SPECIAL REPORT: Fad or future - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Travel fad or future

A new travel trend is sweeping the country. You can find it right here in central Wisconsin.

Vacationers are skipping out on hotels and opting for something a little less traditional.

It's enticing for many, but travel leaders say it's risky.

"The have their own little sitting area for morning coffee," said Shirley Lamer on a tour of her Tomahawk lake home.

The Lamer family calls it "The Cottage."

They open it up to strangers.

"They love the tall pines of the Northwoods and just the secluded atmosphere," said Lamer.

It started three years ago when the family hosted visitors coming to the area for the Fall Ride.

"It went really well and we thought 'Well, this worked nicely, maybe we'll see if we can get any guests during the summer, too,'" said Lamer.

They turned to websites like
Airbnb.com to post a room at "The Cottage," joining dozens of other openings from central Wisconsin.

"Definitely not a business. It's more a hobby," said Lamer.

Sites, like www.Airbnb.com, allow people to rent out rooms in their home and travelers to find a unique place to stay.

"I just think it's more personal, it's more comfortable, in this case they've got the whole outdoors and the lake to enjoy. It's not a run of the mill, cookie cutter place," said Lamer.

Lamer says it's becoming more popular, too.

"I think it's the future. I really do," said Lamer.

But that is a concern for some tourism leaders in the Northwoods.

"It's a significant impact to our business. We rely on the sales tax that is generated by hotel stays, private home stays, and resort stays in the community to market and do what we need to do to promote this area," said Kim Baltus, formerly with the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce.

But some in the Northwoods are using the site to promote their business, like Sill's Lakeshore.

Ron and Lori SIll own the resort in Minocqua.

"I think with the internet, the more you can get your name out there in any venue, the better it is of course," said Lori Sill. "So I'm really almost moving in on them if you look at it that way."

They say they even use these kind of sites to plan their own trips.

"I love it when we travel so that's probably part of it as well. We found some friends in Georgia that have now become great friends through a very similar website," said Lori Sill.

Tourism leaders warn it doesn't always work out so well.

"I think that people need to be careful when they're looking at some of these sites because many of these homes that are listed on the sites that are available are unlicensed, they're not regulated, they don't pay sales tax, and you're really taking a risk by staying there because you're essentially entering into a private home that has had no oversight," said Baltus.

Host Shirley Lamer admits it is a risk.

"Sometimes it's a gamble," said Lamer.

But she says it's a gamble worth taking.

"Meeting people, definitely not the cleaning, which I do myself, but no, meeting people. You just have fun talking with them," said Lamer.

Regulations for renting out rooms are not clear cut. They vary by county and even within counties, officials tell Newsline 9 it depends what zoning district the home is in.

For example, offenders in Lincoln County might receive a warning letter. In Oneida County, there is a $262 fine for renting out a room without a license.

Some tourism leaders say many renters consider the minimal penalty worth the risk.
You can check out these websites for yourself by clicking here and here.

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