As we move toward what will ideally be another stellar tourist season, those who are heading to Southwest Montana may still be firming up their travel plans, including where they will stay while on vacation. The old days of motel versus hotel or perhaps a bed and breakfast are gone. The newer model of accommodations still includes those choices, but adds in the addition of vacation rentals. It is both well-known and documented that tourism plays a vital role in our state's economy. The preliminary data for year-end 2016, provided by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research via the University of Montana, credits nonresident visitors spending an estimated $3.49 billion in the state. Of that total, 14% - approximately $488 million- is spent on lodging. This number exemplifies why "where to stay" is big business. You can further add to those figures the in-state spending as we Montanans travel and experience our own vast state. Yellowstone National Park is of particular consequence in our own backyard. Visitation numbers for 2016 once again broke records, weighing in at 4,257,177 visits. The out-of-area guests chose to either camp in the park, stay at lodging within the park, or find accommodations in the gateway cities. This year is anticipated to be another record year, so making reservations right away is highly recommended. Vacation rentals consist of a wide variety of property types. They are privately owned, furnished, and set up for guests to come right in and make themselves at home for their stay. Examples range from an apartment in the heart of the downtown hustle and bustle to a luxury home near a river or lake. Many of the options will require a multi-night rental, so if a traveler is passing through for just one evening, a hotel may remain a better option. Though vacation rentals have been around for decades, the perception of them has changed dramatically from being edgy to conventional. It is interesting to take note that statistics have been gathered on what types of people gravitate toward vacation rentals over hotels. Half of the consumers who are looking online will book within the same day that they start looking. Travelers use many forms of social media to plan their entire trip so if a rental owner or manager can provide above and beyond information on the area, they will stand apart from the crowd. So how do you find just the right property for your upcoming vacation or business trip? Property management companies advertise, handle bookings and payments, and take care of property maintenance on behalf of the owners. A top notch management company will ensure that there are quality consistency standards followed on all of their properties. Repeat business on well-kept properties and top notch reviews are what set companies apart. According to Chris Torsleff, Managing Partner of Stay Montana, the demand for vacation rentals has skyrocketed over the last five years. The industry segment is successful in that it has evolved using a hotel-like approach in areas such as adding amenities to the properties, utilizing concierge services, and providing a book now model. Airbnb is one example of an online travel agency (OTA) in which consumers have access to homes in approximately 35,000 cities and 200 countries. Booking is done online, and prices are generally less expensive than traditional hotels since there are fewer trimmings and overhead involved. The choices of "room" run the gamut from renting a bedroom in a home to arranging accommodations in a mansion. Travelers often opt for this mode of lodging because they feel it gives a better opportunity to experience how it feels to be a local in an established neighborhood versus in a well-established commercial section of a town. Other OTA leaders include VRBO, FlipKey, and HomeAway. This business model often receives attention with claims that private rentals erode the area's long term rental affordability and availability as well as taking business away from traditional hotels. These are issues that will continue to evolve and face scrutiny over permits and the like as the industry adapts to a new normal. Whether you are looking for a ski-in ski-out condo in the wintertime, a lakeside home for summer vacation, or an apartment with all the pulse of downtown living for a long, shopping weekend, finding a vacation rental may help provide the perfect experience for your needs.