*You are two couples residing in the same neighborhood, close friends, and each couple has two teenage children. You have decided to vacation together in Orlando, Florida. At many hotels, you will be required to rent as many as four rooms for a stiff total price, but from a vacation-home-renting organization called Rentalo.com, you can rent a four-bedroom Orlando villa with swimming pool, housing eight persons, for $110 a night.
*You are simply a family of four planning a stay in Vancouver, Canada, and you would face hotel costs of at least $200 a night. From Wimdu.com, which offers apartments as well as homes, you can obtain a two-bedroom apartment in Vancouver for $90 a night. And since the apartment contains a fully-equipped kitchen, you can buy groceries and prepare an occasional meal for the four of you, for much less than you would have spent in a restaurant.
The rental of short-term apartments or vacation homes in place of hotel rooms has surely become the fastest-growing trend in all of travel. Even two persons traveling together will find that apartments in most cities can be obtained for no more than a hotel room would cost, and they will be far more spacious (and with at least kitchenette facilities) as well.
What I have referred to as a "trend" has actually become a mighty torrent. So many Americans are seeking apartments or homes for their vacation stays that they now support a major industry of companies making such lodgings available in cities all over the world. One of them--Homeaway.com--has become so large that it has recently gobbled up sixteen smaller rental firms to become a virtual rental conglomerate. Among its major acquisitions has been VRBO.com, standing for "vacation rental by owner", itself an extremely large organization supplying apartment or home rentals in many hundreds of cities, including scores within the United States.
Doing battle with Homeaway and VRBO are AirBnB.com, Rentalo.com, Flipkey.com, Wimdu.com, EVrentals.com (standing for "endless vacation" rentals), and many others. EVRentals, amazingly enough, is owned and operated by the giant Wyndham Hotels corporation, which is thus offering homes and apartments in competition with its own hotels!
Are there any drawbacks to renting an apartment or home in place of a hotel room? It's obvious, first, that the nationwide firms can't claim to enforce standards of quality and service on their selections; they clearly haven't themselves inspected and "vetted" the properties they offer. For this reason, a great many smart travelers give preference to the local real estate brokers in the areas where they will be vacationing, on the assumption that those hometown firms have themselves seen these properties and will recommend only those that pass muster. By going to the internet, you will easily discover such local real estate companies that increasingly deal with short-term rentals.
Second, it should be understood that most overseas apartments and vacation homes will require that you stay for at least a week in order to rent them (but this isn't always the case). Here at home, AirBnB.com is well-known for its willingness to rent apartments for stays much less than a week in length.
And finally, it's vital to keep in mind that in some cities--most prominently, New York and Las Vegas--it isn't legal for the owners of apartments or homes to rent the entire home or apartment for short periods; they can do so only if they themselves remain in residence while you simply occupy a spare bedroom or two. Critics of such laws claim they were passed only because of lobbying efforts by the hotel industry, and in some cities the prohibition isn't being enforced. But you should be aware that in cities like New York, there is growing opposition to short-term apartment rentals.
Throughout most of the world, however, the practice isn't simply legal but actively promoted by tourist offices. In turn, smart tourists are making a larger and larger use of these "alternative accommodations", for their own benefit and to the benefit of the cities in which they stay, which thus enjoy higher tourist numbers on days when the hotels of that location are full.
Incidentally, closely associated to short-term apartment and home rentals are the several new services that supply you with the free-of-charge use of a room in someone's apartment or home. Couchsurfing.org is the most prominent of those firms. And then, of course, are the many "home swapping" networks (you stay in someone's home or apartment while they stay in yours), of which HomeExchange.com and Homelink.org are perhaps the most prominent. It's becoming smart to seek an alternative to those ubiquitous (and sometimes avaricious) hotels!