NEW YORK (MainStreet) – No. It can't be that time yet. We can't be expecting holiday houseguests already, can we?
Didn't they just leave their towels and sheets in a pile on the floor and leave your fridge a bright, vacant void?
Seriously, spare us the lecture on love and family and hearth and home and anything else you may have seen embodied in a Norman Rockwell plate: Hosting houseguests around the holiday is hard labor. Go ahead and say “but a labor of love” if you want some cheap champagne punch thrown in your eye, but for the rest of us it's a big old stressball beneath another stressball beneath another that forms a monstrous stress snowman threatening to tear your household apart with its carrot fangs and dead coal eyes.
Can these people honestly not stay somewhere else for a year — just one year? Are the $1 towels you picked off the bargain bin that alluring? Are the springs on the foldout couch perfectly contoured to their spines? Are they finally going to put to use all those hours they've spent trying to figure out the coffee machine and actually make you a cup by the time you get down in the morning?
You know the answer to all of the above, which is why you're going to have to take it upon yourself to make any real changes. And, no, you're not imagining things: That apprehension you're feeling is real, and you're not alone in it.
A few years back, we stumbled across a conducted by vacation rental website HomeAway (AWAY) that found 22% of holiday hosts think their guests overstay their welcome after a day or less. We keep going back to it because, yes, that sounds about right.
Of the holiday hosts surveyed, about 29% would kick their visiting sibling out of the house this holiday season if they could, while 22% think it's time for their grown child to make his or her own plans for accommodations. Even worse, the guests surveyed feel no gratitude toward their hosts whatsoever. Of the 38% of holiday travelers who planned to stay with a friend or family member on Christmas, 64% weren’t thrilled about it. A full 29% say weren't looking forward to the lack of personal space, 28% dreaded the well-used guest mattress and 5% said a houseful of relatives — hosts or otherwise — is their personal nightmare.
As a result, 29% of hosts have had it with their holiday guests after only a few days, while 51% of holiday travelers feel stressed out by the whole ordeal.
We realize HomeAway has vacation homes to rent and a not-so-small interest in all of this, but a survey by Hilton's Embassy Suites last year yielded similar results. Roughly 65% of holiday houseguests surveyed say they feel generally uncomfortable staying as a guest in their relative's homes around the holidays. Nearly 66% would consider using an excuse to get out of it, including faking sickness (38%), lying about their snoring volume (10%), feigning pet allergies (10%) or issuing warnings about their nonexistent sleepwalking (4%).
Hosts, meanwhile, dish out as much as they take. Roughly half say their guests wear out their welcome in five days or less. A full 71% shared stories about less-than-ideal guest behavior including messiness (50%), crankiness (31%), insatiable eating (24%), indifference to activities (19%) and an acute lack of self-awareness that leads them to bring uninvited guests over (24%). For 55% of hosts, it just gets awkward. Guests sleep forever (26%), snore like dying alligators (20%), clog the toilet (a gross 16%) and use all of the hot water (13%).
HomeAway and Embassy Suites biases aside, the folks answering their surveys have a point. Other lodging costs money, but it's nothing compared with therapy hours or legal fees. It's not copping out, it's growing up. It's peace of mind, your own bed, a television that's not showing your uncle's 24-hour news network of choice and an absolute refuge. With that in mind, here are just five suggestions to deal with guests you're about a holiday away from disowning:
HotelsAbout 21% of all travelers say they'd shell out extra money for roomier accommodations during the holiday season. That's some coincidence, as 20% of Christmas travelers told HomeAway that they'd prefer to stay at a hotel and 70% of Embassy Suites respondents said they'd consider a hotel if they didn't think it would offend their family members.
Hey, at least some of them aren't among the 64% who'd rather take a vacation somewhere else over the holidays than stay with family.
A full 86% of those who responded to a survey by Orbitz (OWW) and American Express Publishing (AXP) last year would prefer to stay at a hotel when visiting family, but only 72% are going to do so. Money is stronger than guilt.
The Orbitz and American Express survey notes that hotel prices have jumped in Top 10 holiday destinations including Orlando (up 10%), Phoenix (5%), Denver (16%) and Los Angeles (7%).
There are ways around those hikes, however. Experts from travel sites including Travelocity and FareCompare suggest looking into airfare-and-hotel packages to save a little cash. You won't save much on the flight, but hotels will often cut the prices on their rooms to sweeten the deal.
HomeAway puts out that holiday survey because it knows it has a viable option. Whether you're scoping out a larger house for the whole family or just trying to get a cabin away from the rest of the relatives, there's a way to have a home for the holidays without either imposing or holing up in a hotel.
