This study explores tourists’ acceptance of shadow hospitality (SH) and examines how individuals rationalize this acceptance. Based on deterrence theory and neutralization techniques (NTs), a theoretical model is proposed to support the development of strategies to control SH and its negative aspects. In-depth interviews with respondents from Greece, United Kingdom and Germany were carried out and analysed using template analysis. Five broad themes are identified explaining respondents’ acceptance of SH: economic benefits, domesticity, supporting local communities, seeking authentic experiences and uniqueness. Perceived quality, penalties and shame are the factors negatively influencing acceptance of SH. Although people appear to be aware of the issues associated with SH, various NTs are used to justify acceptance of SH and avoid (self-)blame. The research explains how tourists can be stimulated to consciously consider their purchasing behaviour. The various NTs employed suggest that governments and businesses need to develop various interventions to control SH and reduce its impact on the tourism sector. By developing a theoretical model, the study contributes to the understanding of tourists’ acceptance of SH and provides a foundation for further research in the increasingly popular but under-researched informal hospitality sector.