"Manhattan skyline from the roof of my Airbnb rental" by Flickr user Adriel Hampton
Fifty-five million guests in 2014. That's the current end-of-year projection for tourism to the Big Apple, a figure that is five million more than was predicted for 2017 by its former mayor three years ago.
New York is now the world's touristic capital, a city whose hotels enjoy an average occupancy of 85% and an average room rate--highest in the nation--of $266 per night . Manhattan alone now receives far more visitors than Las Vegas, than Orlando, than even (perhaps) London or Paris. And therein lies a problem.
With occupancy so high, the hotels of New York are chock-a-block full on at least 300 days a year. There's hardly an empty bed. So how can the city continue to increase its tourism--something it's extremely anxious to do? How can you, on your next visit to New York, live respectably but affordably?
If you'll pardon my gall, one solution is to buy Pauline Frommer's "Easy Guide to New York City", on sale at most bookstores. It not only describes the many available and cheaper hotels in the city's outer boroughs of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, some of them only a couple of subway stops from Manhattan, but also singles out the lesser-known institutional lodgings and hostels accepting people of all backgrounds and ages.
But the next solution is, for your next visit to New York, to rent an apartment or a bed or room in someone's apartment, by using such services as Airbnb.com, Wimdu.com, Roomorama.com or Homeaway.com and several others.
You will, of course, be entering a world of considerable controversy. The hotel industry of New York is so terrified about the competition from these popular internet services, that they recently got legislation passed that makes illegal the short-term rental of an entire apartment in New York. And that law isn't just supported by fat-cat hotels but by a great many well-meaning people who believe that Airbnb and the like are removing significant numbers of apartments from the normal housing stock designed for permanent residents, and also permitting avaricious people to convert whole apartment houses into illegal (and thus unsafe) hotels. The New York Attorney General has recently prosecuted people accused of doing just that.
It should, however, be pointed out that the legislation contains a loophole. It permits the short-term rental of apartments to tourists if--and that's an important "if"--the owner of the apartment remains in residence throughout the stay. In other words, if the "landlord" simply rents out a spare room while remaining in his or her own room, that's legal. And it's extremely difficult for the public authorities to prove that the owner wasn't in residence during the time of the rental.
Whether or not the loophole is being observed, it's obvious that the law is being constantly and blatantly evaded. I've heard of all sorts of visitors to New York who have entered into one-week rentals of an apartment where they were the only people in that flat. With complete disregard for the law, hundreds or even thousands of persons have rejoiced over their ability to pay as little as $100 or $125 a night for a spacious and comfortable apartment.
I, for one, am amazed that well-meaning tourists are being forced to break the law in order to enjoy an affordable stay in New York. And I can't imagine that an acceptable compromise can't be reached to solve the problem. We all condemn those landlords who are converting whole apartment houses into illegal hotels by renting all the rooms in a particular building to transient visitors. But that's a far cry from the occasional willingness of a single apartment owner to rent a single apartment to a tourist for a short stay. Why isn't the state legislature able to draft legislation that permits individuals living in a single apartment to occasionally rent that entire apartment to a tourist?
Let me also point out that in most other cities of the U.S.—not all, but most--it is entirely legal to rent an apartment to a short-term tourist, and to use such organizations as Airbnb, Wimdu, Roomorama, or Homeaway for doing that. When my daughter and I recently toured the country publicizing our Frommer travel guides, we stayed on numerous occasions in two-bedroom apartments costing a fraction of what a single hotel room charges. We did that, I particularly remember, in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon. And we paid much less than we would have in a hotel, for a spacious and comfortable apartment in both cities, enjoying bookcases full of tomes, Wi-Fi, a fully-equipped kitchen, a large television set. Why are ethical, decent tourists being made to break the law in order to get a room in a city as popular as New York?
To those city officials hoping to attract even more visitors to New York, how are you ever going to make your numbers without permitting the short-term rental of apartments in Manhattan?