Hotel rooms in Nice, France were running $400 per night and Wendy York of Cranston needed to find more reasonably priced accommodations in time for her best friend’s wedding.
Like many savvy travelers, York turned to AirBnB, the growing online lodging marketplace that matches people with extra living space to the wandering masses that need it. Not only did she find a room in a house for $125 per night, but a discount to AirBnB “hosts” convinced York to list space in her own Edgewood home.
“I was thinking, it’s Providence and no one will contact me, but before I had left I had several inquiries and no room ready to rent,” said York, who quickly converted a sunroom and extra living room on the first floor into a private area where her quickly arriving AirBnB guests could stay.
A year later, York has rented the space, listed at $85 per night as “Beautiful Victorian Garden View,” more than a dozen times and made a number of new friends among the people who have lived there.
Just a few years ago, the options for capitalizing extra space were limited, but as it has in areas from transportation to used furniture, the Internet has reduced many of the barriers that used to separate supply from demand.
In the process, AirBnB, which was founded in 2008 by two Rhode Island School of Design alumni who parlayed a lodging shortage at a San Francisco design conference into a way to cover their rent, has become a global force in the travel industry.
As of last week, York’s property was one of 255 listed in the Providence area on AirBnB, a number that grows most weeks and includes entire single-family houses, loft apartments and penthouse condominiums.
In Newport a search returns 266 listings, including an 18th-century schoolhouse, a catamaran and a futon.
And AirBnB is not alone. Competitors in the online, shared-accommodation space include VRBO.com (vacation rentals by owner) homeaways.com, roomarama.com and casacasa.com. They join a legion of sites serving the traditional hospitality industry, including hotels.com, bedandbreakfast.com and booking.com, among many others.
For those looking to crash for free, there’s couchsurfing.com.
“There have been lodging reservations engines around for awhile – such as Travelocity and Expedia and many others – the list is long,” said Evan Smith, CEO of Discover Newport. “What is different is [they] are handling larger properties and traditional properties wearing the moniker of hotel, motel or inn. AirBnB changed the playing field because they are playing such a nontraditional role – people selling Johnny’s room down the hall with the Farrah Fawcett poster.”