Onefinestay co-founder Evan Frank

By Danny King
Evan FrankOnefinestay, which launched two years ago in London and specializes in renting private homes to travelers, debuted its service in New York last month and is looking to expand to other U.S. cities starting next year. The company hopes to pick up market share within the home-rental market by targeting upper-end travelers with an inventory of neighborhood homes with character and concierge-like services. Co-founder Evan Frank spoke with hotels editor Danny King about the company.

Q: How is Onefinestay different from other home-based listings, from a homeowner's standpoint?

A:
We do everything from cleaning the home to provisioning the home with five-star-hotel-like linens, towels and toiletries. We professionally photograph their homes. The guest is calling us, not the host. From the perspective of the host, it's a turnkey service. And the guest is getting the best parts of a boutique hotel but also the best parts of a home.

Q: How do you vet which homes qualify?

A:
A lot of them come from referrals from other hosts. There's not a hard and fast criteria. It's much more of a judgment call. There does need to be a minimum standard of operability. The homes need to have WiFi, they need to have bathrooms and kitchens in really good condition, and they need to have character.

Q: What do you mean by "character"?

A:
It has to look like somebody lives there and that the owner has a personality. I can't pinpoint it, but what we don't want are homes that look like standard hotel rooms or apartments. Whether it's nice furniture, great views, interesting pictures on the walls, you have to walk into the home and think there's something special about it.

Q: Who are you catering to?

A:
A wide variety. There are a lot of families and business travelers. They are the type of people who would otherwise stay in a higher-end hotel at a four-star price point.

Q: New York has regulations that in some cases bar short-term stays in certain buildings. How do you deal with that?

A:
New York is a very complicated market from a regulatory perspective. We always advise that our hosts check out those rules.

Q: You and your co-founders are largely from a venture-capital background and not from hospitality. How did the idea come about?

A:
[Onefinestay CEO and co-founder] Greg Marsh traveled a lot for work, and after staying in a lot of hotels, he would come home to London and see houses sitting empty for vast portions of the year. So he figured, why shouldn't one be able to stay in a home as easily as one can stay in a hotel?

Q: From a traveler's perspective, what separates you from companies like HomeAway and Airbnb?

A:
We're not a listing service. The services we provide are the differentiator. We're cleaning the home, we're testing the WiFi, we put five-star linens on the beds, we can arrange for weekly maid service. We're replicating what you might want out of a hotel. You're being looked after.

Q: Are you working with travel agents or are you essentially a consumer-only business?

A:
We do pay commissions. It depends on length of stay, but it ranges from 8% to 12%. It's a small percentage of our business, but it's certainly something we'd like to grow.

For hotel and hospitality news, follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. 
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