YIMBY: Yes in My Backyard: Neighborhood Vacation Rentals
Photo: Russ Johnson
So you want to get off the tourist track, away from the diesel bus stink, the rehearsed hotel staff, the pickpockets and predators that are often drawn to tourists as bees would to a fat-bustled queen. Peer-to-peer vacation rentals can literally put you in a cheaper, better place, a real neighborhood, where you can discover a real sense of the destination you are visiting.
Airbnb is the service with the buzz these days, offering sometimes wonderful, sometimes bizarre alternatives to traditional hotels: a guest cottage, a couch in the extra room, even, in one instance, a child’s playhouse in back yard. But Airbnb is not the only one. VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner), HomeAway and HomeExchange.com can offer vacationers some tasty choices.
Airbnb: The Big Disruptifier
Bells went off (make that cymbals crashed) last December when Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky announced that Airbnb, where you can rent what are referred to as “spaces” rather than rooms, would surpass the giant Hilton chain in bookings. Listings have grown to more than 300 thousand across 192 countries. Airbnb’s major issue has always been one of trust. In the early days, there were reports of trashed apartments and, in Europe, one room being sold as a brothel. It has now addressed that with a $1 million Lloyds of London guarantee to cover guest damages and a Verified ID system for landlords and renters alike. That requires parties to give up quite a lot of personal information including, possibly, Facebook or LinkedIn identities.
Vacation Homes, Condos, Trades
Other established sites such as VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) and Homeaway (different faces of the same company) offer some good values on interesting but more traditional places to stay. HomeExchange.com features vacation home trades. But the couch in the family room is not exactly a home trade. You have to be trading a place, not a space.
And why rent or trade through one of these services? First, they may be significantly cheaper, allowing you to stretch your stay. Airbnb says its San Francisco guests stay an average of 5.5 days compared to 3.5 for hotel guests. Then there is the matter free parking, local stores where water costs much less than five dollars a bottle and no surprise resort fees (but watch out for cleaning fees).If you are traveling in a group, you can sometimes rent an entire house for the cost of a single hotel room.
These rentals are often away from the tourist centers, in living, breathing neighborhoods, where you can sometimes engage with locals. More than ever, travelers are seeking authentic experiences and human interactions rather than managed sightseeing tours. They also help support neighborhood businesses and restaurants and sometimes even help local people pay their rent or mortgages. An owner of a small cottage near me rents it out for $150/night all summer. That comes to more than $3000 a month. On negative side, governments are can’t collect a hotel tax. As legitimate permits are difficult to come by, many rentals fly under the radar. Some don’t. The bureaucrats are increasingly trolling Airbnb and other sites in search of scofflaws. One wannabe hotelier in New York City got nailed with a $30 thousand fine. If you are offering a space for rent, proceed with caution.
If you are a guest, don’t expect Mayor Bloomberg to roust you out of bed some night. This cat and mouse game will continue but peer-to-peer vacation rental is a train that cannot be stopped.