Couch-surfing Sites Appeal Beyond Backpackers

In a review of luxury travel trends, I cited unique experiences, exotic and previously forbidden locales, and healthy, activity-based vacations among the new year’s fads—all tied together by the social-media savvy. Thank you, Travel + Leisure, Travel Weekly, the International Luxury Travel Market, and others, for backing me up. A new crop of travel sites connects some of these trends.

Last-minute travel sites and rooms-for-rent portals, such as Room77.com and Airbnb.com are making it easier for travelers to find rooms in the United States and abroad. While some of these new players may seem to appeal more to backpackers and students, many of them attract business travelers and younger affluents, too, because they offer a fresh and convenient twist to online booking. 

What’s the appeal of these new travel sites? 

Convenience

Millennials, in particular, have no time to waste on playing phone tag with travel agents, especially when they can find the information online instantly. With AmEx laying off 5,400 mostly travel employees this week, online travel services will prevail. These sites appeal to our fast pace and efficiency by providing information, pictures, quick booking and dynamic interfaces.  

Room 77, a metasearch engine that sorts through information from other travel sites like Expedia (an investor in the site), Orbitz and Travelocity, and provides results by price, offers customer filters to narrow results for the perfect room. The efficiency and immediacy appeal to business travelers and Millennials, who increasingly make their own arrangements. Since most affluents aren’t clipping coupons, Room 77 distinguishes itself with its proprietary RoomConcierge feature, which matches all available hotel data including blueprints and RoomView with the customer’s preferences for the best fit. The website explicates that the concierge service is available only for the higher-end inventory and not cut-rate motels.  

Then there’s the cool factor. 

Where do you send the luxury traveler who has seen and done it all but isn’t packing for Bhutan this week? How about a residential flat or exclusive private villa? Although VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) and HomeAway have been around to offer timeshares and private residences directly to travelers, it is Airbnb that is a rising travel website because of its simplicity, abundant photographs, aspirational marketing suggesting wish lists and popular destinations, social media integration and great user feedback and recommendations.  

Offering what Business Insider dubbed “hyper-local experiences,” Airbnb connects the owners of unique spaces with potential guests. These can range from an unused pied-à-terre to rooms within private homes or beach houses and castles. Travelers communicate directly with the host, are provided ample user reviews, and have the chance to live like a local, taking public transportation, perusing farmer’s markets and haunting local spots. 

In a recent Travel + Leisure2013 travel trends article, Portico and Inspirato take the shared-home experience to the next level by offering inimitable lodging experiences through the club model. In exchange for a one-time registration and annual membership fee, these companies fully vet exclusive private properties, and provide maid and concierge services to ensure the quality of the facility and minimize the inconvenience to the traveler and host. Affluent travelers can revel in unparalleled accommodations. 

Millennials feature prominently in the use of these sites, apps and tools. Lonely Planet travel editor Robert Reid calls “couch surfing a hospitality revolution” because Millennials, the last-minute Generation Y, do not want a standard hotel room. They want an authentic experience, whether it’s a tree house in Costa Rica (an actual offering on Airbnb), a previously off-limits locale, or the chance to go to pubs and clubs off the tourist beat. 

Will older affluents follow the trends? 

Although the reputation of older travelers is to seek comfort and quiet with their hotel stay, I predict they will follow the Millennials (at their own pace) in circumnavigating their travel agents and using these sites for the convenience, quality and more in-depth descriptions of the accommodations provided.

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