Travel: Airbnb or a hotel? Some rentals are both.
If you’re trying to decide between staying at a hotel or at an Airbnb, said Yuki Noguchi in NPR.org, “the lines are blurring.” The choice used to be clear: Vacation rental companies such as Airbnb and HomeAway let you rent out private homes, while hotels had standard rooms. But Marriott announced last week that it’s expanding a new luxury home rental business; meanwhile, Airbnb is developing a “boutique hotel–like service” in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Airbnb has even acquired a last-minute hotel-booking site and app, HotelTonight. “Airbnb now owns about 20 percent of the entire U.S. consumer lodging market,” said Rani Molla in Vox.com. Last year, Americans spent more money on Airbnb than they did renting rooms from Hilton. Airbnb used to be a mainly coastal phenomenon, but as the market has expanded, the main growth for Airbnb and competitors such as HomeAway is now “coming from travelers who live in the central U.S.”
Much of Airbnb’s appeal traditionally derives from “cool listings that won’t break the bank,” said Lizzy Alfs in USAToday.com. You can stay in a cave in Bonnieux, France ($160 a night), or Xi’an, China; a windmill in the Netherlands; or a restored 1920s sheep wagon in Wyoming. Airbnb customers can put properties that catch their eye on a “wish list.” In Tennessee, the most wish-listed property is a 300-square-foot log cabin that a Tennessee couple built themselves, learning carpentry and woodworking along the way. You can find several treehouse rentals in Atlanta, including one $375-a-night property that lets guests “watch as llamas wander the forest below.”
While there are still places like these to be found, in much of the world “the conceit of friendly locals renting out spare rooms has been supplanted by a more mercenary model,” said Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker. In Barcelona, for instance, blocks of “centuries-old apartment buildings are hollowed out with ersatz hotel rooms.” In the tourist-saturated Gothic Quarter “the resident population has declined by 45 percent in the past dozen years,” as residents move to make way for proliferating vacation rentals.
The good news for travelers is that many of these properties are doing much more to “sweat the details,” said Krista Gmelich in Bloomberg.com. “Customers are expecting much higher quality in their alternative accommodations”—even in tree houses and houseboats. There’s a new “ecosystem of startups” to which vacation-rental hosts can turn to meet the higher expectations. Some of the professionally managed Airbnbs may offer fewer charming quirks, but they are more likely to have the crisp white sheets you expect at a hotel, and 24/7 check-in. ■