Today’s post is by Christopher Elliott, whose latest book is “How To Be The World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). This column originally appeared in USA Today.
The lines between an Airbnb – an apartment or room rented through the home-sharing site – and a traditional bed and breakfast (B&B) are blurring. Even the pros have trouble keeping up. And that's a problem.
Briefly, here's the difference: Airbnb is a lightly regulated home-sharing site that lets almost anyone list accommodations for rent. A B&B is a regulated small inn subject to state or local lodging laws. Think of it as a small hotel with a few extra perks and personal touches.
Why it’s confusing
It's not just the name that's confusing travelers. It's also that you can find a B&B on Airbnb, says Jordan Locke, principal consultant at Rev Party Consulting, an industry consulting firm. And since Airbnb is technically an online travel agency, you can find professionally run B&Bs on the platform. "Many B&Bs and boutique hotels sell through Airbnb," he says.
Airbnb owners, especially in some European countries, have also been running their properties like B&B owners, further blurring the lines.
So what's the difference?
The second "B" in B&B (meaning "breakfast") is the biggest distinguishing feature.
"The difference between an Airbnb and a B&B starts with a complimentary full breakfast," says Brian Shields, the owner of Manor On Golden Pond, a small inn in Holderness, New Hampshire. A typical Airbnb will have a kitchen, sometimes stocked with coffee and tea, but rarely, if ever, will a host prepare a full breakfast.
"A true B&B is typically independently owned, and the owner lives on property or nearby, provides daily breakfast and housekeeping and the experience is very personal," explains Hana Pevny, an Airbnb host and the innkeeper at the Waldo Emerson Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. "In many instances, the B&B is a historic property or has a unique quality about the building or property." A home rented online through Airbnb can also be special, but you might have to cook and clean for yourself. You might also never see your host.
A real B&B is usually operated by someone with formal training in the hospitality business. And that person has insurance – lots of insurance. Renée Humphrey, who runs the Rainforest Inn in Puerto Rico's El Yunque National Forest, says her property requires expensive liability insurance. "We're also inspected by both fire marshal and health department as part of our licensing," she says. Vacation rentals booked online carry some insurance (you can buy more to cover a possible cancellation), but your hosts probably don't have any formal hospitality training.
B&Bs are less likely to have hidden fees. At least that's the assessment of Pam Willis, who runs The Gables Wine Country Inn in Petaluma, California. The rooms in her property are also available on Airbnb. "The published Airbnb rate appears much cheaper, but the fees drive up the costs," she explains. "While we don’t charge a cleaning fee, I’ve seen guests pay as much as $70 per night for the service fee. Airbnb charges us 3% of the room rate, so for $250 per room, that's $7.50 in commission, but the guest ends up paying a great deal more."
Is one better than the other?
No, say guests.
"I think it all comes down to the style of hospitality," says Clayton Durant, the CEO of CAD Management, an entertainment consulting company in New York. "Many B&Bs offer many of the same amenities, like a single bed, bathroom, and breakfast. Each Airbnb has a unique personality of each house and apartment I get to stay at. You can’t beat the travel experience."
When deciding which is better for your next vacation, here are three key questions to ask:
Are you a do-it-yourselfer or do you like personal service? If you like breakfast, daily housekeeping, and concierge-level service, you'll want a B&B. If you like making your own meals (and more privacy), go for an Airbnb.
Cozy or spacious? Fact is, most B&Bs give you a bedroom with shared common space. An Airbnb can give you the whole house. If you like to spread out while you're traveling, go with the Airbnb.
Are you trying to save money? If you're staying somewhere for more than a week, an Airbnb can be far more cost-effective, even with extra fees.
Photos from free sources
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