The Austin City Limits Festival always gives the city a chance to show off a little to out-of-town visitors, but with the rise of sites such as CouchSurfing, AirBnB and Craigslist that connect travelers with places to stay, it’s not just downtown and South Congress that get attention anymore. Austinites are taking festival-goers into their homes and beneath the surface of the city’s eclectic exterior, and whether they’re simply offering guests a place to crash or cooking them breakfast and chauffeuring them to the festival, visitors now have access to a more personal side of Austin.
“I just wanted to make it a little bit more appealing,” said Kandice Garibay, 26, who is trying to rent out a room in her house this weekend. “So I threw [rides and breakfast] in there. I wanted to kind of stand apart a little bit with the whole giving people rides thing. It can be a pain in the butt to try and find a way to the park.”
Breakfast and a ride might be what it takes to catch the attention of travelers in need of a place to stay. A quick Craigslist housing search for “ACL” results in at least 1,000 houses, apartments and rooms, each one available to book for the festival weekend and the days leading up to it. Prices are all over the board, ranging from cheaper $175 “ACL Crash Pads” to luxurious, downtown condos complete with granite countertops and access to the on-site saltwater pool.
It’s a quick way to make cash for local residents, but it’s especially lucrative for the hospitality business. Most hotel rooms, besides vacancies from cancellations, vanished in the summer or before. The Austin Motel’s 41 rooms filled up three months ago, just one hour after they began to take reservations for the festival weekend.
“It seems like everybody is pretty booked,” said Luke Cullins, assistant manager of the Austin Motel. “Especially when it gets this close, if people aren’t on the ball, they’re out of luck with hotels. I tell them you have to be on the ball if you want a room. You have to call places pretty early.”
Apparently, the same concept applies to potential hosts — be on the ball and post a listing early or get lost in the flood.
Garibay, despite the perks she offers in her ad, hasn’t found anyone to stay at her house yet. She said that when it gets this close to the festival, Craigslist becomes completely inundated with offers. Sarah Tabor, who posted an advertisement on Craigslist for her bedroom on Sept. 10, is in the same situation.
“I haven’t really gotten too many responses for ACL,” said Tabor. “It’s kind of a bummer.”
She said that it was different with South by Southwest, which was the first time she opened up her house to strangers. She and her roommates posted their listing the week of the festival and ended up with nine to 12 people (“depending on who came home that night”) spread out across their living room floor. She attributes this to the fact that ACL, which reported about 75,000 people in attendance in 2010, is smaller than South by Southwest, which brings hundreds of thousands to downtown Austin.
Nevertheless, Tabor is hopeful that some last minute stragglers will take her up on her offer. Renting out her bedroom, which she has listed for $175, will not only give her some extra cash this month, but she said it’s a good way to make connections. She said she used couchsurfing.com to find a place to stay while road-tripping to New York last summer and had a great time with her host, who took her out and showed her around Tennessee.
“You can definitely meet some cool people,” Tabor said. “As long as I don’t need something too private, I would always try to stay with someone [from Craigslist]. You never know who you’re going to meet, and it could open some kind of door for you.”
Of course, there’s a dark side to staying with a stranger. TechCrunch reported in July that people who listed their homes on AirBnB, a service that connects travelers with housing, have returned home to find their places trashed or worse.
AirBnB has begun to deal with situations like this, introducing a policy in August that covers up to $50,000 in losses or damage. Craigslist — Garibay and Tabor’s chosen service — offers no such insurance plan.
Tabor asked for a $75 deposit in her ad, just in case something gets damaged or stolen, and Garibay, who didn’t request a deposit, said that first impressions are an important factor in deciding what feels right.
“You can get a lot from a person just based on that first interaction,” Garibay said. “And if you don’t get a good one, just sort of politely decline. You don’t want to piss anybody off either. People can be crazy.”
For the most part, however, Garibay said that gracious, respectful guests aren’t hard to come by, especially if hosts go the extra mile to make them feel comfortable.
“Make them feel really welcome,” Garibay said. “For me, it’s just cook dinner and chitchat, just try to be as helpful as I can. At the end of the day, people are traveling, and they want to experience a new town. Sharing that excitement with them is pretty awesome. If you can do that, it’s a good thing.”