The Place to Go

According to the New York Times article "52 Places To Go in 2016", Grand Rapids is the #3 tourist destination in the U.S. and #20 in the world. It's kind of surprising given that Grand Rapids is a fairly small city, and yet it's competing with places like Chicago, Denver, Portland. While this is only the opinion of one article, it's obvious the tourism industry has grown immensely over the past few years. The NYT article cites the city's revitalization and focus on the arts as the reasons for all the attention, not to mention the success of the PureMichigan campaign. Tourists are particularly drawn in by ArtPrize, the craft beer scene, Frederick Meijer Gardens, and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market

With this growth in tourism comes a rising demand for short-term places to stay, enter: Airbnb. In the new sharing economy, Airbnb allows residents to rent their homes and apartments to visitors in the same way a hotel would. For tourists, this can be a cheaper, more comfortable way to stay in a new place while meeting locals for a personal, more hospitable experience. In 2014, Grand Rapids began allowing residents to list their homes on the Airbnb website, however not without going through the proper procedure which, according to some, is quite restrictive. Anyone interested in listing their home must first get a license from the city, which requires a yearly $300 fee and passing a set of house inspections. Once accepted, Airbnb hosts may rent only one room in their home (which they must occupy) to no more than 2 people at once. Grand Rapids is also only allowing 200 licenses to be issued per year and all neighbors within 300 feet of each listing must be notified. These measures were put in place to keep up the integrity of the surrounding neighborhoods and to limit the amount of taxes the state is unable to collect.

These strict rules are leaving many potential Airbnb hosts feeling like the reward is not worth the effort. The one room rule is particularly frustrating, and, considering how taxing the licensing procedure is, hosts feel they should be able to rent at least two rooms in their homes. Quite a few people are skipping the procedure altogether and listing their homes illegally, risking hundreds of dollars in fees. However, it's been nearly three years since these regulations were passed, so it may be time to review and propose a new set of rules. Airbnb has the potential to boost the tourism industry and make Grand Rapids a more inclusive place while putting money in residents' pockets.