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5 yurts that offer idyllic winter escapes

Winter’s harsh elements may drive plenty of North Americans inside the house and under the covers. This is the season where homebodies take refuge and more travel-savvy folks might head south of the equator. But, in the snow-covered territory of the great white north lies quiet, wintery lands to be explored — and there’s perhaps no better way to go about it than by booking a yurt-style retreat. From toasty lodges in northern Ontario, to rustic cottages in the Alaskan woods, to remote cabins in a most idyllic pocket of Vermont, AirBnB’s grand selection of winter yurts is bound to appeal to travellers of all sorts. These Instagram-worthy lodgings beckon both the woman in need of a cozy weekend escape as well as the seasoned outdoor adventurer looking for a new experience in nature.

Here are five winter-yurts that will have travellers saying yes to a winter getaway:

Stowe, Vermont

Skiers and beer connoisseurs alike have reason to escape to this Stowe, Vermont dwelling. The area is famous for its multitude of powder-covered mountains and The Alchemist brewery is one of the most sought after in the United States. (don’t leave the state without sipping its infamous Heady Topper double IPA!). As for the yurt itself, it’s a rustic one with no electricity where visitors can enjoy the views of the Nebraska Valley while sipping hot chocolate by the wood stove. This is certainly the ideal spot for those in need of a tech-break.

The Buffalo Farm: Mattawa, Ontario.

This yurt looks like a scene taken straight out of Pinterest and it happens to have all the makings of a perfect wintery escape: hiking trails nearby, the sparkle of the Amable du Fond River, an animal sanctuary with horses and buffalo and a wood-burning stove for snug winter nights. Going with a large group? This two-storey accommodation in Ontario’s coveted Algonquin region can sleep 12. With the owners having more than one property, there’s no reason not to book a stay in this beautiful part of Ontario.

Bolton, Quebec

A weekend in Quebec will feel like being plopped down somewhere in the middle of Europe and yet this yurt is just an hour outside of Montreal. After a good snowfall, this lodging looks like a scene straight out of a fairytale. One thing that makes this adorable abode stand out: it’s near to Quebec’s wine route. So make sure to stock up on local wines, jams, and cheese during the stay.

Talkeetna, Alaska

This yurt is so picturesque it barely seems real. Situated in the midst of a forest in rural Alaska, this cottagey yurt is intended for the traveller with a strong set of outdoor skills who doesn’t shy away from vacationing in rustic settings. Those who stay here can expect to be wowed by views of the northern lights through the skydome. In the morning, the local coffee shop is within walking distance. Talkeetna attracts other outdoor adventurer types and visitors are most likely to bump into like-minded folks at the Talkeetna Roadhouse – a one-stop shop for a shower, satisfying breakfast, and warm, homemade pies. When staying here, strap on a pair of cross-country skis and check out the local trails to get the full experience.

Maple City, Michigan  

Experience farm life while staying on this Maple City property that’s home to pigs, ducks and goats. If contemplating a winter escape, consider that this quaint lodging is so idyllic it even has its own sugar shack for homemade maple syrup. The owners also make their own cheese (yum!). The yurt itself has everything a visitor needs – if roughing it in a yurt without running water or electricity is a no-go, this one with its modern bathroom and private bedroom will make visitors feel a little more pampered.  

Where are you heading this winter? Let us know in the comments below!

New Airbnb regulations for the City of Toronto

A new set of regulations for short term rental spaces, such as Airbnb, has been approved by Toronto’s city council.

One of the biggest changes is that basement apartments have now been banned from use as a rental space, leaving many potential landlords who use Airbnb to make some extra cash out in the cold. By limiting guests to people’s primary residences, the city hopes to have better insight into the current housing situation in the city. It also allows more of these suites to be available for long-term contract rentals. One of the new regulations states that only long-term tenants of secondary suites, not the owner, could offer up space for nightly rental.

This step will mean that families who take part in home sharing will now be regulated and formally recognized. Alex Dagg, the policy director for Airbnb Canada said, “This is truly a big step forward for the City of Toronto, in terms of supporting the fact that we have thousands of families in Toronto who have been home-sharing and are now going to be formally recognized and regulated. We look forward to working with the city on the next steps.”

Short term home-sharing hosts will now pay the city $50 per-year for a rental maximum of three rooms, which will be rented for no more than 180 nights per year. The unpredictability of the current housing market in Toronto, along with fluctuating costs, could mean there will be more short-term rentals and less room for long- term tenants.

