In the Footsteps of Airbnb, Israelis Venture Into Short-term Rental Market

Israel is among the top 20 countries with the most users on Airbnb; it isn't surprising, then, that Israeli entrepreneurs have decided to set up their own version.

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Israelis certainly seem to have taken to the popular short-term apartment rentals website, Airbnb. As of September 2012, Israelis had reserved 90,000 night-stays through the site, with the number of night-stays reserved abroad by Israelis tripling just from the start of 2012.

Given these numbers, Israel is among the top 20 countries with the most users on the site. The most popular destinations among Israelis were New York, London, Rome, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Paris.

The market for such services is growing so fast that some Israeli entrepreneurs have decided to set up their own version - Following in Airbnb’s footsteps, it offers dozens of short-term apartment rentals in New York, Lisbon, Barcelona, Berlin and other cities around the world, as well as quite a number of destinations in Israel.

The niche of vacation apartment rentals has been been picking up steam from year to year and more and more Israelis are choosing to spend their vacations in America or Europe’s major cities in an apartment instead of a hotel room. The main reasons are that, relative to hotels, apartments are generally cheaper, present an authentic representation of city life, offer larger spaces and can house more people.

Of course, one can’t really compare a short-term rental apartment to a hotel in terms of service. But all the same, the price difference between a short stay at a three-star hotel and a clean, well-appointed apartment is often hundreds of dollars. For example, the Hotel Newton on Manhattan’s Upper West Side would cost $1,388 for four nights, while an apartment in the same area during the same time period would cost $888.

A look at the prices in London yields similar results. The Castleton Hotel in the Paddington district would cost $924 for four nights, while an apartment would be $672.

In Israel, Airbnb is the most widely used and recognized website for short-term apartment rentals, but there are other international sites as well, such as Roomorama, HomeAway and wimdu. Altogether, they rent out hundreds of thousands of apartments around the world, which can be searched by city, neighborhood, price and the apartment’s accessories.

There are, however, clouds on the horizon. About four months ago, a potentially major blow to this burgeoning niche in the tourism industry was delivered halfway around the world in New York City court. The court fined a resident for renting out his apartment on Airbnb, stating that the man who rented out his apartment for $2,400 had violated a municipal law that outlawed renting residences for less than 30 days. New Yorkers renting apartments to tourists and Airbnb intend to fight the decision, but still, things aren’t what they once were.

“When we reached the apartment in New York the contact met us and handed over the keys and asked that we hide the fact we rented the apartment on Airbnb,” says Ran Sapir from Ashdod, after returning from a 17 day excursion to New York. “Looking back, we understand that he didn’t want the neighbors to complain because of what happened [with the court case].”

The Seine River and the Paris skyline.Credit: Reuters
A Tel Aviv apartment available for rent via Airbnb.Credit: Airbnb

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