Posts Tagged ‘accommodations’

Why the belle has no clothes at the rental marketplace ball

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Why the belle has no clothes at the rental marketplace ball

Posted by Special Nodes USA on 16 August 2011

NB: This is a guest article by Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

Airbnb and the fast-growing number of rental marketplaces seem like the belles of the ball among travel-related web sites this year.

Some have grabbed the support of big hitters like Ashton Kutcher and there is clearly a lot of money kicking about with nine-figure cash investments.

But let’s take a moment and turn the lights on in the ballroom and take a closer look at some of these belles. After all, if we’re going to dance with the belle, we better know what we’re dealing with.

mask

Propagating illegal activity

I’m not sure why the internet police haven’t been blaring the sirens on this one.

Nevertheless, there is no question many (if not most) of the lodging options that can be found on such websites are not complying with local laws.

Towns and cities across the country and around the world have local laws that prohibit homeowners – especially in residential areas – from using their properties as transient lodging for travelers of less than, say, 30 days.

In other words, it is permissible to be a landlord to a longer-term tenant, but it’s not okay to rent your house, apartment or room to folks night after night after night.

In many cases, such nightly tourism activity can disrupt the culture and atmosphere of a residential area or building (in the case of a condo building, where most of the occupants are homeowners).

It’s no secret that all kinds of questionable activity happens across the web, and the web companies do not bear full responsibility for the activity that happens on or on account of their sites.

In the US, the Communications Decency Act of 1996 does a good job holding websites harmless from the content that gets posted on their sites by site visitors or customers (look at Section 230).

But even a site like Craigslist came around to remove a section of their classifieds that was conspicuously advertising illegal activity. That only happened, though, after much public and legal pressure from a lot of powerful people around the country.

Getting back to rental marketplaces, why isn’t anyone crying foul on this one? Should a homeowner be required to show proof of compliance with the law before being allowed to list a room for rent (it might be happening on Oahu)?

Sure, but the inventory on such sites would likely fall to less than one-tenth of its current inventory. Who would pour hundreds of millions into a site with little inventory?

Licenses, inspections and taxation – oh my

Local authorities everywhere are in the business of ensuring the public’s safety. Regardless of your position on the “government-is-good or government-is-bad” spectrum, few will argue against making sure places of business that are open to the public deserve some kind of inspection or review process.

  • Do you like the fact that restaurants must be inspected? I do!
  • Do you like to know that hotels and B&Bs must follow local fire safety rules? I do!

But…

  • How many of the properties on marketplace rental sites, which mostly appear to be in residential situations, have been inspected by fire officials?
  • How many have the proper business licenses to be offering over-night accommodations to the traveling public?

Many online reviews indicate hosts are offering food to their travelers too, as part of the overnight stay. Do you think the local health inspector checked out their kitchen or sanitary food-handling skills?

Now, let’s talk taxes for a moment. Some rental marketplaces are not collecting taxes on behalf of their hosts, and the host is not likely collecting taxes either.

I know some readers are thinking the following:

“Does Uncle Sam need to grab something from EVERYTHING people earn? So what if some guy is making a little coin on the side by renting a spare room and not collecting taxes?”

Short-term lodging is usually subject to both a sales tax and occupancy tax. Oftentimes, the occupancy tax is levied to help support all kinds of initiatives to stimulate more travel to the area. Is it fair that a host gets to benefit from the traveler’s dollars, but not put in his fair share?

Safety

I already addressed the safety risks involved in not being inspected by local health or fire inspectors.

But ever since the likes of Airbnb and others materialised a couple of years ago, I’ve been telling people that I am just waiting for a tragedy to happen at one of the places rented on their site.

Some creep is going to rent his apartment to an unwitting young lady, and something terrible will happen. It happened with Couchsurfing.

Little did I know it would be the other way around!  The traveler, in this case, recently vandalized an Airbnb property, triggering reams of publicity.

Now, I do not think it is fair to hold Airbnb, in this case, fully culpable for such a transgression. Crimes occur at hotels all the time, but should the hotel always be blamed, let alone the online booking engine where a perpetrator might have booked a room?

No. But, reasonable measures, policies and the law of large numbers exist to try and minimize the likelihood of crimes taking place.

I get the allure of these rental marketplaces from many angles. To the traveler, “staying at an Airbnb”, for example, might be seen as something different and exciting.

The photos on the various homepages are nothing short of amazing, so it is quite seductive. Hosts see it as a cool way to make money and meet interesting people, although this Slate writer certainly differs.

Investors see a new product in the pretty traditional market of lodging. Heck, I represent an industry that perfected the “stay in someone’s home” experience!