Those fighting to include secondary suites argued these rules put many homeowners at a disadvantage and they should be allowed flexibility in the choice of renting out spaces they choose. Toronto Mayor John Tory voted in support of the regulations, saying that City Council had the responsibility to put reasonable limits on property use.

Airbnb, which is a San-Francisco-based company that allows users to book home-sharing services online, said that in the past year there were over four million Canadians that have used this service to travel domestically. Earlier this year as part of the government’s pre-budget process, Airbnb sent a letter to the House of Commons finance committee asking the government not to over regulate. This request was unrelated to Toronto’s new regulatory process. So far, the regulations seem to be pleasing to both the government and Airbnb.

The government is set to revisit the rules in 2019 as this will provide a timeline in order to observe any major changes to Toronto housing.

What do you think about these new regulations? Comment below.

AirBNB is the driver of change in travel

AirBNB has become the largest “hotel chain” in the world and it’s having a huge impact on hotels  in tourist destinations like the Caribbean.  It’s hard to say what the exact conditions were that enabled AirBNB to succeed.  Some argue the knowledge the internet brought into our homes gave travellers a stronger sense of security, while others believe that government legislation making all beaches in the Caribbean public opened up the market to AirBNB, while still others argue that the desire for more local experiences was crucial to their success. I tend to think it was a convergence of all of the above. The playing field for the hospitality industry was significantly changed, and hotels can either change with it, or fade away.

Change isn’t easy, especially to those who have spent there careers in the industry.  As AirBNB expands people begin to demand more from their vacations, they learn that having a view of the ocean, is better than not having it, that having a kitchen to cook in is better than having to eat out every single night.  If travellers can rent a home with a view of the ocean and access to a beach – they are more likely to rent it than a hotel room that doesn’t have a view of the ocean. I would argue with any hotel developer out there that having a property with an ocean view, kitchenettes, and beach access,  is far more valuable than a hotel room located on a beach.  And until the industry begins to take AirBNBs influence on travellers seriously, they’ll miss out on opportunities driven by the change.

The first victims of AirBNB are the “garden view” hotel room suites. Why would anyone choose to pay for a small garden view room, when they could rent a large room in a home with a view of the ocean for far less, and get free access to a number of beaches?

In Barbados a family can rent a 4 bedroom home through AirBNB with a pool, an awesome view of the ocean, and public beach access 5 minutes away, for just under $300/night. Compare this to one Superior room at the Marriot hotel in Barbados for $220/night and it is easy to see why the hospitality industry is in turmoil.

Add to this the rise of “Beach Clubs” like Nikki Beach and there is little reason to rent a room at a large corporate hotel.

So what is the answer? How can corporate hotel chains survive when AirBNB has so completely changed the playing field?

They have to start adapting to the change and offer more than just a room. They need to take a lesson from the small boutique hotels that are succeeding by attracting travellers with “experiential” opportunities. For starters, the land costs for a boutique hotel smart enough to know they don’t have to be right on the beach, are much lower. Boutique hotels offer travellers the chance to experience local culture and many of them set up partnerships with local businesses. Successful boutique hotels provide on site programming (yoga and cooking classes, nature hikes etc.) giving travellers more than just a room on the beach, but a memorable experience.

Corporate hotels have to change the way they do business. Sweeping policies that once guided their developments need to be strategically evaluated. For example here is a quote given by a development manager at the Marriott “We are currently interested only in a beach location for a luxury or an upper-upscale brand in Barbados.” That kind of  thinking is why so few of the large hotel chains succeed on islands like Barbados, where boutique hotels owned by private families control the luxury market.

Corporate hotels have a choice – change now or slowly watch their profits wither.

City council votes to support tolls

“You rarely have to ask permission to do the right thing.”

This quote comes from an open letter released Tuesday morning, with the signature of five different Canadian mayors attached to it. The letter calls for more municipal power to create city revenue, so that municipal leaders can match infrastructure funding provided by the provincial and federal governments.

In essence, Canada’s biggest cities, including Toronto, were asking for the power to do their part to expand and grow.

This sentiment was much needed prior to the city council meeting Tuesday, where councillors discussed how they would be paying for city services for the foreseeable future.

After much debate, city council approved staff recommendations by staff to generate revenue by using various taxes and tolls. The implementation of tolls is a brave new step for the city – proof that politicians understand the need to create revenue and alleviate congestion on city roads.

Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed the use of tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Express over a month ago, and since then it has received a mostly positive response. The money would be directly funnelled into maintaining and funding transit-related projects, which works to both alleviate congestion on roadways and expand Toronto’s transit network.

