"Sharing" has become the latest big trend in travel. In the destination cities, residents "share" an asset they already own, with travelers passing through, and thus augment their incomes. So they "share" their apartments, their cars, and even their home-cooked meals. Everyone (other than hotels, car rental firms and restaurants) benefits. The owner of such assets earns money, and the traveler cuts costs.
Most Americans have by now become familiar with the sharing of apartments, because of the enormous success of AirBnB.com, which invites them to occupy a spare room in someone's apartment, in place of staying in a hotel. AirBnB.com, according to reports, has made near-billionaires of its founders.
(By offering to accept a guest while they remain in residence, owners avoid violating the laws in several cities against short-term apartment rentals to transient guests.)
But AirBnB.com is only one of several websites performing that function. Roomorama.com and Wimdu.com are coming on big (look for references to a "room" for rent in the latter). And then there are those websites--like Couchsurfing.org--that offer free-of-charge rooms, beds, cots or sofas to travelers by idealistic hosts who charge nothing for a night's hospitality in their apartments.
Back to AirBnB.com. The idea of using an unused accommodation in one's own apartment to earn extra money, has quickly prompted other entrepreneurs to explore the rental by private individuals of their own cars, during periods of the day or week when those automobiles are unused (like when they are in a long-term parking lot at the airport). Here was a way to earn extra income from a unproductive asset.
All over America, people are now renting out their cars to tourists or business travelers, through such relatively-new websites as FlightCar.com or RelayRides.com. And although some of these new firms are facing challenges by public authorities, denying their right to rent out the unused private cars of individuals, they appear to remain fully in business, and you might be captivated, as I have been, by reading their websites and learning how they have organized such rentals. Cars from these firms can be had for as little as $15 a day.
MealSharing.com is an obvious by-product of the same idea, as is HomeDine.com. Based on the success of the Israeli-originating EatWith.com, which lists home-cooked meals in hundreds of private homes worldwide that you can enjoy in place of going to a commercial restaurant, one entrepreneur after another is currently creating websites that advise the visitor about homes whose residents are inviting others to partake of a home-cooked meal costing $20 to $35.
A typical entry might describe a skillful amateur cook who hosts visitors every Thursday and Friday evening at 7 p.m. to partake of the specialties that she (or he) is capable of creating. While some critics are claiming that the offer is illegal, and amounts to the operation of an unlicensed restaurant, it remains doubtful that the public authorities will conclude that this is an important matter for their concern. The home-based "restaurant" seems here to stay.
As long as the middle class faces economic worsening--a decline in middle class purchasing power, a rise of economic inequality--we will see a continuing growth in travel "sharing". The middle class public clearly wants to continue traveling, but is anxious to search out every chance to cut travel costs. Hence, shared accommodations, shared car rentals, shared meals.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Arthur Frommer