Fayette County’s New River Gorge is the country’s newest national park. But as a May 2021 article written by Zack Harold for The Guardian captured, “… not all the locals are happy about it.” While many recognized that increased tourism could generate more income, create jobs and instill renewed pride in their home, they were also concerned that it could raise prices, attract crowds and turn the place into a place that they didn’t recognize.
Residents were right to be concerned. I’ve spent the past two years studying the impact of short-term rentals like Airbnb and watched how short-term rentals have changed from residents offering spare rooms to investors and homeowners secondary ones instead of offering whole houses. I have researched and personally experienced how this drives up the cost of housing by taking long-term housing options out of the market and forcing residents to compete with tourists. So when New River Gorge officially became a national park on December 27, 2020, I held my breath.
Looking at vacation rental analytics site AirDNA.co, short-term rentals have increased astronomically. During the fourth quarter (October-December) of 2020 – before New River Gorge was a national park – the town of Fayetteville had 103 short-term rentals listed on Airbnb or VRBO. By the end of the fourth quarter of 2021, that number had grown to 162, with 66% of those available for more than half of the year. Ninety-two percent of current rentals offer the whole house. A jump of 59 houses may not seem like a lot, but it represents a 57% increase in a single year. And for a community of maybe 1,000 homes, that means a lot.
I’m not from your community and my opinion doesn’t matter. But I’ve seen this play out elsewhere, where short-term rentals force locals to compete with outsiders for accommodation. New River Gorge is a beautiful place and any tourist is lucky to experience it. But if the city of Fayetteville and the state of West Virginia don’t regulate short-term rentals, locals will become the outsiders.