But, the tens of thousands of hardworking innkeepers over the years worked WITH local authorities to gain proper recognition as legitimate businesses, have paid our taxes, have gone through inspections, etc.

This isn’t sour grapes about an imposter trying to co-opt our bed-and-breakfast brand (can you see the furrow on my forehead?). It’s bigger than that.

The bottom line, for me, can be explained in an analogy: do you think it would be ok for any one person or any family to start inviting random travelers and locals into their homes for a homemade supper…charge for it…not collect any taxes…and never get inspected by the health department?

Sure, you could just say “Caveat Emptor!”, let the online reviews handle the inspection process and not care about safety or a level playing field.

Would you feel the same way if a friend or loved one bought into this and got incredibly (or deathly) ill from an unfortunate event?

There is not much any of us can do to prevent bad or ignorant people from committing awful acts, but we can support reasonable policies and practices to try and minimize it.  Allowing such sites to propagate possibly illegal and potentially unsafe situations is nothing short of enablement.

Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at internet law and start holding web sites more responsible for what gets posted or what kinds of transactions take place on their sites.

Holding sites completely harmless has in turn caused a great deal of harm to many others (anyone want to talk about the proliferation of libel within online reviews, but the absence of any recourse for justice?), but no one in the travel industry really seems to be talking about that.

Maybe rental marketplace sites that actually collect the room revenue should be required to ensure the legality of their host properties.

Short of that, the rental marketplaces is not much more than pimps for illegal lodging.  Anyone want to propose a new Communications GREATER Decency Act of 2012?

NB: Airbnb, for example, has consistently stated it complies with local laws in the areas in which it operates.

NB2: This is a guest article by Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

Multi-generational Family Travel Rises

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Multi-generational Family Travel Rises

Tour operator advises how to accommodate so-called ‘3G’ adventures

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

(1 of 2)

Tour operator Austin-Lehman Adventures (ALA – http://www.austinlehman.com/), the active travel company,reports an explosion in multi-generational or “3G” (three generations of same family)  travel.

For the fourth consecutive year, ALA reports mid-double digit growth in 3G trips both in pre-set, small-group and custom departures. Seventy-five percent of its custom exclusives are 3G bookings, mostly requesting national park trips, an ALA specialty.

“Our Yellowstone National Park family adventures are sold out for 2011 and we’re now taking bookings for 2012,” said Dan Austin, founder and owner. He added that family programs to other national parks such as Yosemite, Glacier, Bryce & Zion and Grand Teton still offer good space this season.

ALA’s 3G experience is in line with industry-wide statistics, said Austin, noting that 3G trips have recently been identified as top trends by mainstream travel companies such as Virtuoso and American Express Travel. Austin cites U.S. Travel Association research that notes that 30 percent of U.S. adult leisure travelers vacation with children or grandchildren along. TripAdvisor reported this year that 92 percent of families with children surveyed last year planned to travel in 2011, up from 88 percent who did so last year. There’s also more international travel by families (predicted to be up 5% from 2010) because so many of today’s parents are becoming more and more world-travel savvy and operators such as Austin-Lehman are developing family-focused programs abroad.

Austin suggests that 3G families and their travel consultants explore together the various options and ask the following questions of the tour operator “to assure that meeting the complex needs of three generations surpasses all expectations.”

Hotels can take these points in mind when marketing to mutli-generational families or choosing tour providers to work with.

Accommodations

  • Are the accommodations family-friendly (i.e. meeting needs of both adults and kids)?
  • Are there children’s menus and safe places where children can roam when parents are socializing, reading on the porch, or sipping wine by the fire?
  • Is there a place to swim?
  • Does the itinerary allow parents to enjoy their own quiet meal if desired knowing children are being cared for, fed and entertained? (ALA ends its Yellowstone programs at Chico Hot Springs Resort where adults dine by candlelight while their kids have pizza by the pool.)

Pre-set Departures, Group Size and Guides

  • Will the group be big enough to allow interaction between multiple families with kids the same age, yet small enough to allow intimate and personalized attention and service from the staff and guides? (ALA says that a maximum of 18 on a family trip is the preferred number.)
  • Are guest rosters on pre-set family departures arranged insofar as possible with families who have children of similar ages? (Austin said his company does its best to match up three or four like-minded families with children of similar ages on the same departure.)
  • What is the guest to guide ratio? (ALA recommends a maximum of six guests per one guide so that everyone gets individualized attention.)
  • What are the guides’ qualifications? Summer break teachers experienced in working with young children can be the best, says Austin.

