Hotel industry fumes as UK prepares to legalize Airbnb in London

Airbnb users have many options when they visit London, but they and their hosts are probably unaware that these short-term lets are often illegal. However, that’s about to change – much to the ire of the hotel industry.

On Monday, housing minister Brandon Lewis set out plans for short-term lets to be deregulated in London. A 42-year-old London law says that anyone wanting to rent out their home for less than 90 days must get planning permission to do so, or pay a £20,000 ($30,450) penalty per offence. The government now wants that law scrapped.

“We live in the 21st century, and London homeowners should be able to rent out their home for a short period without having to pay for a council permit. These laws … need to be updated for the internet age,” Lewis said in a statement.

However, the government would still restrict short-term letting to 90 days per calendar year or less, so that the properties don’t effectively become hotels. The properties also can’t be business premises, and councils will be able to apply for “small localized exemptions from the new flexibility, where there is a strong case to do so.”

I’d say it was very silly for London to have different rules from the rest of the country, regarding services such as Airbnb — so this move should be welcomed at least on that front. However, the hotel industry doesn’t quite see it that way.

The British Hospitality Association has been lobbying against these changes for quite some time and says it still has serious concerns about health and safety. In an emailed statement, Association policy director Jackie Grech said the relevant clause had been “hastily pushed through … without any concern for the consequences such as security, employment, housing shortages, anti-social behavior and the high quality reputation of tourism in the U.K.”

She added:

When the first claims come through, they could be serious injuries. It is possible to look out for the interests of community, customers and employees; the hospitality industry does this every day. These multi-billion dollar companies need to do the same and we are particularly concerned for small, family run establishments who have to compete with giant multi billion pound companies.

This all comes a few months after the publication of a U.K. government review of the so-called sharing economy, conducted by Debbie Wosskow, the CEO of home exchange platform Love Home Swap. Astonishingly, the review suggested that accommodation-sharing platforms should be less burdened with regulation.

Here’s why new competitors can’t do what Hotel Tonight does

HotelTonight, the app for booking a hotel stay on the go, has introduced new personalized price cuts, one called a “bonus rate” and the other called a “rate drop.”

Bonus rate: left; Rate drop: right

Rate drop: left; Bonus rate: right

The apps will analyze your phone’s location and offer you added discounts for hotels in specific other cities, a deal it’s calling a “bonus rate.”

For example, if you’re in San Francisco you may see that a same-day $145 room at a Los Angeles hotel is now discounted to $85. But if you’re in Munich, you’ll only see the original HotelTonight price. HotelTonight is trying to tempt people who might not otherwise travel or stay in a hotel to change their minds. “Some people value price and flexibility over the certainty of where they’re staying,” CEO Sam Shank told me. “At some point I hit my price point.”

Conversely, the app is also introducing a price cut known as a “rate drop” that can only be seen by people in close proximity to a specific hotel. Once again, the idea is to tempt people that might not otherwise spend the night in a place to change their mind. “People who weren’t thinking of booking a hotel in advance. Perhaps the other option was to stay with a friend or get a train home,” Shank said.

The hotels don’t want to cannibalize their business by slashing their rates on their websites on a day to day basis. Then they’d lose money from people who might have booked at the full price anyways. But by using cell phone location coordinates, the hotels can target new customers through HotelTonight that they might not otherwise snag, without losing their brand loyalists who would pay full price. “It’s about growing the market,” Shank said.

As anyone who uses HotelTonight already knows, the app offers the cheapest possible prices for same day booking. Hotels actually have to bid the lowest fee for their type of accommodation in order to be featured in the app. The companies most willing to do that are those with a lot of empty rooms they need to fill up.

This is a feature that HotelTonight’s bigger competitors, companies like Expedia and Priceline, have been able to imitate once they saw it worked. With bigger brand awareness, it’s a worthy foe for the comparably scrappy startup.

But the latest bonus rate and rate drop features aren’t going to be quite as easy for the travel giants to rip off. For them to work, they require up-to-the-minute information on a person’s location, down to specific mileage. As a result, customers have to be accustomed to checking hotel rates and booking rooms from their phone, a concept that HotelTonight’s clientele is obviously on board with, but Expedia’s legacy user base, maybe not so much.

Last-minute hotel app Hotel Tonight makes its first acquisition: PrimaTable

Hotel Tonight says it plans to acquire fellow San Francisco startup PrimaTable. While PrimaTable’s area of expertise is the high-end restaurant business, Hotel Tonight says it plans to put the company’s engineers to work improving its own platform that helps hotels advertise their last-minute room availability.

No More Excuses: Take a Short Break

Beach HolidayFreelancers can be stubborn about taking vacations. We know that money usually doesn’t come in when we go on a holiday, so we skip vacations and relax during off hours. But we all need vacations or else we’ll head straight for Burnout City, a place no one wants to go. I finally compromised with a recent vacation by going on a short break over a weekend that was close to home. Read More about No More Excuses: Take a Short Break

Turn a Hotel Room into a Web Working Office

Mobile officeOne of the great things about being a web worker is that you can travel easily: just pack up the laptop, make sure the hotel has Wi-Fi and away you go.

But a hotel room just isn’t meant to be an office. While you may have fun during the trip, the working part can be a little harder than at home. It can uncomfortable (especially in rooms not equipped with a desk), there can be unusual interruptions, and it can simply to tough to get work done.

By focusing on solving these key problems, though, you can turn a hotel room into a web working office. Read More about Turn a Hotel Room into a Web Working Office

Weekly App Store Roundup: Feb, 14th. 2009

mcrosofts

Get your spoon and prepare to swallow a whole tub of awesome because we’ve got the freshest picks from the App Store to stuff in your mouth.

Before we get in to the latest releases, I’ve got a couple of interesting picks from the week’s Apple news.

First big thing, file sharing has been activated for MobileMe. Great news for users of the service, although when it comes to sharing files I’m a big fan of Dropbox — it’s packed with features, more so than MobileMe’s option, and integrates with OS X seamlessly.

Next up, Microsoft is joining the high street retail fray. Fresh from Wal Mart, David Porter is now onboard as Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Retail Stores.

A potentially profitable suggestion came from JB in TheAppleBlog’s comments: “They could put a McDonald’s inside to attract customers!” If that does happen, I’ll take my Windows Vista with a large cola and a side-serving of disappointment. Only joking, I don’t drink cola.

In this week’s roundup I’ll be looking at Harvest Time Tracker, Room, Kern and Flickit.

Read More about Weekly App Store Roundup: Feb, 14th. 2009