The Airbnb phenomenon is sweeping the world as travellers look for alternatives to cookie-cutter hotels that provide extra room, a local experience and even a place to make breakfast.
Those looking for decidedly upscale rental accommodations, however, can face challenges. First, popular destinations can yield hundreds or thousands of choices to sort through. Results can be dodgy, too; properties that seem higher-end can wind up being party palaces (albeit with room for 20 to crash at the end of the night). Others might be purpose-built and furnished in IKEA simplicity, oversold by doctored photos or too homey, right down to dirty laundry in the bathroom hamper.
As a result, elite services have sprung up. They offer exclusive accommodations that are vetted, professionally cleaned and cared for, and that guarantee privacy and security. They are often in authentic neighbourhoods that have all the comforts of home and plenty of personality – but not too much.
"People can be secure that what they see is what they get," says Charlotte Perry, owner and founder of LUXbnb, a company in Washington, D.C., that offers 40 apartments and homes in the city's better areas. They are all privately owned, and Ms. Perry manages them, arranging for their cleaning and overseeing their design and repair.
Properties offered by Ms. Perry, who started her business in 2008, range from $100 to $800 a night. They can be rented through her service and are also listed on Airbnb and other platforms. Customers can see photos of the luxe interiors as well as the exteriors, which is not always the case with unlicensed or illegal Airbnb properties where the owner is renting them out on the sly, she says.
Ms. Perry will also arrange for extra services such as in-stay cleaning, limos and meals from a personal chef.
Nathalie Grynbaum and Stéphanie Marquez started a similar business in 2013 in Lyon, France, called MiHôtel. The two friends loved staying in Airbnb-type places but were looking for more security and certainty and to "professionalize the model," says Ms. Grynbaum.
With the support of investors, they started buying small residences in central Lyon and launched their "deconstructed, personal hotel." They offer 25 suites and are in talks to bring the business model to Paris and other parts of Europe.
"We put money into the suites and not into the lobby," says Ms. Grynbaum. The properties are all connected electronically to a central office, and guests are given unique codes to enter the buildings and units, which are grouped for efficiency of cleaning and optional breakfast deliveries. Discreet cameras placed in corridors allow managers to monitor the properties from a distance and be alerted to anything untoward.
MiHôtel "rationalizes and standardizes" the Airbnb concept, she says, but gives travellers the sense of freedom, space and local flavour that has become so popular as lifestyles and tastes change. "They like the experience of living like a Parisian or a Lyonnaise," she says.
"Our clientele is high rent and very respectful," she says, although the model is "still a niche" and not for everyone. "They can go to the Sofitel or the Four Seasons and they can call room service and order caviar at midnight," she says. "But there's a soul in the places we're designing."
Often these kinds of homes-away-from-home allow people to mix business and pleasure, bringing along their spouses and children when they travel to conferences or meetings, she adds. "Instead of paying $300 a night in a hotel they pay $300 a night and get a house."
The upscale services are fuelling a trend toward shorter, urban-stay vacations, Ms. Perry says. Those who stay in the kind of apartments and homes that LUXbnb and other services offer have "gone from being early adopters to really being mainstream."
A home away from home
- LUXbnb, Washington, D.C.: This service offers professionally managed, cleaned and maintained properties from studio apartments to full homes in the District of Columbia’s most sought-after, safest areas, including Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill. LUXbnb offers stays of a few nights up to six months or more. All of the privately owned properties offer WiFi, cable TV, kitchens or kitchenettes, laundry and access to public transit to downtown.
- MiHôtel, Lyon, France: Offers some 25 large, individually designed suites dotted around central Lyon, equipped with the latest technology. Elegant, contemporary interiors include a king-sized bed and often a big bathtub to soak in at the end of the day. Services available include breakfasts delivered by bicycle and à la carte meals brought from a partner brasserie.
- Plum Guide, London and Paris: This collection of homes, apartments and lofts in London and Paris claims that it accepts and lists just one out of 100 prospective hosts who apply. Plum offers “carefully crafted end-to-end experiences” and the assurance of a seal of approval, “kind of like the Michelin Guide of the sharing economy,” the company says.
- Oasis, multiple locations: With more than 20 locations from Austin, Tex., to the beach town of Trancoso, Brazil, Oasis promises “home meets hotel.” The accommodations are in top neighbourhoods and offer premium towels and bedding and a concierge service to book restaurants, hook you up with a fitness studio and provide information about the locale.