Impact Publications : MiceBTN_60
MICEBTN - AUGUST 2015 • Page 65 Tired of the same old hotel stays? Beware private rental deals that look good – until you have to pay the bill IF you’re looking for a private- ly-owned apartment or house to rent (perhaps for a post-business- trip break or you want something less formal than a hotel for a longer business stay), you’ll find a large number of on line companies keen to take your money, writes Jack Handley. Supporting them you’ll also find plenty of warm-and-fuzzy on-line reviews that claim a particular company or property owner is ‘great to deal with’ or ‘provides excellent value for money’. Doubtless, some do deliver, but dig a little deeper and the story becomes a tad more complex.... Let’s start with Airbnb (said to be the biggest on line global provider of rooms to let today), which allows individuals to rent pretty-much ‘anything with a bed’ to visitors. The Economist magazine says Airbnb soon could take 10 per cent of tradi- tional hotels’ revenues, but that as a ‘new on-line player’, in many cases its rentals breach local housing laws and regulations. There also are issues about insurance and fire alarms/security and of course, taxes: In many cities those renting out holiday accommodation are expected to pay a hotel or tourist tax. Internationally, Airbnb already has been fined for breaching local tourism laws in Spain and is in the courts in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans in the USA. Amsterdam in the Netherlands, how- ever, has gone the other way, passing an ‘Airbnb-friendly law’ that permits residents to rent out their homes for up to two months of the year to up to four people at a time as long as the ‘landlord’ pays all relevant taxes including a tourist tax. The tax issue is central to most com- plaints. Most ‘hosts’ do not charge their ‘guests’ hotel tax and pay nothing to their local taxman. To remedy this, in some markets, Airbnb has begun collecting hotel tax at source, pushing up prices. On the plus side for tenants, almost all the laws that can be broken by Airbnb are designed to penalise the renter, not the guest. Unfamiliar names Many of the other names in the market will be new to readers. As well as Airbnb. com and VRBO.com and the quirky couchsurfing.com (yes, you sleep on some- one’s couch), there also are Travelmob.com, Istopover. com, HouseTrip.com, Car- ibound.com, Wimdu.com, Flat-club.com, 9flats.com, Homeaway. com, Localo.com, Onefinestay.com, Sleepout.com, Roomorama.com, Panadabed.com, Friends of Friends Travel (Foftravel.com), Bedycasa. com, Kozaza.com, Weneedavacation. com, islandsbook.com and a lot more besides. Researching who delivers what - from an owners’ and renters’ point of view – can be an eye opener. Some owners and renters report- ed great results, but some renters were disappointed by the standard of their rooms. Others had cancelled bookings but still were billed by the owners. Buyer beware All the web sites mentioned above are designed to be easy to use, but unlike hotel sites, you’re not dealing with big, established companies. The owners generally are just people who want to make a few dollars renting out rooms or flats/houses (and in one case a fleet of vans in New York). Your money is at risk. Searching on line reviews can save you grief. You’ll find both owners and renters represented, with details includ- ing quality of service, owners arbitrarily banned from web sites after complaints from renters, owners who accept de- posits and run off with the money ... and a few scams that are a lot worse. Basically, my advice to anyone who decides to book using one of these sites is this: Do your homework. Google the name of the site with the query ‘Com- plaints about <name>’ and also visit scamadvisor.com. Also, try multiple sites using the same property search criteria, don’t settle for the first one you find. Finally, don’t hand over credit card de- tails without being sure that your money is safe and you’re buying what you’ve been promised.