Over the last several years, the “live like a local” movement has been fueled by Airbnb, VRBO, and other vacation rental options. These companies have built campaigns on the concept. We’ve had countless conversations with people about it. They truly feel staying in one of these accommodation types gives them, as travelers, the experience of what it is like to live as a resident of the destination. I have always found this ideation curious in the world of travel.
Living Like A Local
When I was a young adult, I moved to one of the top tourist destinations in the United States – Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This small, charming town surrounded by mountains, hosts millions of visitors each year. Both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park are located at it’s doorstep. It is one of the most beautiful, iconic places in the country.
When I moved there, I immediately fell in love with the charm and appeal of my new home. Everything here was so new and exciting. It felt like such a departure from my hometown and such a breath of fresh air!
After a bit of time passed, things started to change. No longer did I feel the same enthusiasm that the first few weeks brought. I started a new job, I signed up for a post office box to get mail, registered my vehicle in Teton County, and I was really settling in. With the excitement of my initial arrival slipping away, the truth was right in front of me. I was no longer on vacation; I was a resident.
There, in my early twenties, I learned a major lesson. Visiting a destination as opposed to actually living in it are two vastly different experiences. One is not the same as the other.I learned a major lesson. Visiting a destination as opposed to actually living in it are two vastly different experiences. One is not the same as the other. Click To Tweet
Short Term Vacation Rental Experiences
We believe there are things one truly needs to experience for themselves. Staying in a vacation rental would certainly be one of those things we would eventually end up trying for one reason or another.
Fast forward 15 years from my time in Jackson. Within the last year, we have had two experiences staying in Airbnb rentals for trips. They were both enjoyable, but I never felt like a local while staying in either of them.
Our first stay was in Edinburgh, Scotland. We decided to stay in an Airbnb simply because of costs. Arriving at the tail end of festival, we found our typical hotel choices to be cost prohibitive. Fortunately, we found a great snug in the perfect location that was within our budget.
The place was charming and served as the perfect launching point for all our adventures. Located in the Grassmarket area, we were just a few blocks away from colorful Victoria Street, the Royal Mile, and Edinburgh Castle.
We enjoyed the fact that we were able to catch up on laundry. This was crucial since we were on a backpacking trip. But, other than morning tea/coffee, we never used the kitchen space. We found there were simply too many restaurants in the city we wanted to try instead.
While I envisioned how great it must be for the owners to have that well-located snug as a vacation rental, I never imagined being able to actually live in that particular space. It never felt like any sort of “home.”
Estes Park, Colorado
Our second experience was in Estes Park, Colorado. Normally, we would stay at our favorite hotel in the area. However, the pandemic led us down the path of choosing to stay in a vacation rental instead.
We found a high-end condominium in a resort community. This was the perfect setting for a trip being carried out under the circumstances. Hardly anyone was staying on the property, so we had space to breathe and relax.
Because the situation was a bit different on this trip, we did a lot more cooking at this Airbnb. We brought most of our own food from home, and picked up a few remaining items at the store. And, once again, I was able to stay caught up on laundry. That is something I really do appreciate about rentals.
As we settled in to our condo, I did find myself noticing certain things about it that really appealed to me. I said to myself, “I could live in a place like this down the line.” But, I still never felt like a local while staying there.
A Time And A Place
Again, staying in these rentals never once gave us the feeling that we were contributing members of the community. We were ultimately still guests in the destination regardless of where we rested our heads at night.
I am glad we were able to have both of these rental experiences. Both options offered us a clean, safe place to stay. They served their purpose for each of the trips we used them on. Still, I feel there is a time and a place for utilizing vacation rentals. A few instances include:
- Needing kitchen facilities to cook your meals
- Wanting to avoid large, crowded hotels
- Managing budget constraints
Regardless of the reason for staying, I simply do not agree with Airbnb’s “live like a local” campaign.
Sustainable Tourism Impacts
Part of the reasons I feel there is a time and place for rentals is related to the impacts. I have very mixed feelings about these types of rentals and their role in sustainable tourism. It is interesting that so many places have been revolting against them in recent years.
One of the biggest issues with rentals is they are pricing locals out of the market. As landlords scoop up properties and charge hefty rent prices to tourists, limited availability within the real estate market also causes increased prices. Many locals cannot afford these prices. Venice and Prague are a great example of this.
Another issue is related to zoning and noise. Vacation rentals are generally found scattered throughout residential areas of cities. These spaces are not zoned for commercial use. On top of that, the increased flow of visitors increases noise in the area. Once quite streets can often be turned into spots filled with visitors busily going about their days.
There are also arguments related to the contribution rentals make for the local economy. Hotels and other accommodation options obviously have plenty of pitfalls as well. However, many of these places employ local workers, partner with local businesses, pay hefty taxes and, in some cases, contribute to the community in a variety of ways including CSR efforts. Airbnb owners rarely have the same positive impacts on their community.
Changing Traveler Preferences
While not always the most sustainable choice, and certainly not something that will make you feel like a local, the role of vacation rentals is set to change.
The COVID pandemic will forever change the travel landscape. Many top destinations have been rebelling against Airbnb rentals for the reasons mentioned above. While opposing and problematic, I believe vacation rentals will continue to gain popularity for the foreseeable future.
Many large hotels will struggle to maintain their customer base. People will seek out safe places stay, offering less contact with others.
Although people still want to travel, many will not be as comfortable with eating out. The allure of having a private kitchen in which guests can cook their own meals will be even more appealing, especially as restaurants and bars continue to have restrictions.
This change of traveler preference still won’t lead people to experience local life. But, it might offer a more comfortable alternative during such unsettling times.
Renting an Airbnb or other type of vacation rental is a great way to get away for a few days. There are plenty of unique accommodation types to appeal to a variety of traveler. As travel continues to change, rentals will continue to gain popularity. But, staying in one won’t give you the feel of what it’s like to actually live in the destination. In reality, that experience really is something else.