Lawmakers hover as more homeowners rent rooms to visitors

Fri Mar 15, 2013 10:32am EDT
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By Peter Myers

LONDON (Reuters) - For British student Carly Connor a trip to London for a city break would be impossible if she had to pay for a hotel so instead she rents a room in a Londoner's home.

Connor, 26, is among a growing number of people taking advantage of a surge in the number of homeowners offering to rent out a room for a night or longer, with the cash a welcome addition to recession-squeezed budgets.

This new wave of hospitality sweeping the travel industry was sparked by the success of "couch surfing", where people could go online to book a free bed in a home, and is being led by a blitz of new websites that let tourists bypass resorts and hotels.

"A lot of the time you find yourself with a host who is more than happy to point you in the direction of a few local hot spots that you otherwise would have missed entirely," Connor told Reuters.

But the increasing popularity of peer-to-peer rentals has lawmakers on the alert in some countries, scrutinizing tax, health and safety, and rental infringements.

Martin Buck, a director at ITB, the world's largest travel fair, said the popularity of homestays was fueled by websites like Airbnb, Wimdu, 9flats, and HouseTrip, where users post listings for short-term rentals of all or part of their home.

Listings on Airbnb, the biggest site, have surged to about 300,000 in 192 countries from 10,000 in late 2009, with the website taking a cut on all bookings. The listings include everything from New York apartments to Costa Rican tree houses.

But Buck said unregulated homestay sites and concerns that these were actually illegal hotels was a hot topic in many places including Berlin, the headquarters of Wimdu and 9flats.   Continued...

A terraced row of houses is pictured in front of a residential tower block in London January 16, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor (BRITAIN) - RTR23WBO