Hoteliers learn from Airbnb, HomeAway
12 FEBRUARY 2014 8:40 AM
Some hoteliers are using sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway as another way to list rooms and learn about a new breed of traveler who seeks a unique experience.
GLOBAL REPORT—While some might fear alternative accommodation websites such as Airbnb or HomeAway could take demand from hotels, other hoteliers are using the sites as a creative way to book rooms and discover a new breed of traveler.
Kyle Lawrence, sales and marketing manager for Americas Best Value Inn, uses Airbnb as an alternative channel to sell rooms at his Seattle-area hotel, the 80-room Americas Best Value Inn and Suites Tukwila/SeaTac Airport in Washington. He looks at the site as just a different way to reach potential guests.
“I thought … we can treat (Airbnb) kind of like an (online travel agency). … And it’s just another way to differentiate yourself and get out there,” he said.
“It’s an easier process (than OTAs) because ... I have a one-on-one conversation with the person. With an OTA, it’s just somebody paying and coming in. But in this case, I’m able to get a complete understanding of what their needs are,” he said.
According to Airbnb’s website, travelers can search for options once they enter information such as destination, dates of travel and number of guests. When they find a place they’d like to book, travelers will then message the hosts to ask any questions and confirm availability. From there, travelers can book, and the hosts have 24 hours to respond.
Lawrence, who since 2012 has been using Airbnb as a traveler and listing his hotel since last summer, said the site poses an opportunity to customize the guest experience. He said the messaging feature on the website enables him to go above the call of duty. He can ask guests questions to discover what they like or get a hint of where they are from so he can make their visit special with the little things, such as making sure there are water bottles in the fridge or placing a gift bag in the room.
“It gives hoteliers, should they choose to use it, a way to make the guest experience better. And if the guest has a good experience, they can use that to not only give a good review on Airbnb but also a better review on other mediums, like TripAdvisor,” Lawrence said.
Shel Kimen, founder of Collision Works, said she’s interested in listing on Airbnb for her 45-room boutique hotel, which is under development. She said the site offers a service she believes would appeal to the type of audience her hotel, to be built from shipping containers, would likely attract. The site also offers travelers a community platform.
“It’s really well thought out,” Kimen said. “And that’s important for travel. You can only trust Yelp and TripAdvisor so much.”
She said when it comes to review sites like TripAdvisor, there is a lot of content that isn’t necessarily filtered. Guests can read those reviews but they don’t know they are reading reviews written by people similar to them.
“I think with Airbnb it’s a little easier to find your people, so to speak. You can really get a sense of a space by the types of reviews and the people who have written, and the other types of reviews they’ve written. I think it’s a nice social platform,” she said.
Although Lawrence said listing on Airbnb hasn’t resulted in an enormous amount of bookings, he sees a global value in the site.
“It seems like a conduit for a lot of overseas travelers who are wanting to come here,” he said.
And as for room rate?
“Right now it’s a little bit lower just because it’s not, at least during this time of year, a windfall of revenue; it’s not a major source,” Lawrence said. “If I’m using (Airbnb) to just fill vacant space, I can put a pretty generous price there. … But that’s money. It’s putting people in the door.”
Are hotels welcome?
HomeAway is an online marketplace, which, according to Co-founder and CEO Brian Sharples, is exclusively for home rentals.
“HomeAway … does not advertise hotel listings on its sites,” Sharples said via email.
However, a search for New York on the site brings up 8,784 results (as of press time). When the “more filters” button is selected, the listings are subcategorized. Within these subcategories is an option for “hotels,” with 34 listings. Upon further inspection, not all of those listings are actually for hotels, though some are. Hotels listed on the site, for example, include: the Affinia Dumont in Manhattan; The Benjamin; and the Holiday Inn Oneonta-Cooperstown in New York. (Hoteliers at these properties could not be reached as of press time.)
United Kingdom-based InterContinental Hotels Group, which owns the Holiday Inn brand, did not comment on whether listing on sites such as HomeAway and Airbnb are permitted within the parameters of its brand standards.
Although some hoteliers are using these websites to capture bookings, it might not be a way to circumvent OTAs anytime soon.
“We don't see HomeAway as a way to circumvent OTAs because we won't list traditional hotel inventory,” Sharples said. “However, to the extent hotels develop a vacation rental product, we are eager to assist them in their marketing of these units. We also consider OTAs to be potential distribution partners for HomeAway inventory in the future, and we are testing this now with Expedia.com.”
Chip Conley, Airbnb’s new head of global hospitality and founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, doesn’t see his company taking the place of the OTAs, either.
“Airbnb's strategy is to focus on hosts who want to open up their primary or secondary homes to guests,” he said via email, “so it's unlikely that we would be a distribution channel for hotels, other than maybe very small inns or bed and breakfasts.”
Sources said a learning opportunity from these alternative accommodation websites exists for hoteliers.
“I think you have to embrace change. I think you have to ask yourself, ‘What is the customer looking for?’ And if the customer is just truly looking for the cheapest rate, then maybe that’s not the customer you want,” said Jan Freitag, senior VP of strategic development at STR, parent company of Hotel News Now.
“If the customer is looking for a unique experience, then maybe you as a hotel have an opportunity to market your destination, your hotel, your room, your restaurant as part of that unique destination or experience,” he said.
“One of the reasons (travelers are) trying to get away with Airbnb is because they don’t want to just go to an expensive cookie-cutter room,” ABVI’s Lawrence said.
Sharples said the success of HomeAway proves there is significant demand for larger spaces, multiple bedrooms and kitchens for families and groups who travel.
“As such, hotels would be wise to consider adding inventory that fits within the vacation rental format,” he said. “Many, if not most, new resort developments are already doing this.”
“Beyond the lesson that guests are looking to feel like a local when they travel, I think Airbnb can teach hoteliers about how important technology is a more and more fundamental part of any travel business,” Conley said.
“Airbnb has only recently started doing any traditional advertising and relied primarily on word-of-mouth about the impressive technology platform and a variety of tech means to identify both hosts and guests,” he said.
“I’d say you can learn from a type of customer that you may be missing,” Lawrence said.