City council ultimately voted in support of the mayor’s proposal. Nine councillors opposed the motion.

These tolls, which could be implemented as early as 2020, would affectively alleviate congestion, unlock gridlock, and help pay for the much-needed transit network being built throughout Toronto. A win-win scenario.

Council also agreed to look into a 0.5 per cent levy on property taxes, a four per cent tax on hotels, up to a 10 per cent tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb, and harmonizing and/or increasing land transfer taxes. The city will also be asking the province for a share of the harmonized sales tax.

The debate on tolls will continue in the new year, when city staff will present options for implementation, including cost.

City Manager Peter Wallace made it clear in his presentation on the city budget that council had to approve of some of the proposed revenue tools — if they didn’t, they should be prepared to provide solutions to the $33 billion in unfunded projects the city is undergoing.

“I think it comes down to what level of public service does city council want to endorse,” Wallace said bluntly. He also made it clear that by voting to take tolls to the next level, council can rest assured that city staff will proved thoughtfully.

Other councillors were not so thoughtful. Many ignored the fact that people pay for the use of public transportation and that user fees are popularly used in large cities. However, at the end of the day, even the wary councillors understood the need to make a firm decision or risk being left with a large revenue gap to fill.

And to that brave majority, Toronto thanks you.

Is regulating Airbnb the answer to housing crisis?

Without a doubt, rental housing in Toronto is a problem, but are short-term rentals the cause?

The City of Toronto is investigating short-term rentals such as Airbnb, Flip Key and Roomorama to see whether these temporary stays are taking available homes away from people who live in Toronto. In Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting, the council voted to report back with recommended regulations in Spring 2017.

What is in the city report?

The Executive Committee wants to create a database that provides a breakdown of every service provider and unit type, including a list of landlords running short-term rentals. The city also wants to look into cases of sexual violence in short-term stays, safety standards, and working conditions for employees. The city will look into regulating and possibly restricting temporary rentals through zoning bylaws and licensing. Another solution presented in the study is to tax companies such as Airbnb and similar businesses as hotels.

Currently, Airbnb has 9,460 units or rooms in Toronto that were rented in 2015. These rooms were run by 7,320 hosts. Sixty-eight per cent of the rentals are held in apartments and the rest consist of a single room rental. This shows that not all rentals are taking up entire residences, but also include single rooms in people’s primary homes. Research also determined that 68 per cent of rentals were hosted by people who owned a single home and 37 per cent of short-term rentals were owned by people with more than one house. The high average of people who are renting from their primary residence also shows that not many people in Toronto are trying to make a business from Airbnb, but instead use it as a way to make extra money if they are not staying in the home.

How is Airbnb reacting?

Airbnb has released a report to refute the claims that the City of Toronto needs to regulate their short-term rental stays. Airbnb report says there are 8,200 active participants using the short-term rental program, which accounts for o.7 per cent of Toronto’s housing market. The company also relayed that 46 per cent of the rentals were less than 30 days annually. This shows that people most likely use Airbnb to rent out their homes while they work abroad or are on vacation. Airbnb proves that it differs from a hotel service because most hosts are only using the service occasionally rather than as a principal business. Airbnb also pointed out that the typical home listing earned $6.650 in the last year, which would divide into $550 per month. A long-term rental would make a landlord substantially more money, which further shows that hosts are not using the Airbnb service in place of renting out their home to a possible tenant.

How are other cities approaching Airbnb?

Other cities have adopted regulation approaches, with the most extreme being New York having outright banned short-term rentals. Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia have introduced regulations that ensure short-term rental hosts pay hotel and sales taxes for using the service. Chicago, London and San Francisco have put a cap on the number of nights per year that a property can be rented short-term. Vancouver is also in the process of introducing regulations to license short-term rentals that will allow an unlimited number of stays as long as it is the principal residence of a host.

Toronto is set to regulate temporary rentals in Spring 2017, although the details are still unknown. Licensing the various business ventures could have its merits, but restricting short-term rentals to avert the housing crisis will not work. By mandating that a host only use their principal residence, and limit the number of nights for short-term stay, it ensures that a host is not using their own home as a hotel, but is instead trying to make an extra buck when they are away from work. On the other hand, strict measures such as banning or taxing short-term rentals prevents people living in an expensive city like Toronto from profiting from their already pricey homes. Either way, the housing crisis remains and focusing on controlling short-term rentals seems to be merely a distraction from the lack of affordable housing that plagues Toronto’s future.