Gap between wealthiest travelers, everyone else has widened

By Christopher S. Rugaber

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, June 4 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

High unemployment and flat paychecks have spurred more people not only to stay in Airbnb rooms but also to list their own homes.

Eric Worley, 30, and his girlfriend stayed at an Airbnb home in Columbus, Ohio, for $59 a night — half the lowest hotel rate they could find.

"Not only am I saving money, I'm also helping out another person ... by giving them some extra money," he says. "I'd much rather do that than have a corporation overcharge me for what is essentially the same service."

Sometimes, the cut-rate experience goes further that visitors had expected. Ann Carman, 32, of Yellow Springs, Ohio, had always wanted to stay in an Airstream trailer. When she and her boyfriend visited Austin, Texas, in December 2013, she found one in a backyard. They weren't alone. Sharing their accommodations were a pig named Fern, two dogs and a rooster.

"I was like, 'They've got a pig in their backyard, we've got to stay there,'" she says.

Airbnb hosts can charge less than hotels because they typically don't pay accommodation taxes or meet safety or disability regulations. That's sparked grumbling from hotels — and from localities that lose out on tax revenue.

The luxury sphere is also trying to expand its base. Chains such as the Ritz-Carlton and the Mandarin Oriental are pursuing not just the uber-rich but increasingly the merely affluent.

"My father would never have stayed in a luxury hotel," Hanson says. "He didn't think he belonged there, even though he might have been able to afford it."

As more modestly rich travelers have checked in, these hotels have sought to provide more for the ultra-wealthy.

With the recently opened St. Regis Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, architects considered how much privacy to provide its most sumptuous suites, says Paul James, head of Starwood Hotels and Resorts' luxury properties.

"Part of the Abu Dhabi conversation was: 'Where does the helicopter land?'" James says.

More of the wealthiest travelers are now booking on shorter notice — sometime less than a day. The St. Regis Mardavall in Mallorca, Spain, got a call from a 30-something German asking about the local weather. The receptionist reported 85 degrees and blue skies. The traveler booked the largest available suite and said he'd arrive in an hour.

He made the call from his private jet circling above Madrid.

The elite traveler's experience was precisely what the Rosewood London had in mind when it opened its Grand Manor House Wing in December. The six-bedroom complex offers three living rooms, a library and a dining table for eight. It has its own street entrance and private elevator. For $42,000 a night, guests get some extra bragging rights: Their suite has its own postal code.

Mark Herron, general manager of the Four Seasons Vail, notes that his hotel recently arranged for a guest to feed elephants at a local zoo — even though the zoo was closed.

Then there was a celebrity who had a craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken. The nearest one was 28 miles (45 kilometers) way.

The hotel first tried to make it but couldn't match the recipe. "Plus, the celebrity wanted the bucket," Herron says.

Within an hour, the guest and his 21-person entourage had 10 buckets full of traditional and extra-crispy chicken.

Cornell's Carvell has a theory about why anyone makes such extravagant requests.

"They'll sometimes do it just to see if it can be done," he says. "They don't want to hear the word no."

Rugaber reported from Washington. Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott and Chris Rugaber at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber .

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