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The Rise of the Unhotel
By Madeleine Ito
This year, a concept dubbed the ‘unhotel’ has changed the landscape of city travel for good. Pairing top private homes with hotel services while the owners are out of town, this hybrid new category of accommodation offers travellers the chance to live like a local without compromising on the luxuries of an upscale hotel. The verdict: the unhotel just might be the best of both worlds.
It’s by no means the first time that people have looked to an alternative to a hotel, and signals a broader and longer-term shift in priorities for travellers. What Couchsurfing started back in 1999 was the use of the internet to enable ‘intimate tourism’ on a wider scale than had ever been possible before, bringing in to focus a growing desire for more authentic, local travel experiences. Other internet-enabled services followed, with the likes of Airbnb, Crashpadder and Wimdu popping up to put travellers in touch with hosts all over the world and let them stay in real homes and immerse themselves in local neighbourhoods.
But for those used to the comforts and conveniences of a posh hotel, the realities of crashing in someone’s spare room plus the lack of concierge are likely to have curtailed their curiosity to take that leap into local life. And this is where the unhotel stepped in.
The concept is the brainchild of Greg Marsh, CEO and co-founder of onefinestay, whose own experience on a trip to Pisa left him searching for a better way to see the city. It was a local tip from a friend that had rescued his near-disastrous trip, steering him to a little neighbourhood that was mercifully untouched by the tourist trail. On returning to London, he realised that visitors to his home city likely found themselves facing the same dilemma.
“It was a ‘no-lightbulb moment’ I suppose,” says Greg Marsh of the formation of the idea. “I had just returned from a trip to Pisa where a local tip from a friend who’d grown up there completely changed my experience of the city. On my return to London, I left my office in Mayfair to find all the windows along the streets dark – nobody was home, and these beautiful houses in London’s grandest neighbourhood were sitting empty. I realised that this was where visitors should be staying when they came to London, and that someone could have been staying at my own apartment in the centre of the city while I’d been away.”
And so, in 2009 the idea for the unhotel was born, pairing only the most distinctive of private homes with hotel services and amenities – including 5* linens, fluffy towels, luxury toiletries and even an iPhone. It was launched in London in May 2010, and two and a half years on the rapid growth of the unhotel is completely redefining city travel.
onefinestay has recently celebrated the 1,000th member to join the service and list their home exclusively as part of the company’s unhotel, an announcement that marks a four-fold increase in their portfolio over the past twelve months alone. The 1,000th member’s home is one among a range of distinctive homes that includes the iconic clock tower apartment at St Pancras and a historic townhouse in New York’s Soho. Each is unique, and many of these places could knock an upscale city hotel room for six in terms of space, character and beautiful interiors.
This news ends a momentous year for the unhotel, from which other milestones include:
With many thousands of bedrooms across London and New York, the unhotel now has more bedrooms than The Plaza nine times over, with prices ranging from $250 per night for a comfortable one bedroom apartment to over $2,000 for a grand townhouse. For guests, these homes are as easy to book as a hotel room, and their character is paired with the services of a hotel - including 5* linens, fluffy towels, luxury toiletries, 24/7 guest services and even an iPhone, which is preloaded with local recommendations from the home’s owner, during their stay.
“The announcement of our 1,000th member is a rewarding end to what has been a significant year for onefinestay,” said CEO and co-founder Greg Marsh. “With plans already afoot for our next international roll-outs, we are expecting 2013 to be equally exciting as we continue to deliver on our plan to build an unhotel in every major world city.”
Marsh isn’t yet revealing which city will be next to host the unhotel, but with further expansion on the cards in 2013 the word ‘unhotel’ is on the tip of every discerning traveller’s tongue.
Madeleine Ito, onefinestay
onefinestay redefines the experience of city travel: live like a local by staying in a distinctive home while the owner is out of town, with a service which offers all the convenience and comfort of a hotel. Guests enjoy luxury amenities like 5* hotel linens and toiletries and every guest is also lent an iPhone for the duration of their stay which is stocked with local tips from the home’s owner, and from which they can make free local calls. Members benefit by earning an income from a house or flat which would otherwise stand vacant, without the risk or hassle associated with alternatives like holiday rental or short letting. Since its launch in 2010, onefinestay has signed up over a thousand members, and today manages an exclusive portfolio of over $2.5bn of beautiful upscale homes in London and New York.
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