Everywhere I encounter a collective noun of travel journalists (a freebie?, a rating?) there’s always one raving about this growing phenomenon, and the following come the most highly recommended:
Airbnb is the soaraway owner site. It was started in San Francisco in 2007 and named after the air-beds pulled out for guests, and has become the go-to site for holidaying hipsters. Airbnb doesn’t charge homeowners to post listings, instead taking a small percentage from purchases. With a breezy, modish design, oodles of social interactivity, and over 80,0000 worldwide listings, it aspires to be the eBay of owner sites. Some bad PR invited criticism but its continuing rise seems inevitable – particularly as it has gobbled up London start-up Crashpadder.
Owners Direct lacks Airbnb’s latte-across-the-water glamour, but has a certain dependable charm. It is a big self-catering concern that started in the UK in pre-internet 1997 and now hosts about 33,000 properties in in 77 countries and was bought by US company HomeAway in 2008. It has a nice blog and the sense that you’re getting an amateur’s second home (although there are plenty of professional letters on there, too). It’s more for week-by-week holidays than short stays. Information is provided by owners so can be patchy, but for value and a pleasant browse, it’s good.
With a similar urban hipster vibe to Airbnb, iStopOver has a nice home page with pictures of cool apartments (in Montreal, London, Barcelona, New York etc) and all the now-routine social media links, along with an events listing that lures the short-term city-breaker. It makes a big deal about affordability as opposed to hotels and, just perhaps, they’ve got a point.
This is another in the HomeAway stable (as is Owners Direct); a US site that claims to be the largest owner-rental site worldwide with more than 150,000 rental properties. It has been around since the 1990s but isn’t well known in the UK. Customers pay owners directly, and it’s all there in terms of navigation. But in its bid for the mainstream, it loses out on character.
Flipkey was launched in 2008 and is part of the vast and growing TripAdvisor portfolio, which means you get all the sometimes-maddening Web 2.0 interactivity of that site. It has a huge roster of 100,000 properties worldwide. Owners list their properties for a low price, and customers contact them directly. The graphics are a bit ugly (like TripAdvisor) and theme blurbs are poor: “Forget about booking that stuffy reception hall with no windows, and save the date for the destination wedding of your dreams!”