People walk the beach near Hilton Head Coligny Beach. A nearby restaurant owner says he’s had consistent business for the past two years. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff By Andrew Whitaker awhitaker@postandcourier.com

SC - Hilton Head is trying to get its short-term rental situation under control (with giant STR news compilation)

HILTON HEAD ISLAND — The past few years, so many visitors have poured onto Hilton Head that Erin Hall’s family has adopted an informal rule: Don’t leave the island on Saturday.

The Halls quickly learned that a trip over the bridge on the day that most Airbnbs and Vrbos turn over means getting stuck in a wall of traffic.

Likewise, they avoid the beach on Sundays and the outlet malls on Mondays.

Getting to know the habits of Saturday-to-Saturday visitors is part of the dance of the island, Hall found when she moved here in 2019: When visitors rush forward, residents are likely to take a step back.

Hall, the chief development officer for Hopeful Horizons, a nonprofit that helps abuse victims, is sympathetic to people who want to enjoy their vacations. But her feeling that short-term visitors are increasingly shaping what it means to live on Hilton Head is shared by many residents, including the mayor.

“We used to talk about tourists,” said John McCann at a Town Council strategic planning workshop at the Westin Resort and Spa on Sept. 8. “It’s not the tourists. It’s the short-term rental community that’s taken over this island. ... It’s dictating who we are.”

How many are there?

Anecdotes abound about the rising number of rental units on the island. But the town doesn’t actually know how many short-term rentals Hilton Head has, nor how much that number has changed since local property owners began capitalizing on the appeal of Airbnb.


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“That little app on our phone changed the world,” said Town Manager Marc Orlando at the planning workshop.

In an effort to understand the current number of short-term rentals, as opposed to hotel or motel rooms, the local government passed its first ordinance related to short-term rentals in May. It requires owners to apply for a yearly permit and pay $250 for each privately owned residential property rented to visitors for less than 30 days.

This week, the town introduced its partnership with a company that helps governments manage permit applications, called GovOS. One of the advantages of the collaboration will be the town’s ability to learn who is renting out what, Orlando said.

“We will be able to tell you — and we will know, too — where those units are. Are they multi-family at the Oaks? Are they single-family, 12,000-square-foot homes somewhere else? How many bedrooms? What’s the occupancy?”

The prospect of vacation rentals at the Oaks, a mid-’70s housing development situated closer to a thrift store than the ocean, sends a shudder down the spine of Councilman David Ames, who chairs the town’s Public Planning Committee.

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