The coronavirus pandemic has changed much about our lives, but it has fundamentally altered hospitality. There is an argument to be made that Kerrville's hospitality industry weathered the COVID-19 storm better than others for a few simple reasons — the quality of its outdoor offerings. The numbers are there, especially with surging participation at the city's golf course, tennis center and campgrounds.
The anecdotal evidence about the Guadalupe River Trail is harder to quantify, but the burgeoning trail and its connected parks are a destination for many visitors.
So, if you take all of these factors and roll them up, you can see a clear market for getaways in Kerrville. And that's what we see in terms of short-term rentals. The city of Kerrville has granted conditional use permits for approximately 70 of these rentals — mostly homes booked online.
"We have people that come and rent several weeks at a time say that are working for James Avery or for the hospital," said Kim Richards, who operates Dwell Well. This Kerrville-based business manages short-term rentals and consults new short-term owners. "So, they're just coming here, need a place to eat, sleep, cook. They want to live while they're here. They don't want to be in a hotel room, but we are getting a ton of people that are actually coming for the River Trail."
After 2020, when the hospitality market collapsed, Kerrville rallied in 2021 — beating the city's best projections for hotel occupancy tax revenue. That success, in part, is fueled by short-term rentals paying into the fund. However, it has also created some discomfort among those in neighborhoods where the rentals are going, on the planning and zoning commission, the first step in gaining a conditional-use permit, and among other civic leaders.
The City Council will consider some modest changes to the ordinances that govern the permitting of the rentals, but in some public meetings, there have been more significant concerns. In a recent planning and zoning meeting, one speaker described the rise of short-term rentals as a "clear-and-present danger" to existing neighborhoods.
Those dangers range from out-of-control parties, parking, and constantly coming and going into a neighborhood. The number of short-term rentals in Kerr County is between 100 to 190 — at least according to the website Airbnb.
Many of these rentals lie outside of the city, where property owners have fewer restrictions or permitting. Kerrville, however, keeps a detailed list of its approved properties and shares it with police and fire. Richards, for one, believes that most of her renters are coming to Kerrville for a bit of peace and quiet compared to Fredericksburg, which has hundreds of unregulated short-term rentals.
"So, we try to address those things before they ever even become an issue," Richards said. "Be a good neighbor."
While the short-term rentals keep popping up, many of them near or within a short walk of the river, there appears to be strong demand for hotels. Spring Hill Suites is working to break ground at its proposed downtown Kerrville location sometime in the coming year — at Spring and Water streets. That would add to the mix and be one of the first downtown hotels in decades.