What Airbnb’s App Can Tell Us About Travel Messaging

In the past few months — perhaps even years — much has been made of Airbnb’s impact on the hospitality industry. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of travelers who stayed with an Airbnb host grew from 47,000 to 17 million per year. And in 2016, CEO Brian Chesky announced Airbnb’s new Experiences feature, which allows users to browse tours, outings, and activities led by locals. Rumor even has it that Airbnb is working on its very own flight booking tool.

So has Airbnb stolen a large piece of the hotel industry’s pie? Or has it had a minimal effect thus far? The industry still isn’t sure which is the reality. Some studies have shown that Airbnb has had a significant negative impact on hotel revenues, while others suggest that the situation is perhaps not as dire as many believe.

Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that Airbnb’s users are loyal to the brand. Reportedly, only 40 percent of travelers who have used Airbnb prefer traditional hotels. Roughly one-third of leisure and business travelers used Airbnb in 2015, a significant leap from the one in 10 who used it in 2011.

So what is it, exactly, that makes Airbnb’s app so appealing to travelers? We had a look at it, and we’ve come up with a few ideas.

Convenient Guest Communication

Much of the Airbnb experience is about self-service — a trend that appeals a great deal to the Millennial segment of travelers. Users can communicate with their hosts via text at any time using their mobile device, and each time a message appears in the host or guest’s inbox, they receive a push notification. The app keeps a record of all conversations between the user and host so that both parties can refer to older messages if necessary. The user can message or respond to hosts directly within the app, whether it’s to inquire about local attractions, confirm arrival times, or coordinate key pickup.

This kind of arrangement is all about convenience and preference. If the guest doesn’t want to communicate with the host at all during their trip, they don’t have to — but if they’d like to meet the host for dinner one night, then all they have to do is send a quick message.

Instant Feedback

Rating the stay is as easy as clicking a link in an email and filling out a short survey. In fact, Airbnb prompts all users to leave a review a few days after their trip has ended. Airbnb will not show reviews unless the guest and the host have both submitted feedback, which creates even more incentive for both parties to offer their opinions. In addition, guests can offer feedback at any time to Airbnb regarding the app and the company itself. This increases the number of reviews that hosts receive and, in turn, improves their selling power.

Booking Experiences

Airbnb’s Experiences feature is a bit like the hotel’s concierge. Guests can book activities, such as a food tour or city bicycle outing, directly from the app. They do not have to make a phone call or leave their accommodations. Unlike the concierge, there is a great deal of self-service involved, as users have to scroll through experiences to find the ones they want, but travelers clearly appreciate the convenience of using their mobile phones to book such experiences. The app even lets users message the hosts of these experiences to get more information.

Trip Management on a Single Device

Guests can manage almost their entire trip from their mobile phone. They can book accommodations and flights using apps. They can communicate with their hosts via messaging. They can also use their device to leave feedback after their trip is over. In a world where travelers view their mobile phone as their most indispensable travel companion, hotels mustn’t underestimate the importance of digital connectedness.

That said, hotels don’t necessarily need to build an app to effectively compete with Airbnb, as long as they get the communication part down pat. Various apps already have the booking and feedback aspects covered — so hotels only need to make single-device, end-to-end trip management possible for their guests through hotel messaging.

What Can Hotels Do to Replicate the Experience?

Perhaps the most important thing hotels can do to compete with Airbnb is offer guests the ability to text with hotel staff. With such a feature available to guests, they can compliment front-line staff for going above and beyond, request items and services, and express concerns about their stay. Moreover, they can get the concierge to secure them tickets for shows, tours, experiences—even when they’re off the property and can’t go to the front desk to ask. Messaging also allows both parties — hotel and guest — to retain a record of all communications with each other. That way, requests are less likely to fall through the cracks, resulting in happier guests and a higher score on online review websites.

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