A hotel is a well-oiled machine that has anticipated the needs of business travelers for many years. It’ll be difficult for the sharing economy to steal that business.
In Wednesday’s issue of Hotel News Now’s Tech Impact Report, we ran an infographic that spells out whether consumers trust the sharing economy, particularly the lodging sector. The data was pulled from a recent Hooyu survey in which a majority of the respondents said they are uncertain about or have no trust in sharing-economy lodging offerings without knowing their host or guest.
The results of this survey got me thinking. One of the biggest consumers of travel is the coveted business traveler. I wonder how many of these respondents are avid business travelers? In case you haven’t heard, business travel is changing. But there’s one thing that remains the same: Business travelers still need reliability.
Last July, Airbnb announced a global expansion of its business travel program with the launch of a new product site that would make it easier for companies to book corporate travel. I remember the day this announcement was made because the office was abuzz with opinions. In our daily standup meeting, we thought of ways we could cover this from a hotel angle. What does it mean for hoteliers? Will business travelers start choosing Airbnb over hotels? Will Airbnb be able to offer the same reliability that hotels do?
The answer we came up with was to take the wait-and-see approach. It’s been almost a year since Airbnb made the announcement that it was going to up the ante with its business travel program, and I have to say I’m quite underwhelmed. Personally, I haven’t heard much about the program during the last year. It was almost like hoteliers were nervous for about a month, but the program has been slow to take off.
This week, the home-sharing company announced at its 2016 OpenAir conference in San Francisco that it was launching third-party bookings as a way to simplify business travel. Major companies often rely on a corporate travel agent when it comes to handling travel reservations, so this new feature will better accommodate that type of process.
While this new update could push Airbnb’s business travel program forward, the site will never match the reliability that hotels provide. There are three things, in my opinion, that will keep hotels at the forefront of the business traveler’s mind: loyalty points; Wi-Fi reliability; and access to necessary amenities such as a restaurants, communal lobbies, gyms and valet/concierge.
Ask any business traveler and they’ll tell you that they live and die by their loyalty points (and not just hotel loyalty—airline loyalty, too). While it’s not always the case for millennials and Gen Xers, the baby boomer generation definitely sees loyalty as a staple of its business travel experience.
This is something that the sharing economy cannot match. At least not yet. Most business travelers I talk to (and their backgrounds run the gamut) accrue those loyalty points so that they can later take trips with their families, or perhaps capitalize on a “bleisure” trip.
Countless surveys have come out over the years that put Wi-Fi at the top of travelers’ wish lists. As a millennial business traveler, I can say that nothing pains me more than getting to a place where the Wi-Fi connection is close to AOL dial-up speeds from my high school days. Granted, I used to sit and wait four hours for one song to download on Napster, but now I no longer have the patience.
I’m pretty sure the rest of the business-traveling world agrees with me. While a large portion of Airbnbs in urban locations advertise free Wi-Fi, they don’t have the expectation that a massive 500-plus room hotel does. Sure, I can read reviews from past Airbnb guests, but how do I know that they used the Wi-Fi in the same capacity that I did? There’s just a lot of uncertainty with connections. And a lot more room for error. With hotels that host large conferences, especially, you’ll never have to worry about that.
Well, for the most part. I know we’ve all had our run-ins with the front-desk staff when the Wi-Fi wasn’t working in our rooms. But we’ll save that for a later blog.
This is something that Airbnb is getting better at playing up, especially with the introduction of new host tools. But the fact of the matter is a hotel is a well-oiled machine. Hotels have been in the business of hospitality for decades, and owners and operators do all that they can to anticipate a guest’s needs.
Over the years, those anticipations have evolved the hotel into something much more than a place to just rest your head. Like I mentioned above, many business travelers have a certain lifestyle to maintain while on the road. Some business travelers spend half their working life sleeping at hotels, so to have necessary amenities such as gyms, restaurants and business centers is detrimental to providing them the comforts that they have at home. Some Airbnb hosts have gone above and beyond to provide the amenities a business traveler might need, but it’s not a large percentage.
I’m not sure that sharing-economy sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway will ever capture the business traveler’s loyalty. There will always be a market for it, and as more millennials and Generation Z members enter the business-travel world, that market could grow. But will it ever be as large as the hotel industry’s share of business travel? I’d be willing to bet not.
Every time I’ve contemplated Airbnb (or booked an Airbnb) it’s been for leisure purposes. Can you say the same? Let me know if you’d book an Airbnb for business travel in the comments section below.
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