While the percentage of HomeAway users who'll stay at a vacation rental is roughly even with those who'll stay at hotels during the Thanksgiving holiday, a whopping 31% will pick a rental house or apartment for their Christmas vacation destination of choice. They can be a great value if you fit enough people into multiple bedrooms and have kitchens that won't force you to eat out or with the whole clan for every meal.
Though they're tough to track down late in the season — 5% of vacation rental property owners like to keep those houses to themselves for the holiday – there are still deals to be had. They're only sweetened when properties on sites such as HomeAway, its subsidiary VRBO or TripAdvisor's (TRIP) FlipKey have amenities travelers are looking for, including a kitchen of their own (21%), a pool/hot tub (12%) or even laundry facilities (11%) that don't involve sifting through portions of a relative's wardrobe that you'd rather not see.
Bed and breakfasts
The questionable quality of either of the items mentioned in the name above when staying with relatives makes these lovely little facilities even more alluring during the holiday season.
According to HomeAway subsidiary BedandBreakfast.com, 75% of travelers surveyed say they'll be taking at least one trip this winter. Of those, half say they'll be staying at a bed and breakfast during their trip.
While destinations known for B&Bs such as Key West, Fla., Charleston, S.C., and Asheville, N.C., are in guests' winter Top 10, BedandBreakfast.com found that inns and houses in spots such as top-ranked New York City, second-place Boston and No. 4 Chicago are also in high demand. Breakfast is still a key draw for 47% of those guests, but rare urban accommodations including free on-site parking (54%) and flexible check-in (50%) are essential for the holiday home.
Travelers worried that staying at a bed and breakfast means enduring the shared bathrooms they were trying to avoid at the relatives' place probably haven't been to a B&B in a while. Of the 13,000 properties in BedandBreakfast.com's stable, only 12% have shared bathrooms.
While BedandBreakfast.com has a whole lot of HomeAway muscle behind it, other sites including BBOnline.com and BnBFinder.com are also great resources for guests seeking a home-style feel without actually staying in a relative's home.
Eight years after Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz swapped upper-class homes in the $85 million online house-swapping industry infomercial The Holiday, this concept is leveling out a bit as safety becomes an increasing concern.
HomeExchange.com, for example, saw its membership jump from 20,000 back in 2008 to more than 40,000 little more than a year ago. It's not so great that you're letting a stranger into your home for days at a time with license to use a bunch of your stuff. The flipside and ultimate countermeasure is that you're doing the same with someone else place. If you're OK with handing over the keys and laying out or parting with a few guest linens while you're gone and giving someone the key for a few days, the perks include access to homes in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and thousands of other properties in more than 100 countries. Plus, according to the folks at HomeExchange, 20% of home swaps include a car swap as well.
The biggest names in the business have been doing this long before the "sharing economy" started charging for the opportunity to "share." HomeLink has been at this for more than 60 years and starts its memberships at a relatively low $39 a year. Sure, concerns about safety and property damage are valid — you've surely some of the rental horror stories of the past half-decade or so — but remember that house swapping is like the Cold War: Any destruction visited upon one household can be visited tenfold upon another. You're taking care of each other's homes, you know exactly who you're dealing with and who's staying in your house — and the person on the other end of the swap has just as much, if not more, riding on it.
That said, folks unsatisfied with HomeLink's old-fashioned reference-based system can feel free to cyber-monitor their swapmate through Love Home Swap's facebook app.
As for the cost, some home-swap sites have a free option for people who aren't posting their own properties. HomeForSwap charges $93 per year or up to $185 for a three-year plan. HomeExchange charges $120 a year for listings, but also offers a three-month plan for about $48.
We'll just let you know right now that if you intend to use this service in New York or San Francisco, a majority of the time you'll be breaking the law.
As AirBnB's reach has expanded, the pool of renters for whom “I'd like to share your house” translates to “I'd like to host an orgy and vomit in your fish tank” has also swelled. Also, hotel owners have gotten wise to AirBnB's service — which looks less and less like a vacation rental site by the moment — and have been pressuring it to charge local hotel taxes. In San Francisco and Portland, Ore., they've finally done so.
In those cities, Airbnb users have paid willingly. AirBnB and sites such as OneFineStay continue to get travelers into cities on the cheap by letting them crash on a futon for $10 a night and take over apartments when the owners aren't around. They offer private islands, treehouses, rooms, boats and igloos — experiences the average hotel can't match. They also give city dwellers a way to turn their unused space into cash … at their own risk.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
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