The Hotel Alternative
The excitement of heading to a new city and seeing the sights can occasionally be eclipsed by the cost of the adventure. One of the largest expenditures is the cost of housing whether it be a hotel, bed & breakfast, or condo. A hotel room may have a mint on the pillow, but leave visitors missing the sense of home. Several hotel alternatives are challenging this notion.
The convenience of a hotel and the comforts of a home can now be found through a variety of social networks devoted to resident's offering their own homes as short-term rentals. Sometimes called social B&B networks or peer-to-peer hotels, there is a growing market to rent a room in someone's home. The accommodations range from 5 star luxury suites to a spare couch in college dorm coziness.
Hundreds of thousands of these listings can be found across the globe ensuring almost any major city has at least one place to stay off the official hotel grid. There are over 3,500 short-term rentals in New York State alone. And the networks are growing.
People are not only advertising their own living spaces for rent, they are connecting online, making friends, and becoming temporary hosts and ambassadors for their cities. This is unique way to share culture, stories, experiences.
Person to person rentals like on craigslist leave people open to risk as they don't know anything about who they are renting to. There is a lack of accountability that can lead to damage to property, fraud, theft, or even personal injury. The social networks implemented with these sites seek to make strangers into friends before they even step into the home.
Many of these spaces offer a way to save money in hotel fees. Taking a cut in comforts can cut costs to a minimum. They also offer an alternative when traditional hotels are over-booked.
There is an added bonus that users may not only save money when traveling, but can actually make money on renting out their own apartment.
Some official hospitality vendors have been quick to point out that some of these situations are under the counter and not completely legal. Unlicensed and uninsured properties are also an issue. In Paris it is illegal to rent a residential apartment for less than a year, which doesn't mean that it is uncommon. In New York City, most units are not allowed to be sublet without permission from the landlord or co-op board. This has not deterred many people from connecting via these networks, but could be a problem.
How to Book
Unlike most large commercial search engines (www.expedia.com, www.kayak.com, www.orbitz.com, www.travelocity.com/, www.hotels.com), most of these sites rely on a social network to make bookings. This usually includes a short profile, picture, and preferences. Making friends, both online and off, works to give yourself instant references.
Searches can be narrowed down by traditional methods of lowest price, location, and size. But since those listing the places are also compelled to give personal information, you can further define your search by picking the luxury apartment in north London over others because of a shared interest in vintage clothing.
Payment is arranged depending on which site is used. Most often payment occurs through the site before the rental, but there are some exceptions. Paypal is also frequently used to exchange payment in a secure manner.
This is one of the first of the social networking B&B's, started in 1999. Accommodations vary widely for the price of free, from a spare couch to a private room to space on the floor. There are also options for people to just meet up for coffee or offer advice without having to completely open up their home. Today there are nearly two million people in 238 countries as members.
After signing up for a free account, people can connect to other users and make friends, writing reviews for visitors and hosts. This helps to ensure safety and comfort for both sides. In addition, members can pay a small fee to be verified, enhancing their reliability.
The largest service, users can find a room in 6876 cities in 157 countries. The site began in San Francisco with Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, roommates who decided to rent out their spare bedroom to an over-booked conference.
Again there is a great variety of spaces listed, but these spaces are actually rented increasing expectations from sites like couchsurfing. Detailed accounts of private rooms or apartments are listed as well as reviews from people who stayed there. Payment until 24 hours after guests check into an accommodation in order to fend off potential scammers.
One of the newest sites at only a year-old, this project began in Toronto and specializes in providing housing during large events where traditional hotels might sell out. World Cup, the Olympics, and other large scale events can make it extremely difficult to find a convenient or affordable spot and iStopOver.com alleviates some of that pressure. Sites are mainly within North America, Europe and South Africa.
A protection feature built into the system is that to claim payment, hosts must be told a code given to the renter. If a listing turns out to be fraudulent or mis-stated, you can refuse to give the owner the code, and the fee is refunded in full.
This two-year-old British site is now covering 59 countries. Not as popular as AirBnB.com, this European version is still quite popular. Featuring peer-to-peer listings, there are some extremely competitive prices.
Once you have narrowed your search, you can contact hosts directly through an internal messaging system. Hosts can ask for the money either up front or upon arrival. Credit card payments are used to verify guest identities.
Another new company, this site features higher-end properties. The service is especially prominent in New York City, but also features another 36 cities.
Prices range from $30 to $5,000, plus there is an additional 8-12 percent booking fee.
Also catering to the vacation rental crowd, Second Porch allows users to create their own page and share recommendations and reviews.
If you are looking to EasyExpat to fit your last minute hotel needs:
for Hostels: http://www.reservations.bookhostels.com (in partnership with EasyExpat.com).
Freelance Writer from Seattle