The New Micro Hoteliers

The New Micro HoteliersA new breed of vacation-rental owners is taking a page from hotels and bringing more polish and professionalism to the industry.Two years ago, when Jeremy Braud started renting out his shotgun house in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans to Super Bowl fans, the property was simple and spartan. Braud used his own sheets; he stocked the bathroom with big bottles of shampoo and conditioner. But now that vacation rentals have become more popular and competitive through online-booking sites, Braud has refined his approach. He now offers small, single-use shampoo bottles and high-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets. On the living room table, there’s a fan of tourism brochures and a free bottle of wine for his guests. Braud’s house is no longer just a home. Nor is it a short-term rental in the old-fashioned sense. It’s now a competitor to the B&B down the street.Braud is on the leading edge of vacation-rental entrepreneurs who are starting to adopt the manners and methods of the hotel industry, blurring the line between traditional hotelier and anonymous property owner. It’s a strategy aimed at expanding their potential client base beyond the budget traveler and into a much broader, and more lucrative, market—one that even includes people on the road for business.Online rental agencies have started to adapt their tactics, too. Airbnb brought in hotelier Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre group of hotels, to head up global hospitality and strategy. Conley’s goal is to help rental owners deliver some of the consistency of a hotel by standardizing things like communication, cleanliness guidelines, and amenities. (Airbnb’s instant-booking feature is especially hotel-like.) HomeAway, meanwhile, is offering a batch of new tools to create a more seamless experience, including integrating its app with Uber and the grocery delivery service Instacart, and populating it with information about the property a guest has rented and its surrounding area (sort of like a hotel-room directory).A slew of third-party tools have emerged to address the rise of peer-to-peer rentals. Sites like Huitly, Guesty, and Rentingyourplace help hosts with the process of researching and managing vacation properties so that they can charge the right price and align their services with nearby hotels. It’s even possible for renters to compare Airbnb properties with hotel rooms when planning a trip, thanks to the online travel agent Hipmunk.New companies and services are also helping to emulate the hotel experience for renters. BeMate, a rental-listing site from the Spanish hospitality group Room Mate, combines the amenities of a hotel (concierge, luggage storage) with the uniqueness of a vacation rental (see page 56 for more). Ancillary apps like Gymsurfing and Spinlister help travelers bypass hotel and resort fitness centers, while others provide everything from valet to spa services.All of this has put the hotel establishment on notice. So far, the response from individual brands is anecdotal (Marriott CEO Arne M. Sorenson reportedly talks about the rental industry all the time). But in cities like New York and San Francisco, the hotel lobby has supported regulators in some bitter public battles with rental companies over issues like taxes and zoning laws. While global regulation of the vacation-rental business is unlikely, location-specific legislation will continue to roll out over the next several years. But even if tomorrow’s host has to follow a stricter set of rules, it’s clear that vacation rentals have been fundamentally transformed. Hosts like Jeremy Braud will continue to compete with hotels—and the costs for consumers will continue to fall.

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It’s Tax Season. Do You Know Where Your Mail Is? -

Its Tax Season. Do You Know Where Your Mail Is?  During the holiday season a missed or stolen package can be aggravating, which is doubtless why you eagerly watched for deliveries all December, calling the nanosecond you suspected a problem. Unfortunately, many employers don’t send tracking numbers when the packet of vital documents marked “Important Tax Information Enclosed” hits the mail destined for your home address. We receive some of the most sensitive, potentially damaging mail deliveries of the year during these post-holiday months, and a wayward envelope during tax season can wreak immense financial havoc. Your employer W-2s and 1099s, annual statements from banks, brokerage firms and credit card companies—all needed for tax preparation—are headed your way. And tax documents aren’t the only missives you will be receiving. There are explanations of health benefits, membership renewals, new healthcare credentials and other service-related roundups that include essential facts about your life. Everything you spent and everything you donated; everything you do for your health, fun or profit; each investment, every gain and loss—all of that and more will be hitting your terrestrial and digital mailboxes in the coming weeks, and all of it is manna to identity thieves. The crimes that can be committed are almost too numerous to list here. There’s the healthcare grab, where someone pretends to be you to acquire diagnoses, cures or prescriptions in your name, which can permanently change your health record and future medical decisions in potentially life-threatening ways. Identity thieves may use your annual statements—and other information that travels by mail this time of year—to either worm into your credit files or create new ones. A recent story out of Miami involved more than 1,000 student debit card accounts that were allegedly used for collecting tax refunds from fraudulently filed tax returns. One student alone allegedly grabbed more than $50,000. The windfalls for crimes of this nature are huge, and often go undetected for a long time. Identity thieves know you can’t possibly keep track of the entire paper trail that’s in transit to your door (virtual or otherwise), and they are always crawling through the cracks and crevasses of your life to grab as much of your sensitive personal information as they can. More From Credit.com: What Is Identity Theft? So what should you be looking for? It may be a prompt from TurboTax or an email from American Express, or you may have to be alert and sensitive as to what hasn’t arrived. While my best advice is to stay on top of your mail—you are in the best position to know what’s supposed to come this time of year, so be on the lookout—there are strategies that can make you less of a target.

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