The relationship between hotels and a growing peer-to-peer rental market has been wrought with confusion, fear and distrust from the start, making it seem unlikely that a positive relationship could ever come from the two parties.

A new concept launched by Spanish hotelier Enrique Sarasola seeks to change that.

Sarasola, founder of the budget boutique hotel brand Room Mate, last week launched BeMate, a platform where hotels partner with peer-to-peer rented apartments to give guests access to the hotel’s amenities. Sarasola is now opening up the platform to other hoteliers around the world.

“I think it’s a new way of defining the future of travel, putting two worlds that are completely colliding right now — the hoteliers and the rental apartments — together to join forces. I believe the future of the hotel industry goes through the apartment rental  business,” Sarasola swooned during a recent interview.

BeMate, which is 44 percent owned by Room Mate and 56 percent owned by Sarasola and partners, plans to take on the majority of the leg work once new hotel brands come onboard.

The platform works with a Spanish commercial real estate company that vets apartments to ensure that the apartments are able to be listed, match the photos used to represent them and are no more than a 15-minute walk or 3-minute taxi ride from the nearest ambassador hotel.

“Once our legal team says it’s okay then we look at the apartment to see if we like it, whether the apartment is special, if it’s located in the distance that we think is acceptable from our hotels, and that the pictures show exactly what they are,” explains Sarasola.

Be Mate will also vet each potential hotel ambassador based on their hospitality philosophy, location and design. Sarasola says he is in serious talks with hoteliers in Sevilla, Spain; Lisbon, and Portugal; Paris and at least 20 hoteliers or small brands have also expressed interest.

Ambassador brands will reap 40 percent of each booking while the platform takes home the other 60 percent.

Inquiries to hotels with similar mindsets to Room Mate, including CitizenMYotel and Qbic, went unanswered.

Demand

Part of what drove Sarasola to launch the new concept was an increased demand for family rooms at Room Mate Hotels. These rooms have four big bunk beds and a play space conducive to family travel, and they’re 100 percent full, Sarasola claims.

There’s no doubt that there is an increase in demand for apartment and home rentals that give families the space and comfort of a home with some of the amenities of a hotel. OneFineStay is an example of a startup attempting to give customers both in urban areas.

In Europe; however, renting an apartment is easier done than in U.S. cities. Booking.com, for example, lists hotels whose inventory is made up entirely of apartments as well as stand-alone apartments.

Sarasola cites consistency of amenities as one reason why consumers would rely on BeMate instead of a site like Booking.com. Every apartment on the platform offers luggage storage, key drop off and pick up, and concierge service. The consistency, paired with the experience of meeting and interacting with the owner of the apartment, is what makes BeMate a real hybrid.

“The difference is the relationship between two equal people with similar interests: the owner and the traveler. It´s something much more personnel, more one to one,” explains Sarasola.

City Shake-Out

The primary challenge for the platform is its ability to perform comprehensive legal checks on every apartment it rents. Sarasola says he will quickly remove properties that defy local laws; however, most of relatively few BeMate’s listings for New York already appear to be in violation of the state’s short-term housing law.

“If they’re not licensed brokers, they’re not necessarily vetting apartments correctly,” says Rick Lassin, legal counsel from the rule-abiding apartment broker New York Habitat.

The viability and adoption of the BeMate platform in other cities will depend heavily on its current laws governing the short-term rental market.

Amsterdam would allow holiday rentals, such as BeMate, as long as they follow the guidelines outlined in new legislation put into place this February.

Operating in other cities such as Paris, Barcelona, and New York will be significantly more tricky.

Airbnb in New York, for example, hides behind a federal law that, passed dozens of years ago, holds a website’s user, not the website, responsible for illegal action, explains Tom Cayler, chairman of the Illegal Hotel Committee for Manhattan’s West Side Neighborhood Alliance.

“Airbnb exempts itself from any responsibility, but if a brick-and-mortar hotel rents out apartments illegally thorough this platform or another platform, I would imagine they would have legal exposure and the city could take action against them,” explains Cayler.

Room Mate could well argue that BeMate is a platform, just like Airbnb, but the illegal rentals’ connection to physical hotels would be significantly more difficult to argue out of.

Photo Credit: Brooklyn brownstones could soon be rented out by apartments instead of renters and owners. Steve Winton / Flickr