How to turn your spare room into a crash pad for tourists

Take advantage of the scarcity of hotel rooms by hosting paying visitors. Felicity Cannell reports

Crashpadder.com is an internet site dedicated to just that – pads to crash in.

The brainchild of former online marketing consultant Stephen Rapoport, the company was conceived 10 years ago during his university years. Travelling to Sydney during the Olympics he found nearly all the hotels were full where there was any space, the prices were eye-watering. He found a job in a pub and kipped in a colleague's spare room, paying a low weekly rent. He saved money and his host earned some extra cash. The other staff in the pub began offering their own spare rooms to desperate tourists.

But it was the credit crunch that launched Crashpadder. In 2008, after losing most of his marketing contracts, Mr Rapoport retreated to his own spare room, running the business from there for a year before moving into a small office in London. "It took off so quickly. We've now got rooms in 800 places in 52 countries, but most, about 60 per cent, are in the UK. We've 1,100 rooms in London alone, ranging from £15 to £100 per night."

A Crashpadder host lists his or her room with photographs and as much personal information as possible, including date of birth, profession, and maybe a link to Facebook or Twitter pages. Potential guests send a request to book the room, with similar personal information, to build up a mutual sense of security, and the host can then accept or reject. Payment is by credit card, held by Crashpadder, and released after the guest has left. The site is free to list on, but the company takes 10 per cent of any bookings.

Hosts are given loose guidelines over what to charge by looking at what else is listed. Mr Rapoport says, "Room rates aren't vetted by us. Our community of users does that. No one will book if it's too expensive. If it's too cheap the reverse might happen and the owner will be inundated."

So what's the advantage of Crashpadder over hotels or registered B&Bs? Price is an obvious factor, but the sluggish economy is affecting all sectors as Carly Gotz, group director of sales and marketing at Great Hotels Organisation points out. "These days even luxury can come cheap. There are some amazing hotel deals out there."

But not necessarily when demand is high. Mr Rapoport says travellers stranded in the UK by Iceland's volcanic ash were housed by Crashpadder hosts. The London Olympics is still an unknown quantity in terms of accommodation, but two million visitors are expected. The capital has 100,000 registered three and four-star hotels. Hoteliers and holiday companies rub their hands with glee during prime-time sporting and cultural events – and across the country the calendar never stops. In Cheltenham this weekend for instance, visitors to the jazz festival have filled many of the local hotels. Crashpadder has double rooms within walking distance of events for £15. That's less than a quarter of the price of the cheapest hotel.

You don't even need to live in a holiday hot spot. Forty-four per cent of guests using the site, who give a reason for their trip, indicate business travel. "It's because of the personal touch," says Mr Rapoport. "The first time I travelled on expenses I was in a five-star hotel. My boss said, 'You'll absolutely love it – for about 24 hours. And then you'll just feel lonely.' And that's exactly what happened."

Expense accounts are no longer what they were. The reduction in job security mean contractors are often crisscrossing the country following the jobs – working in Birmingham during the week, living in Brighton at the weekend. Budget hotels can be pretty ghastly, often with no bar and certainly no room service, but at least you know what to expect, knowing that there'll be someone on reception, that you'll be dealt with in a professional, albeit impersonal, way.

"Crashpadder is travelling with a heart," says Mr Rapoport. But, says Ms Gotz, "Despite what some people may think, staying in a hotel doesn't mean your stay will be impersonal, especially when staying in an independently run hotel. Many of our member hotels offer personal touches such as welcome drinks and a newspaper."

Renting out a room is becoming more commonplace, with government initiatives aimed at easing the rental market in key areas. The rent-a-room scheme allows £85 per week tax-free income, and Crashpadder hosts will qualify for this.

"Crashpadder's obviously great for a casual income, but a lodger would be an easier option in terms of the amount of work you have to do," says Matt Hutchinson from spareroom.co.uk.

Travellers have a wide variety of needs. There are hosts, from young singletons to empty nesters, and guests, from backpackers to business people which Crashpadder will suit.

You meet people you otherwise wouldn't have contact with

Elaine Arthur has been hosting Crashpadders for eight months in her flat in west London. She has found having short-stay guests a good way to plug any income gap. "And it's fun. You meet people you wouldn't otherwise have any contact with. Last week I hosted a Russian piano teacher. I've had an American conductor who stayed for a few nights while she was attending auditions at the Royal Academy, and a masters student from New York who needed a place to stay while she looked for a flat of her own. Tourists are always enthusiastic, coming back after a day out and telling you all about it. And of course, they get local knowledge from me."

A crucial consideration is personal safety. "One chap emailed me at short notice, saying he was desperate. He turned up just after midnight rather worse for wear, but very apologetic. I suddenly thought 'am I insane?' A complete stranger sleeping in the next room, without a lock on my door. But all was OK. He'd paid Crashpadder with a credit card, and they'd checked him out."

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