Imagine a strictly Kosher Airbnb within walking distance of a shul that allows you to check out motzoei Shabbos and provides you with siddurim and seforim. A difficult, if not impossible, find? Not anymore.
That’s because of a new app called JStay. Using a model similar to Airbnb, JStay is a travel app designed to make vacation rental bookings easier and more convenient for the Jewish traveler by taking Jewish essentials into account and incorporating them onto its platform.
JStay was founded by Sholli Kestecher in 2019. Kestecher drew on his own experience in the property management industry to create a platform that he believes will appeal to Orthodox Jews.
I interviewed Sholli Kestecher to learn more about JStay in anticipation of its official launch.
JStay has many features comparable to Airbnb. Guests can search for condos, homes, villas and cottages in various locations around the world. Hosts describe their properties and upload pictures. Bookings take place on the app. JStay has a chat feature as well, enabling the guest and host to send and receive messages, and a rating system for guests and hosts.
Sounds like a typical vacation rental app, but JStay comes with other notable features created specifically with the religious traveler in mind.
Hosts can categorize their listings as strictly kosher, standard kosher or non-kosher. Guests can filter their search results based on their kosher preferences. While standard kosher and non-kosher listings have instant bookings, strictly kosher homes require an extra step in the booking process. In the case of a strictly kosher rental, guests request the apartment, and JStay contacts them prior to booking approval.
Guests can also filter their search results based on the listing’s distance to kosher stores, restaurants, mikvaos and shuls. Hosts have the option to include a myriad of other unusual amenities too, such as offering the use of a menorah, candlesticks or a Pesach kitchen, or providing Jewish reading material, siddurim or seforim. If the area has an eruv, the platform encourages the host to mention it on the listing. Hosts also enumerate the number of beds per room, enabling several families to share a big home for an extended family Shabbos or Yom Tov getaway.
Check-in on Fridays is generally two hours before Shabbos begins, and check-out is at least an hour after Shabbos concludes. To incentivize hosts, the platform also has a feature allowing hosts to automatically raise the price for Shabbos and Yom Tov due to the atypical check-in and check-out times.
For eligible travelers, JStay also offers a refund on the VAT tax on Israeli properties.
JStay is free to download for hosts and guests. JStay takes a percentage of the booking fee (three percent from hosts and seven percent from guests) only after the booking is complete. Hosts can upload properties anywhere in the world.
As with most vacation rental platforms, JStay incorporates policies to protect hosts and guests. For example, when someone books a home, JStay holds the money until the following day, after which the platform processes the fee and sends it to the host. In this way, should there be an issue, the guest and/or host has a chance to contact JStay to remedy the situation.
While JStay’s focus is currently on vacation rentals, Kestecher sees JStay as much larger than an app to book short-term property rentals. He wants it to eventually encompass everything related to the Jewish travel experience, and plans are already in place to expand JStay’s product and service offerings.