It would be a stretch to say that gone are the days when people followed the usual pattern of planning a holiday that involved booking tickets, finding a hotel and going on a guidebook-recommended trail of touristy landmarks.
Castle Olivier, Ireland, is a magnificent baronial mansion which houses the largest wine cellar in Ireland with a capacity for 55,000 bottles.
That, however, could possibly become a reality in the near future, as a new choice of accommodation gains momentum, expanding travellers' horizons and adding local flair to a trip.
Tourists make a checklist of must-visit places based on TV programmes, guidebooks or websites, while travellers or explorers are more whimsical and adventurous, discovering a destination as it really is. Jia En Teo, co-founder of roomorama.com, a New York-based global vacation rental site which opened an office Singapore in early 2011, definitely considers herself a traveller, and encourages other globetrotters to venture out of the traditional way of vacation and do something more authentic.
Taking cute to another level is this Hello Kitty themed apartment in China’s Yunnan province. Hello Kitty paraphernalia adorns every nook and cranny—walls, floors, and even the toilet seat.
Hotel alternatives are increasingly and rapidly becoming a trend in Asia, according to Jia, due to modern day travellers' yearning to being different, having a unique story to tell after a trip, and most importantly, it seems, posting never-before-seen pictures on Facebook to share (or show off) their memorable moments.
"There has been a shift in travel experience that leans towards the unconventional and far away from the typical hotel room experience because more and more travellers these days are no longer seeking to just go through a checklist of the famous landmarks. What they want are stories and experiences they can share," said Jia. Since its opening, Roomorama has seen bookings in Asia through its website more than double. This type of alternative appeals to the younger, more savvy travellers who are looking for choices offering great value for money, more space, and more character than a typical hotel.
"A hotel chain will most probably offer the same type of cookie-cutter room everywhere in the world. Staying in a rented home, however, gives you a glimpse of what it's like to live in a place put together by a local. Such experiences are unique and certainly not what one would get from generic hotel rooms," explained Jia.
Rooms on offer are not limited to generic apartment rooms, but also come in quirkier varieties such as a Victorian gothic mansion at the feet of the Himalayas in India, a wine house overlooking the Alps in Austria, a Hello Kitty studio in Kunming, China, and a cave house on Koh Phangan, Thailand. The price is also lower than hotels, according to Jia.
"On average, we estimate that Roomorama rates are 30% cheaper compared to the hotels within the same area."
The growth of this trend has to go both ways _ more travellers must be open to the new experience, and property owners must warm up to the idea of having strangers stay at their home. Safety, therefore, must be ensured for both parties.
Graz Winehouse, Austria, is an international award-winning house renowned for its architectural style. The two-storey apartment has a loft space on the first floor and boasts an original wine cellar with vaulted ceiling below.
Owning a spare room doesn't mean you are automatically embraced as a host. A team will request for your proof of identification and utility bills of the properties to ensure credibility. Those unfamiliar with the process can opt for an online training session provided by the website's training officers.
Currently, Roomorama has about 1,500 property choices in Thailand, and over 60,000 in more than 5,000 cities. Jia expects that the number of properties for rent in Thailand will triple by 2013, while the overall number should double in the next few months.
Although these properties are not a hotel, facilities and amenities are of the same standard. Most of the hosts are professional property managers who will serve travellers like a concierge but with a personal touch.
"They will help you with check-in and check-out, and they give you insider knowledge on what's cool to do within the area. They make their guests feel like locals in the short time that they're living in their property."
The rooms come with the usual amenities expected from a hotel room, but offer more space and flexibility.
It is ideal for groups of friends or families who would rather stay together instead of separately in multiple hotel rooms which has no common area for interaction.
Jia thinks that for Thailand, as with the rest of Asia, the challenge is to raise awareness of the concept of staying in a non-hotel option. "We have found that once Thai people learn about the concept, they warm up to the idea really fast," she commented.
A Victorian gothic mansion at the feet of the Himalayas in India.