The “new” Airbnb is looking more and more like a hotel company. What will you do about it?
A few years ago when the Airbnb hype first started, I remember saying something along the lines of, “Next thing we know, Marriott will start branding houses and even guestrooms and couches.” And I know I said it with some sort of “isn’t this completely preposterous?” air, and I’m sure that whatever the context was, I was trying to get a laugh.
Now, a few years later, I want to revisit that idea. This time I’m a lot more serious about it, given Airbnb’s latest news about higher-tier designations, a loyalty program, new categories and more formalized hotel listings.
With these latest moves, Airbnb—and I’m saying “Airbnb” with a capital “A,” not “airbnb" as a generic, collective noun standing for all of those alternative-accommodation platforms like VRBO, HomeAway, etc.—is becoming an even bigger threat to your guest share.
For a while a lot of people talked about Airbnb being more like an OTA channel than a hotel. “Let’s make them Expedia’s competition, not ours,” you said. And yes, in many ways, Airbnb is a distribution channel, but now I believe they’re much closer on the spectrum to a modern hotel company than they are an OTA. Think about it: They’re a brand company. They don’t own real estate, but they channel guests to stay at privately owned real estate. They cast a wide net to get global inventory of privately owned real estate. They market that privately owned real estate for owners, they collect a fee on booking, and now they administer a loyalty program and have established some brand standards.
I mean, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck …
Frankly, I think Airbnb’s latest moves are a far more obvious slap in the face of the traditional hotel industry than we give them credit for. They’re putting a lot of marketing money and technology infrastructure and effort behind high-end and unique stays—boutique hotel-style experiences, honeymoon experiences, group party experiences. They know, like you in the hotel industry know, that’s where the money and demand is.
Sure, they’ll keep listing couches, but make no mistake—these latest moves are about Airbnb acknowledging the rise of privately owned homes that are managed exclusively as lodgings.
And believe me, they know the shoe’s about to drop when it comes to the whole “level playing field” argument. There will be years of court cases, to be sure, and lots of money spent, but in the end Airbnb will still be here and they will look even more like an asset-free hotel franchise company.
It’s time—it’s past time—to think about what you’re going to do about it. Maybe nothing. That’s fine. Maybe that’s not your competition.
I think most big brands, though, feel differently. That’s why I think we’re seeing a new soft brand collection launching every five minutes—hotel companies know this is a relatively quick way to grow unit size and to dabble in the field of unique and different. Soft brands appear to be many companies’ answers to Airbnb.
And some companies—I’m looking at you, AccorHotels and Hyatt Hotels Corporation—are doing more and really going after the (legitimate, above-ground) home-rental experience.
Those are the companies that will compete against Airbnb.
I doubt others will make the moves these companies have made into home rental. I just don’t see it happening. And that’s fine—great companies know how to address competition and choose their battles … and which stakeholders are most important to make happy.
And hey, the option to franchise residential guestrooms and couches is still there, right? I mean, logistical and legal nightmare, sure, but in case anyone’s interested, I’d say my guestroom is a solid Courtyard by Marriott, though my breakfast is way more Embassy Suites by Hilton.
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