Airbnb began in 2008 when founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia put three air mattresses on the floor of their San Francisco loft and rented them out to attendees of an industrial design conference. At the time, they had no idea it would lead to a multi-billion dollar business; they were just looking to scrape enough money together to make that month’s rent payment.
But over the past eight years, it has rapidly become a popular booking site for visitors and an appealing income-generating stream for homeowners. According to an article in Fast Company, Airbnb now has more listings than any hotel chain in the world. Statistics on the Airbnb blog suggest that 17 million people used Airbnb in the summer of 2015 alone. Even more alarming, travellers who use Airbnb are unlikely to ever go back to staying at hotels according to Bloomberg. So it almost goes without saying that Airbnb presents a significant challenge to the hospitality industry.
To compete effectively, it’s important for hoteliers to know what Airbnb users seek. For many, Airbnb is synonymous with adventure, authenticity, and good value. What can hoteliers take away from this? Here are a few ideas.
Airbnb users like the balance between self-service and host support
Part of Airbnb’s appeal is becoming a participant in, rather than an observer of, the neighbourhood. Travellers want to feel like they belong, and living in an apartment on a quiet side-street, away from the hubbub of touristy areas, provides that experience in spades. But at the same time, they have the comfort of knowing their hosts are only a click of a button away. It’s a delicate balance between self-service and relying on the host’s support.
What can hotels do? Consider making as many amenities self-service as possible —Hotel News Now suggests digital check-in and check-out. But at the same time, emphasize the high level of service available, should guests require it. Hotels are staffed, after all, with an army of employees whose primary responsibility is looking after the needs of guests.
They have Airbnb’s Guidebooks and Neighborhoods at their disposal
With these features, Airbnb offers guests an incredible wealth of information about their destinations. Hosts have the option of creating a guidebook to their neighbourhoods, in which they can list not only their favourite local haunts — like the cozy coffee shop down the street, or the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves amazing pho — but also mundane, yet necessary, amenities such as pharmacies.
Meanwhile, the Neighborhoods feature gives guests an overview of the city they’re staying in, then breaks it down into the city’s individual neighbourhoods. Full of pictures, descriptions of the neighbourhood’s personality, and handy tips — such as travel times to the airport — the neighborhoods feature allows guests to consider their travel preferences and pinpoint the neighbourhood that will best cater to them.
What can hotels do? Remember that your staff are locals too, and their knowledge rivals that of any Airbnb host. Encourage them to explore the neighbourhood where the hotel is located so they can offer their recommendations — especially those off the beaten track — to adventurous guests.
The general public believes that Airbnb gives them more bang for their buck than traditional hotels. But is that really true? The Bank of America suggests not — in fact, the opposite appears to be the case. In many instances, it found that “listings on the site are actually more expensive on average across the top 25 US markets, and even pricier elsewhere in America.” Nonetheless, the perception persists that there is a major price discrepancy.
What can hotels do? This can be a tricky one for hotels to navigate, especially when contracts with OTAs are factored in. Nevertheless, there are a few things hotels can do, such as offer guests discounts or perks for booking direct wherever possible, and putting their loyalty programs front and centre.
They get the local experience
Artisanal goods are back in vogue, while mass produced is out. Most travellers want to see the famous landmarks and stroll iconic streets, but they also want a local touch in their shopping, dining, and snacking.
What can hotels do? Know, promote, and integrate parts of the neighbourhood into the hotel. Are there any local craft beers and wines you can stock in the minibar? Handmade soaps and shampoos for the shower? Artisanal candies and snacks for the hungry guest? There are plenty of opportunities to add a local touch to your hotel.
They have constant communication between guest and host
Airbnb offers a reliable stream of communication between guest and host using the service’s in-app messaging feature. Guests have the comfort of knowing their host is accessible and able to respond to requests at the touch of a button.
What can hotels do? Make an effort to communicate with guests before, during, and after their stay. Guests don’t want to feel like they’re staying at a monolithic hotel that doesn’t care about their needs; they want to feel welcome and at home. Go the extra mile and use a mobile guest engagement platform so they can be in touch whenever they need something.