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Business

British start-ups set their sights on the growing homestay market

More and more people are making money out of their homes by offering them to tourists for the night. Even if you only have a blow-up mattress on offer, there's a website out there waiting to market it.

A bedroom available through onefinestay

The market for homestay accommodation is growing

Millions of people love to travel, but few of us really want to be a tourist –it has almost become something of a bad word, synonymous for not really getting a genuine impression of a new place. And the most fundamental thing that will set you apart from the locals is your accommodation – unless of course you have the chance stay in someone’s private home

Established in London one year ago, 'onefinestay' is a five-star service that sees private homestays as an antidote to dull and soulless hotel rooms. The company currently has more than 20 London properties on its website.

"People are getting increasingly bored of or frustrated by the generic experience of being a tourist," said CEO and co-founder Greg Marsh.

The answer, according to Marsh, is the 'unhotel': a way to stay in someone's home while they are out of town for a couple of days and live like a local while you are doing it.

Easy money

Marsh says the tens of thousands of London apartments that stand empty for weeks and sometimes even months each year represent a great business opportunity.

"It sounds glib, but it's free money," Marsh said, adding that his company offers homeowners a range of services in addition to simply marketing properties over the Internet.

"Someone else takes care of all the hassle and the complexity of making your home available to guests over short periods; all you have to do is tell us when you are out," he said. "With something like (independent) short letting you are obliged to spend a minimum of three months away from home and you are obliged to move your things into storage and you have to take care of the insurance risk yourself."

The living room of a onefinestay property in London

onefinestay specializes in high-end apartment rentals

Hint of luxury

The cost of staying at a onefinestay property is calculated according to its long let rental value, which is the amount hosts can expect to receive. Guests pay extra for the services the company provides, including the provision of an iPhone loaded with local tips for restaurants and sightseeing, as well as luxury linen and bath towels.

Tina Steiner recently put her two-bedroom property in North London up for rent with onefinestay. As someone who travels often, but at short notice, she says the company's business model suits her lifestyle well.

"I would have never considered renting out my flat, but this really fulfilled my need of doing it in a five star way," Steiner said.

No space too small

Sharing out your home need not be a five star affair, however. In fact you don't even have to vacate the property to host guests.

Web-based company Crashpadder was founded by Stephen Rapoport in 2008 and allows users to rent out anything from a spare room to a few square meters of living room floor. "

"We were described recently as 'Couch Surfing for grown-ups,'" Rapoport said.

Screenshot of the Crashpadder website

Crashpadder offers everything from vacant apartments to inflatable mattresses on a floor

"It's people who used to backpack - they don't mind shared rooms or accommodation, they still want to travel, and they still want to get a genuine local experience when they visit a new place. But they don't want the discomfort of a hostel."

Rapoport says most guests stay with a local families and enjoy a comfort level to that offered by a decent hotel, but at a much lower cost.

Crashpadder hosts are at liberty to decide how much they'd like to charge per night. Prices can range from 3 pounds per night for a sofa-bed in South Cornwall to 200 pounds for a whole apartment in central London. The average rate for a double room in London is about 35 pounds.

International appeal

The Crashpadder website has about 15,000 users, with hosts in 75 cities including Brisbane, New York and Cape Town. Both hosts and 'crashers' must create profiles in order to use the site and provide information about themselves and their interests. Hosts reserve the right to refuse anyone they don't want, while crashers are invited to leave feedback after their stay.

Rapoport says he would like to see a Crashpadder presence in tens of thousands of locations around the world, although he remains pragmatic about its appeal.

"Crashpadder is not for everyone and it's not for everyone all of the time; it's probably not for the vast majority of people," he said. "But what I'd like to see is it being used by that small pocket of travelers; those business travelers that value human interaction, the travelers who want to experience everything that a city has to offer."

Business and pleasure

Both onefinestay and Crashpadder have charted a 50 percent spread between tourists and business travelers. While lone travelers might favor the more social aspects of Crashpadder, families have shown the most interest in One Fine Stay.

London commuters emerge from Chancery Lane underground station

Homestays attract travelers who want to avoid mainstream hotels

"Getting three hotel rooms is very expensive and pretty grim," Marsh said. "With a house, you get the kitchen living area and lots of bedrooms so the response we have had from families has been overwhelming."

Change

Marsh believes that services like onefinestay are indicative of a wider shift in attitudes towards travel and property.

"I do think there is something in the air about being perhaps more liberal with what we own and more open-minded about sharing things", he said.

In the current financial climate, services like these appear to be a welcome additional source of income for property owners.

"I think the people who use Crashpadder – they do want the extra income, but they also want the social interaction, it's just so enjoyable," Rapoport said. "It's the most fun one can have making money I think!"

Author: Sarah Stolarz, London
Editor: Sam Edmonds