the help of a city planning services firm might result in solutions. 

The Backlash in Europe

The Airbnb model has been widely condemned by many experts for effectively driving local people out of cities, beaches, and winter resorts, as a result of its service. The argument above regarding property owners preferring to take the larger revenue from short-term rentals has made living in cities like Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin economically impossible for many locals.

Indeed, the situation has become so bad in Barcelona that the city was the first in the world to regulate tourist accommodation and demand a fine of 600,000€ from the company. Further, it has also instigated a policy of restrictions, effectively dividing the metropolis into four distinct zones, each with its tourism restrictions:

Zone 1: The historical center of the city has now ceased issuing licenses for Airbnb-type tourist accommodation with existing licenses being cancelled – all to reduce these types of rentals in the heart of Barcelona.

Zone 2: Slightly on the periphery of the city center, there is a capped number of licenses for tourist rental accommodation. New licenses will only be issued when old ones have been cancelled or expired. 

Zone 3: Again, a fixed number of licenses are to be issued. When the tally has been reached, new licenses will only be granted on a one-by-one basis.

Zone 4: A very limited area in the city where new licenses will only be granted if specific conditions are met. 

The Takeout

While the above measures taken in Barcelona may seem a little intrusive and draconian, few would argue against the notion that Vail faces stark decisions in future. A ski resort needs workers to operate but, in such a small town with so little accommodation for locals, something is going to have to give at some point. Perhaps Vail could learn a few lessons from the Euro approach to better support and protect its seasonal workers. 

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