Home Stay Accommodations & Meetings Impact

Home rentals are an increasingly popular choice for meeting attendees.

Using an online service such as Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, or even Couchsurfing, guests can choose to stay in more spacious accommodations, frequently at lower cost, rather than pay the hotel group rate negotiated by the meeting sponsor.

With the rise of home-sharing services, meeting organizers may consider making these arrangements an option for attendees, even listing them in meeting registration materials. These services are even reaching out to gain a share of the meeting business.

These may be attractive alternative accommodations. But meeting planners who suggest that their guests consider home stays must be careful when endorsing these arrangements, and all planners may want to advise guests of issues that can arise from home stays.

Home stays are still new enough to many attendees that providing some written advice about their pros and cons may be part of a responsible planner’s duties.

The Issues: Home stays raise a number of concerns unique from hotels, which meeting organizers and guests should consider when evaluating a home stay arrangement:

  • Licensing & Permits: Hotels must secure permits and meet governmental mandates that set minimum standards for fire protection, security, and other safety concerns. By contrast most home stay properties comply with only voluntary standards, and there is little or no governmental inspection. Home rentals are even illegal in some cities where the business is prevalent, so guests encountering problems may be on their own.
  • Cleanliness: Guests at home stays must be prepared for cleaning standards that are different from hotels. Rarely do multi-night guests at home stays get their towels and sheets changed daily, or the room cleaned. Further, given the minimal standards at home stays the chance for bed bugs is greater. Guests choosing this option must learn to check for issues themselves and be prepared for flexibility on cleanliness standards.
  • Insurance: Many home stay booking organizations have no standards for property insurance, and even where standards exist they are difficult to enforce. If a guest’s property is stolen or an injury occurs the guest may have little recourse.
  • Property Safekeeping: This is a critical issue. With hotels there is lobby security and coded keycards that presumably change with each guest. There are also safes in-room and at the registration desk for guest valuables. Home stays do not offer the same security. Locks on doors and windows can vary in their effectiveness, and many people may share the same house key. In many situations guests must accept that their property may be accessible to others.
  • Risk of losing money: The various home stay websites and companies have varying policies to protect guests from losing money to unscrupulous homeowners. But problems with advance cash deposits and dishonored reservations are not uncommon. Guests must stick to credit card-friendly homes or assume the risks associated with sending cash.
  • Cancellation: Cancellation policies also differ with home stays. Hotel policies are fairly standard and are often written into the meeting contract with the agreement of the planner. With home stays, a deposit is almost always required, and it’s usually non-refundable several weeks out. Guests need to understand that they take a greater risk of losing money from a change in their plans. Similarly, usually there are no refunds for early departures.

What Should a Planner Do? How should a planner respond to requests from meeting attendees or homestay organizations to make those alternative lodgings available?

This is an individual decision for each host organization, depending upon the meeting location, the local hotel market, and the desires of the guests.

For the average meeting organizer, I suggest a “hands off” approach. Set up a hotel room block as usual; but consider a smaller hotel block if home stay premises are accessible and would be attractive to your guests. Home-stay organizations typically offer none of the benefits of hotel room blocks—such as complimentary meeting space and group concessions—so there is little benefit to the group to promote them.

Some planners may prefer a more proactive approach, to warn attendees of issues that may arise with home stays and to protect the income to the meeting. This is a good idea if you’re concerned that guests may not fully understand the risks/rewards of a home stay. Also, if the group gets a rebate from in-block hotels the group should take steps to protect its anticipated income.

Should home stays be mentioned on meeting registration materials? That’s another decision for each planner. Even if your organization chooses not to offer home stays, it may be beneficial to consider adding a disclaimer statement, for example:

“Our organization takes no responsibility for any accommodations registrants may choose outside of our official room block. If you choose to stay outside of the room block, please take appropriate precautions.”

This notice can be helpful in protecting the planner and meeting organization if an attendee is disappointed with her accommodations or falls victim to a scammer.

Final Note: This blog is not “legal advice”; rather, it’s a discussion intended to make you think and draw your own conclusions. Legal advice can only be rendered after a discussion of your particular circumstances with an attorney competent in meetings law.

Posted by Joshua L. Grimes

Joshua is a Philadelphia-based managing attorney of Grimes Law Offices, LLC. He provides legal aid for associations and meeting professionals, and also works as a speaker and corporate trainer.

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshuaGrimes
Visit Joshua's Website: www.grimeslaw.org/

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