Equipment and Transportation

  • What kinds of equipment are used for activities and how is the equipment adapted for 3G use?  For example, Austin’s team offers kid-size mountain bikes and even tag-along kiddy carriers on all trips and new high tech electric bikes on all European trips.
  • What kind of transportation is used from Point A to Point B on a trip?
  • How is luggage stored and moved?
  • Do the guides offer any ongoing dialog and/or fun games to help pass time en route?

Flexibility and Age-Appropriate Activities

  • How flexible is the itinerary if someone wishes to veer from the day’s planned events?
  • Are there age-appropriate activities? Ask if the itinerary is flexible to accommodate, if necessary, individual programs for a range of guests 7 to 70 years old.  Austin cites a Montana trip where guides spontaneously set up an easy half-day horseback ride for grandparents who otherwise would have sat on the porch as younger family members did an intensive hike.

About Austin-Lehman Adventures
Austin-Lehman Adventures, with a 37-year legacy, provides adventure vacations on five continents, has built an international reputation for small group active travel to destinations in North, Central and South America, Europe, the Pacific Rim and Africa. The company specializes in adult and family multi-sport, hiking, biking vacations that emphasize history, culture and nature’s charms.  Trips are limited to 12 guests (18 on family departures) and feature excellent regional dining, distinctive accommodations and all-inclusive rates and services. In addition to scheduled group departures, ALA offers customized trip planning.

BnBFinder On the Go!

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

BnBFinder On the Go!

Smartphones are fast replacing the desktop computer. People are using them to plan every aspect of their vacations, from accommodations to scheduling pit stops. BnBFinder-Mobile gets your information to guests in a way that is faster and more convenient, and responds to the way that more and more people are searching for it. The site includes features never before seen on a bed and breakfast directory.

Mobile Site

BnBFinder-Mobile is optimized to work with smartphone features.

  • Location based search allows iPhone and Android users can take advantage of the GPS on their phones to determine the exact location of bed and breakfasts nearest to them. Simply click “Find an Inn Near Me” to see a list of bed and breakfasts starting with the closest one.
  • Guests can now call you directly from your listing with the “tap to call” feature.
  • Pressing the “View on Map” button takes guests right from your listing to Google Maps where they can get turn-by-turn driving directions to your inn.
  • The “Email Inn” button integrates with the default e-mail account on the guest’s phone.

No extra steps.

  • You don’t have to do a thing, your BnBFinder listing has been automatically loaded onto BnBFinder-Mobile.
  • There is nothing for guests to do either, BnBFinder.com seamlessly detects that a guest is visiting via smartphone and presents the mobile version of the site, no download required.
  • IPhone users can add the website to their homepage, where it will appear and run like a native app.
  • From the mobile site, just like the full site, users can search the world for bed and breakfasts, view contact and location information, view pictures of your inn and information about it, and then share that information with a friend.

BnBFinder-Mobile is fast and lightweight, so it loads quickly and doesn’t use up too much of the guests monthly data limit. By 2015, we may no longer be using desktops at all, but whatever the future brings, you can be sure that BnBFinder will be there, showcasing your inn to potential guests.

Recent Media Pick Up

We’ve been busy bees this month and here’s some of the press we’ve garnered for both our site and our inns. There’s more to come. We have a lot of potential pick-up in the pipeline and we are always looking for more ways to spread the word about your inn, BnBFinder, and the industry. If your inn wasn’t featured this time, don’t feel left out! E-mail us about what’s newsworthy at your bed and breakfast. Or, we get a lot of our inspiration for pitch ideas from the specials and pacakges that you post, so make sure they are up to date. Click “read more” and check out the articles below to see what journalists thought was newsworthy this past month.

Chicago Tribune
News to Use

Lousiana Road Trips
Storybook Vacation

The Examiner – National
Serene love at BnB’s awaits couples in top-listed angry cities

National Pick-up of this article:
Dallas Morning News

Florida Today

FuseTV

India Times

Road Runner

World News

The Orlando Sentinel Blog
Bed and Breakfast for You and Your Pup

Media Kitty Newsletter
Civil War Sesquicentennial

Examiner.com
Spring is Blooming at Bed and Breakfasts!

Examiner.com
Exploring the Far Reaches with B&Bs

RecipeLion.com
Everyone PeCan in April!

RecipeLion.com
March Monthly Morsel Round-Up

RecipeLion.com
Baked French Toast That’s Berry Tempting!

RecipeLion.com
Fabulous Food Friday: April Blog Hop

Press Release
Bed and Breakfast Tour of the Civil War Sesquicentennial

Press Release
Maine Inns Raise Funds for Habitat for Humanity

Press Release
Celebrating Architecture at Bed and Breakfasts



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