No Room At The Inn: The Economies Of Scale Of Travel Housing

Shortly before the Feast of Tabernacles, a man and his pregnant wife traveled from their hometown several days to the area where the two of them had ancestors to take an oath of allegiance to a proud ruler. When they got there, the woman’s time came to give birth, and there was no room at the inn, and so, famously, this family had to sleep with the farm animals in the stable, which we know better as the manger. As it is written in Luke 2:1-7: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Later on, this family when this family was visited by some wise men from the East (likely from the area of the Parthian Empire), their living situation was different, as it is written in Matthew 2:10-12: “When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”

In the ancient world, inns were generally viewed as housing of last resort. People who traveled around frequently, like the Apostle Paul, greatly preferred to stay with people in their own homes rather than trust their lives and sacred honor to innkeepers, who were regularly rated as a type of thief. The book of Philemon, which involves two requests from Paul, first that he free the runaway slave ONesimus and second, that he prepare a room for Paul, who expected to be released soon from imprisonment. In our contemporary period, despite the threat of bedbugs, hotels are generally considered far more comfortable places to stay then they were in the ancient world. Nevertheless, there remains a great difference in terms of the economic cost of rooming in a hotel as opposed to living in a rented house. As is often the case when I talk about travel, I would like to talk about my own personal experience, because I have a wealth of travel experience relating to questions of the economies of scale.

Every year, I travel to various places for the Feast of Tabernacles. Although, somewhat notoriously and very unfortunately, I am a single man, I strongly dislike traveling alone. Although my reasons for this are primarily personal, relating to my rather serious longings for belongingness and love (if one wants to borrow the language of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), there are also sound economic reasons for this personal preference, and they relate to the economies of scale. My plans for the upcoming Feast of Tabernacles relate very strongly to this particular concern. Recent personal drama among my circle of friends has meant that I will be traveling to Colorado for the Feast of Tabernacles in a party of nine people. Having finalized the people that are going with us, we ended up making housing arrangements for us, seeking to insure that all of the adult guys had their own beds, so that the sleeping arrangements, at least, could work out. This led to an easy comparison between the costs of traveling as a single person or traveling as part of a larger group. The housing that we found ended up costing about $140 a person for the entire Feast. Now, if I were staying at Bedbug Hotel or Fleabag Motel (like The Hub in Redmond, to give an example), a hotel would cost about $45 to $60 a day, depending on the Feast site, for a single man. At such an expense, it would only take about three days or so to cost more than renting part of a house for an entire Feast, with a vastly more enjoyable living situation, by virtue of not being alone. (This is, of course, assuming that one enjoys the people one is staying with.)

Why is this the case? Renting a house generally costs slightly more than renting a high-end hotel room, but the size of houses is generally much higher than the size of even large hotel rooms, unless one gets into very expensive penthouse suites. Yet one can easily obtain rental houses to house nine or ten people, but finding hotels at half that size is immensely difficult. The reasons for this are somewhat straightforward. For one, hotels are designed to house many small groups of people with minimum amenities, while houses are designed for family units with more normal living. The economies of scale of a hotel mean that to profit off of rooms, one needs to make large numbers of rooms relative to one’s area, which means that hotels often have quite a few floors and rectangular floor plans (sometimes built around a middle courtyard). Yet for travelers themselves the economies of scale work in the opposite direction–The more people one has, the cheaper large houses are, but the more expensive in comparison hotel rooms are, because one needs to continually add hotel rooms for every 4 or 5 people one has in one’s party. As a result, it is beneficial for single people, if they want the most reasonable and enjoyable housing possible, to aggregate into larger groups with friends. This is a test of cohesion, but a worthy test, with worthy results. If one can manage the task successfully, one can let the economies of scale work, instead of having them work against oneself.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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