By Mark Okrant
NH Travel Guru
Those travel behaviors, they are a changing. For years, we could count on a vacationer or businessperson exhibiting the ensuing behavior: arrival at an airport, followed by a quick taxi ride to a downtown hotel, before seeking a meal at either a sit-down or fast food restaurant. Those old standbys are still active but, gradually, they are being supplanted by a very different set of travel accommodations and services.
In lieu of the traditional taxicab, many residents and travelers are opting to be transported from place to place by an Uber, Lyft, or driver from a similar service. The beauty of these new kids on the block is their flexibility, the avoidance of a tip, and the knowledge that the driver is a self-employed entrepreneur who can’t (shouldn’t) afford to be high-handed about service delivery. Be advised, there are negatives about being an independent operator, including insurance costs, slow periods during which money is not forthcoming, impact on existing taxi fleets, and the wear-and-tear on one’s personal vehicle. However, none of these need usurp the convenience factor for the passenger.
A second change in the travel landscape is the Airbnb, an on-line marketplace that connects travelers to privately owned accommodations. The Airbnb provides house, condo, and apartment owners with a trusted place to list their properties. There is even a feature that allows owners to promote their locations. For the traveling public, Airbnb owners can serve as personal contacts within new destinations, and these are generally reliable places to stay at fair market prices. With participation in this venture comes risk. The threat of property damage is always possible whenever one has strangers renting a space. Furthermore, it is imperative that owners fully understand local, state, and federal laws and tax policies, lest they find themselves in legal and financial hot water. For the traveler, the greatest risk comes from the potential of false advertising. By staying at a franchise commercial lodging, there is a reasonable likelihood that a specific set of standards will be met. No such guarantee exists when one rents from a private property owner.
The third element on the contemporary travel scene is the food truck. These independently operated, mobile meal purveyors have become a nearly ubiquitous presence within the contemporary urban landscape. Food trucks offer a variety of options, from traditional American, to Asian-fusion, to Mexican, to gluten-free fare. Food trucks are conveniently situated, quick, moderately priced, and lack the expectation of a 20 percent tip. However, along with the aforementioned attributes come a number of risks. In some areas, health and safety regulations have been less stringently applied than toward fixed-roof establishments (NOTE: this situation is rapidly changing). The presence of food trucks has produced a good deal of animosity on the part of traditional restaurateurs. This stems from the fact that the mobile food stands are not subject to a similar set of property tax laws, therefore trucks can offer lower priced fare. In most cities, zoning laws have not yet caught up with food trucks, thus allowing a fleet of competitors to position themselves along sidewalks outside of local bistros.
Given the fact that these contemporary accommodations and services have assumed a position in the travel landscape, what should city officials be doing to insure that existing businesses—who serve as a crucial element of the local tax base—and the traveling public benefit, rather than suffer from their presence? The solution lies in regulations. Cities must set about updating zoning regulations. The first step should be to create acceptable radii (i.e., requisite distances from traditional services and accommodations) for these intruders. Next, a sliding scale of taxes and delimited rental space arrangements should be developed; these will provide a source of revenue for local governments and provide protection for both traditional and new operations. Finally, temporal zoning (i.e., posted hours of operation), which has been applied to parking of personal vehicles in several large cities, could be expanded to accommodate the presence of all three of these entities.
One thing is for certain, both residents and the traveling public have used their wallets to vote their support for these three operations. One of the responsibilities of efficient government is to develop needed regulations that serve the welfare of all those who are being affected by their presence.
After forty years as an educator, researcher, and consultant, Mark Okrant joined IndepthNH.org to offer concise, informative insight into New Hampshire’s travel and tourism industry as a business, while showcasing the people and places you want to know. This guy’s really been around. And, he’s funny, too.
For more about Mark’s compelling tourism-based murder mystery series, visit www.markokrant.com.
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