Don't shout it from the rooftops just yet, but it might be happening after all. That Christmas holiday you'd just about given up on, hadn't bothered booking the flights, let alone the… oh, that's right. The accommodation.
As hotels and motels air their rooms, stock the mini-fridges with those micro-cartons of milk and hunt for staff, many Kiwis will be heading to the internet and seeking more bespoke places to lay their heads: the search engines of online booking sites like Airbnb, Bookabach and Stayz, Holiday Houses and Bachcare.
They've been around for more than a decade – Airbnb launched as a startup in 2008 – and, by the time a certain indisposition laid waste to the travel industry 18 months ago, had become major players.
Though liking to paint itself as a community matching independent travellers with folks letting out their spare bedroom, Airbnb offered 6 million listings worldwide by 2019 as well as selling real world and online experiences, pretty much the same ones that you'd be offered through a travel agent or regional tourism organisation.
Bookabach and Stayz are part of the Expedia flights, hotel and travel booking empire that includes Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, trivago and is in a civil union with Tripadvisor.
Stats NZ reported New Zealanders pocketed more than $500 million renting their properties on "accommodation sharing" websites in the year to March 2018. Almost 20 per cent of guest nights were in holiday home rentals, accounting for 12 per cent of all accommodation revenue.
So, for those who aren't early – or perhaps even medium – adopters, how do these sites work and how can you make them work for you and your family or group to have your best getaway?
Each has its own quirks, but essentially they follow the same principles. The websites don't own properties: they are digital marketplaces where people looking for a place to stay can check out, book and rent accommodation listed by an owner (or host).
Some may be, as in the original concept, a spare bedroom in a flat, house or bach (crib if you prefer). Others may be whole houses; some will be well-marketed and appointed bed-and-breakfasts. Sometimes the host or host family will live on-site; at others, you'll have the run of the property to yourself, your family or your group. However, it's not a hotel or motel, so don't expect the same level of service.
Here are our 10 tips:
1 Seek and ye shall (probably) find
You're interacting with an algorithm, so refine your search terms. Start with the basics - destination. Dates. Number of guests – then use the filters. Room type (entire home, private room or shared room?), and price range are obvious. But take advantage of the options like beds, amenities available, house rules, to make sure you're getting exactly what you want.
2 A picture is worth…
Hey, we've all been caught out when the estate agent cropped the photo of the property so you couldn't see the row of rubbish bins outside the front window, or the motorway over the back fence. Good hosts will take the trouble to make sure their pictures are attractive, sure, but also a fair representation. Browse, and add or subtract options from your shortlist.
3 Check out
So far as we know, Basil Fawlty hasn't joined Airbnb. Nor has Bluebeard. But one of the great advantages of using a social media-style platform is, well, making use of social media. Check the host's profile and picture, if it's there; cast an eye over their social media accounts if you can; look for hosts with a goodly number of reviews and a number of good reviews.
4 Full and frank exchanges
Yes, we mentioned Tripadvisor earlier and like any restaurant or movie user review site, you're entitled to be cynical about whether those glowing write-ups are genuine. Airbnb counters this with a rule that only guests who've had a verified stay at a property can leave a review, and it must be within 14 days of their stay. It also allows guests and hosts to rate each other, and each can see the other's submissions.
5 Cancel culture
Well, we do live in interesting times, so it pays to know what you might be in for if your plans change. Again, using Airbnb as an example, hosts can choose from a number of pre-set cancellation policies. Reputable hosts will display their policy on their listing.
6 Getting in touch
Some folks do, some folks don't contact the host before making a booking. From experience, most sites operate a Facebook-style direct messaging system for communicating or asking questions. Use that; it's more courteous and professional than phone calls or emails.
7 Pay wave
Again, use the site's toolkit. Reputable site, and you'll be protected against fraud and security worries. And haggling is monumentally uncool.
8 Check in
As we said at the beginning, the whole point of this style of renting accommodation is that you're not going to a hotel. If you told the host you'd be there at 2pm, be there at 2pm or let them know you'll be late. Chances are, they've taken time out from their day to meet and greet you. Treat their place as… well, better than you'd treat your own. Don't invite a dozen mates over to watch the Black Caps at 2am. In fact, don't invite anyone without checking with the host first. Follow the house rules – they were on the listing – and wash the dishes, make or strip the beds, and leave the keys where you were asked.
9 The last word
Yes, you can write a review or post your thoughts on social, or anti-social, media. Bear in mind that if you're using Airbnb, your host is going to rate you as a guest, too, and that could well affect your chances of finding your next bed. Which is not to say that you shouldn't be honest. Let the host know when something's wrong or doesn't live up to the promise, or your concern hasn't been addressed. Don't do that Kiwi thing of telling the waiter that "the meal's perfect, thanks" and then bitching to all your mates or slagging off the place on Facebook. Fair's fair.
10 The very last word
… has nothing to do with your accommodation and everything to do with your experience. The great thing about these home-hosting arrangements is that you're going to meet people who live in the area and know where to find the best takeaway, cafe, pub, beach, swimming hole, bike trail. And they'll be only too chuffed to let you in on the local secrets. Ask their advice, take it, and you'll be doing your bit to make sure everyone in the district is a winner.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz