Most travelers pack an extra pair of socks, a rainy day itinerary, and some spare cash, planning for the worst when on vacation.
Few have to worry about preparing a contingency plan for their accommodations if an Airbnb host decides they don’t approve of their lifestyle.
But when Frenchman Matthieu Jost and his partner rented a room in Barcelona through the popular rental site Airbnb, they didn’t expect the uncomfortable welcome they received.
Jost explained that the host was not aware he and his partner were a gay couple, and the situation prompted them to return home to Paris the next day.
The events led Jost to launch Misterbnb in 2013, a website providing short-term rentals for gay travelers.
A similar story in Galveston, Texas, earlier this year, led to the removal of an Airbnb host who kicked out a gay couple.
While Airbnb doesn’t tolerate discrimination, it’s difficult to police more than 1.5 million listings worldwide.
And despite a video campaign in June to promote LGBT travel by Airbnb, the fact is that discrimination still exists even in places that have achieved marriage equality, like France and the United States.
Spending on the increase
For Jost, the solution was a website designated as a safe space for gay men to rent apartments without any hesitation.
While they might be missing a trick by focusing on gay men rather than the wider lesbian and trans community – unlike rivals such as gayhomestays.com – they’ve become the world’s largest gay hotelier in just two years.
Misterbnb most recently opened in Belgium this summer, and the site is present in more than 130 countries with some 33,500 hosts offering roofs to travelers.
The site’s growth coincides with increased travel spending by the LGBT community, especially as marriage equality spreads through North America, Europe and parts of South America.
According to marketing consultants Out Now Global, the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval of marriage equality will result in an addition $4.25 billion spent annually by gay travelers to the States.
LGBT travel already accounts for roughly $21.5 billion in the United States, with France and Spain each tallying just north of $6.5 billion, according to advisory group LGBT Capital.
“The total value of the top 14 markets is $202 billion,” says Out Now’s lead consultant Ian Johnson.
Misterbnb is looking to tap into the huge spending potential of LGBT consumers, which the Out Now estimates at $3.7 trillion.
“We realized that the brand is already one of the biggest gay brands in the world and that’s really exciting,” says Jost.
Security and socializing
The site functions like Airbnb, though users are mostly gay males.
Hosts are not always gay, but proclaimed as gay-friendly, a difficult thing to verify, but something that Jost and his team do their best to monitor.
“Our company is gay and our hosts are gay-friendly. We are the only website that can guarantee that,” adds Jost.
It may seem a bit niche to have a site dedicated to gay rentals, but for guests and hosts, it’s not just about security, but also socializing.
Radoslav Soth, a Czech national and host in Brussels, began using the website after several uncomfortable experiences renting through other home-share sites.
“The fact that I rarely could talk or ask about anything related to the gay scene didn’t made my visits very enjoyable, and for all these reasons I left the ‘mainstream’ traveling or renting websites for Misterbnb,” Soth says.
Forgoing hotels, which he deems too sterile, Soth now almost exclusively travels using Misterbnb, even staying with former guests who have used his flat in Brussels.
For him, it’s a way to feel like a local, and also to feel in touch with the gay scene, whatever the destination.
“The firsthand advice or tips from locals on parties, bars, and other events are much more valuable than any printed or online gay tourist guide one can find,” he says.
Much like Airbnb, Misterbnb is subject to local laws.
When Airbnb began collecting tax from travelers booking a room or flat in Paris in October, Misterbnb followed suit.
The tax equates to 95 cents per guest, per night, but adds up considering Paris has some 50,000 Airbnb listings available – more than any other city.
By comparison, Misterbnb has nearly 2,500 Parisian listings, a number that grows daily.
Beyond ‘gay destinations’
Jost explains that the concept has spread worldwide, but not always as he expected.
San Francisco, for example, has been a particularly difficult market for his team to enter, despite being seen as one of the gay-friendliest cities in the United States.
But there are also positive surprises, like in Bangkok, where properties popped up without any marketing effort.
The website advertises various known “gay destinations” – like Soho in London, the Marais in Paris or Le Village in Montreal – but hosts also offer properties beyond the typical gay neighborhoods.
The team has grown from one to 16 members in just two years, and is continuing to ramp up activity in its 130 countries.
So far, Jost says the site hasn’t had to use its travel insurance yet, with only one guest complaining about the cleanliness of a property.
Hosts like Soth are happy to use the site to earn a bit of extra money, but also to put human contact back into travel in an era where selfie sticks and audio guides are erasing the need to communicate directly with people.
For Soth, the social aspect has been the most rewarding.
“I find the best part about hosting is making new international friends, multiplying contacts abroad, as well as the feeling of helping other people to get the best experience as a gay visitor in another city,” he says.
Bryan Pirolli is a freelance journalist based in Paris.