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Pan Am games not the cash grab Airbnb hosts were hoping for

Workers erect giant letters spelling out Toronto in Nathan Phillips Square as they prepare for the Pan Am Games, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. The 2015 Pan Am Games officially open in Toronto on July 10.
With the successful execution of Toronto’s Pan Am games and the Olympic bid deadline fast approaching, the possibility seems within arm’s reach. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

TORONTO – The 2015 Pan Am Games were billed as an economic boon not just for Toronto, but for the hotel, entertainment and tourism industry. In this day and age, that includes Airbnb property owners – everyday residents who rent out rooms or entire residences to travellers.

Organizers estimated there would be around 250,000 visitors headed to Toronto for the Games, but tourism officials have admitted advanced booking of hotel rooms hasn’t materialized as they would have hoped

According to the Greater Toronto Hotel Association, some hotels are experiencing lower occupancy than normal in July.

READ MORE: Will the last-minute traveller save the Pan Am Games?

And Airbnb property owners aren’t having much luck either – at least not when it comes to the Pan Am Games.

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Global News spoke with three Airbnb property owners, only one of whom was fully booked during the Games.

Each property owner said not one prospective renter inquired about the Pan Am Games specifically. (Global News has withheld the names of the Airbnb hosts for privacy reasons.)

One Airbnb host, whose property is located in the heart of the downtown core at Queen and Spadina, said he was booked solid May through June – but his next booking isn’t until July 20, toward the end of the Games. His other rental, a private room, hasn’t been booked either.

Another property owner, who has two properties on the room-sharing website, also said that he has hasn’t had anyone inquire about renting specifically for the Pan Am Games.

However, he believes that the lack of business lies in the number of hosts.

“The one factor that I think may be hidden is the supply and demand,” he told Global News. “The choice has gone up significantly.”

This week, Airbnb said it has seen property listings grow to more than 4,500 in the city of Toronto. It’s not clear if that number if specific to the downtown core, or to the Greater Toronto Area. But the property owner we spoke to believe that number is much higher.

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In May, Ian McHenry, co-founder and president of Beyond Pricing, told the Toronto Star that Airbnb property listings in Toronto have almost tripled over the last year.

Airbnb host Calin Timariu was the only Airbnb host we spoke with who was fully booked during the Pan Am Games – but, once again, he said none of his guests were staying in the city for the sporting event.

“We’re always booked up in the summer – the amount of people that come to Toronto in the summer is insane. There is a lot of demand,” said Timariu.

“We wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if there wasn’t a Pan Am Games.”

Hotel vacancies could mean good deals for hotels and locals

Despite the lack of Pan Am-related demand for rooms in the city, HotelTonight founder and COO Jared Simon says it’s still possible for hotels to fill their rooms and make profit, even if it’s last minute.

“It’s very difficult to predict what demand is going to be like for hotels so they have to make a bet – sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong,” Simon told Global News.

“Right now [hotels] may be saying they are going to be sold out [for the Games] – but there is always some movement and hotels are never truly sold out. We give them the option to take those extra rooms that aren’t being sold and find someone who is interested.”
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The HotelTonight app allows users to book hotel rooms based on their location. You can choose to book a room the night of, or up to seven days in advance.

The app presents customers with deals on hotel rooms, while allowing the hotel chain to profit on the rooms they haven’t sold. But, unlike competitors such as Hotwire.com – which allows users to book last minute hotels – you are able to see the hotel you are choosing, or search based on the type of room you are looking for. In the mood for a swanky room with lots of amenities? Pick the “luxe” option. Just looking for a place to lay your head? Choose basic.

But Simon thinks the app could be useful for Torontonians looking for an escape from the Pan Am-pandemonium.

“With events like these, for locals, it becomes a mess,” he said, pointing out Toronto’s traffic issues.

“We launched in London right ahead of the Olympics in 2012 and we did that for a reason – because it’s a great opportunity for locals to have a little staycation in addition to people travelling from other locations because it became a mad house.”

With a file from The Canadian Press