One of the greatest challenges facing the hospitality industry today is the rising popularity of home-sharing services such as Airbnb.
The recent growth of these sub-segments has caught the industry slightly off guard because they provide a remarkable guest experience. Described as “the poster child of sharing” by Wired magazine, Airbnb claims an estimated valuation of $10 billion (USD) with a reported annual revenue of 250 million (USD). In one short year, Airbnb’s market share jumped from 15% to 19% among leisure travelers—and from 12% to 18% among business travelers. Even given this healthy expansion, the number of Airbnb users is projected to skyrocket even further to eventually capture 25% of the leisure and 23% of the business sectors by the end of the current year, according to Morgan Stanley Research.
An industry threat?
Established industry leaders, such as InterContinental Hotels’ CEO Richard Solomons or Four Seasons’ EVP Christopher Norton may brush off the threat posed to their brands by these rising startups; nonetheless, with the 90%+ satisfaction levels typically registered by Airbnb customers—and the surprising upsurge in the home sharing market in general— these hospitality titans would be wise to consider implementing some preemptive measures to protect their valuable franchises.
A NEW MINDSET?
The increasingly fast-paced, hyper-connected, on-demand lifestyles of today’s leisure travelers tend to mirror the more frenetic mindset traditionally associated with the business traveler. Consequently, travelers of all types now go to great lengths to seek out meaningful, unique, and personalized travel experiences. Increasingly, they prefer the individuality of the home-sharing model that seems to offer a variety of advantages versus traditional travel venues including:
- Authenticity of the experience
- Convenience (ease of use of website/app)
- And even SPACE! (why stay in a small room when you can have an entire apartment for the same price?)
The viral nature of this increasingly popular sub-segment may indeed impose a tangible threat to the established hotel industry for the foreseeable future.
While the solution in the past may have been to offer better value to guests, hotel managers should now consider rethinking basic elements of the hotel experience to attract this new consumer mindset. Hotel brand managers may wish to consider the following strategies as ways to propel their business in the face of this growing subsector of the hospitality market.
FIVE WINNING STRATEGIES TO HELP GROW YOUR HOTEL BRAND
1. STAY TRUE. STAY LOCAL. STAY SITE-SPECIFIC.
Whereas ten years ago the design and decoration of a hotel room in two very different parts of the world might have looked identical, hotels today are beginning to recognize that guests want a more genuine guest experience, as well as accommodations that are more reflective of the local cultural context.
Much of the popularity of the Airbnb model stems from this sense of feeling at home.
What travelers want from the home-sharing model is an intimate, non-manufactured experience directly influenced by their destination’s surroundings. If traditional hotel venues are to survive, designers must strive to logically include a sense of the local geographical elements in their designs such as climate, flora, fauna and terrain, as well as the cultural and historical elements consistent with the surrounding architecture of the region. The challenge is one of staying true to the brand’s identity while achieving a unique, site-specific design— without using a cookie-cutter approach or being too literal. In any case, the ultimate goal should be to offer an honest, authentic local experience in each and every location around the globe.
2. STAY IN TOUCH. INTERACT.
Improving the employee-guest interaction is one way to make the hotel experience more authentic through casual, personal contact such as offering local tips—just like any real-time host would do. One of the reasons many people choose the home sharing experience is to escape corporate, rehearsed, checklist exchanges.
3. GO BIG. GO SOCIAL.
A valuable advantage hotels hold over home shares is the ability to provide a sense of community— and specifically, offer a variety of public spaces where people can naturally gather together for social activities. Whereas a home share can place a guest directly in the heart of a local neighborhood, the setting itself can prove to be a solitary and isolating experience. Hotels should capitalize on their communal spaces and creatively market the sense of companionship and conviviality guests can experience in these large spaces when congregating with fellow travelers, while also rubbing elbows with the locals. Gladly embrace this difference.
4. STAY SUSTAINABLE.
Today’s younger generation is famously known for wanting to change the world and challenging the status quo. Millennials are very well informed and value sustainable consumption to the point where many are willing to pay more for products and services that are committed to creating a positive environmental impact. Even though home sharing services may have changed the industry, by going green, hotels also have the opportunity to cater to this growing younger demographic by offering eco-friendly alternatives and by promoting any sustainable policies implemented in their venues. Appealing to businesses to have conferences and meetings in eco-friendly venues will help establish the brand’s core values as a sustainable market leader, thereby increasing customer loyalty. As sustainability continues to rise in popularity and importance, going green will benefit hotels by reducing costs, gaining competitive advantages over the slower-to-adapt competition, and assist in risk management.
5. STAY REAL. STAY CONSISTENT.
Consumers value honesty. Sharing real, personal, sincere communication at all times improves guest experience and loyalty, contributes to a sense of community, and promotes solid, long-term customer relationships that will build business over time. Much of the success of the home-sharing model stems from the homeowners’ willingness to share— an act that goes beyond the physical act of the lending of living quarters to include the more social or even spiritual aspects of giving of self. Today’s hurried travelers yearn for that more personal touch: those social aspects of travel that have somehow been lost in the greater globalization and automation of the hospitality industry. In an era of reality television, virtual reality, and real-time everything, it looks like the overwhelming message to the hospitality industry is a rather simple one. It’s time to get real.