(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed
are his own.)
By Mitch Lipka
Feb 20 Shell out a couple of thousand dollars a
night for a vacation stay, and you're not going to have to
pretend you're anyone's cousin when you pick up the keys - like
you might with some Web-based booking sites where people rent
out their own homes to travelers.
In the wake of sites like airbnb.com, VRBO.com and
HomeAway.com, there is a new luxury category for those who don't
want to spend their big bucks on a simple hotel room. Companies
like Time & Place (timeandplace.com), Luxury Retreats
(www.luxuryretreats.com) and Villas of Distinction
(www.villasofdistinction.com) are trying to set
themselves apart from other by-owner short-term rental sites by
only aiming for high-end properties and a high-end clientele.
Consider a five-bedroom 12,000-square-foot
(1.1-square-metre) home in the Turks and Caicos in the
Caribbean. For a starting price of $3,750 a night, Luxury
Retreats could get you this beachfront mansion, which comes with
a staff that includes a chef, butler and housekeeper.
Or how about a nearly 2,700-square-foot (0.18-square-meter)
one-bedroom duplex (It has two living rooms) with a view of the
Eiffel Tower? Prices start at $2,780 a night through the service
Time & Place.
Hotels still get the lion's share of the business, with 44
percent of people staying in hotels for vacation stays,
according to a survey conducted for the site HomeAway.com. But
now about 12 percent rent homes.
While there are about 3 million vacation homes in the United
States available for rent, only a tiny fraction end up on one of
the high-end sites. Time & Place, for instance, currently has
230 listings in 45 locations worldwide. Overall, the home rental
industry is growing, according to the Vacation Rental Managers
Association and is most popular among those who earn more than
$125,000 a year.
WHEN IT WORKS
The notion of eschewing the traditional hotel stay in favor
of staying at a high-end home can make sense for travelers who
want a more local experience or need more family-friendly space
- or just want something different.
When Gregory Lung, a 52-year-old oral surgeon from Honolulu,
went to France in October, his first thought was: "I want to
live like a local." He signed up for a relatively modest
$420-a-night apartment, similar to what he would have paid for a
fine hotel, through Time & Place. He used the service's
concierge in advance of his trip to help get a feel for Le
Marais, the section of Paris where the apartment he was going to
stay in was located. He came away happy.
"It had a lot of the charm of an old place but the amenities
of a new one," he says.
For many people traveling abroad, enjoying the local food is
part of the experience, says Jason Cochran, editor of the travel
site Frommers.com. "So many foods you can't bring back with you.
If you have a private flat or home, you can bring it back and
cook it yourself," Cochran says.
Rented homes also work well for families, he notes. Instead
of renting several hotel rooms, a family vacation could become a
lot more comfortable by renting a house in the area with enough
bedrooms for everyone.
One drawback, however, is that these properties can be a bit
further away from the most popular attractions, whether it's
amusements parks, theaters or museums, Cochran says.
To be safe from scams, rent through an agency that has
inspected the property rather than just responding to postings
that come directly from owners, Cochran recommends.
It's also important to ask whether the management is
available in the event of a problem, anything from a plumbing
issue to getting locked out.
Use a credit card for booking if you can, suggests consumer
advocate and travel expert Christopher Elliott. And pay
particular attention to cancellation policies. Unlike most
hotels, by-owner sites tend to want money in advance.
BECOMING A LANDLORD
For homeowners who want to get into the business, the
high-end bookers say you should know that not every property is
going to pass muster. And when you sign up to rent your place,
you should expect some requests to make certain changes -
anything from getting a new chair in the living room to
upgrading the bedding.
After staying at Time & Place-managed properties in such
disparate locations as New York's Fire Island and Buenos Aires,
John E. Stiner, vice president of Breckenridge Design Group in
Washington decided to use the company to market his
4,700-square-foot (0.37-square-metre) estate on Nantucket for
rates than run from $3,500 a night to more than $5,000 a night.
He found that the price doesn't just require the use of the
property but a lot of service. "Folks who rent these kind of
houses can be quite demanding," Stiner says.
Stiner recalls that one guest had very particular
requirements about how afternoon tea was to be prepared. Another
requested a crystal caviar bowl.
That doesn't mean everyone gets anything they ask for. One
family got an extra TV during a run of bad weather, but he said
no to the caviar bowl. Sometimes, Stiner says, "You draw the
(Follow us @ReutersMoney or here;
Editing by Jonathan Oatis)