Want a predictable room in a central location? A hotel is the way to stay. But travelers desiring something special probably look and book elsewhere. The growing popularity of online home-sharing services like Airbnb, Onefinestay, and HomeAway has hotel chains scrambling.
Home-sharing services burst onto the lodging scene in 2008. These services match people wanting a place to stay with those having places to rent. Non-traditional home-sharing options are already eroding hotel profits.
Hotel chains are responding in different ways. Hilton won’t even dabble in the business. Hyatt recently ended a money-losing partnership with luxury home-sharing company Oasis. But Marriott is expanding its home-sharing offerings in four cities.
Analysts say hotels are wise to try home-sharing. After all, customers want options, says Steve Caron of Choice Hotels. Choice is entering the home-sharing market too. It’s partnering with RedAwning, a company with 20,000 rental properties.
Home-sharing has some financial advantages for hotel companies. For example, home-sharing customers are usually leisure travelers. They stay twice as long as typical hotel customers. Hotel companies can also charge more for entire homes.
But putting people in homes scattered around town challenges the normal hotel business model. Think about it: Cleaning and stocking different homes costs more than keeping up with multiple rooms in one location.
Marriott claims its brand can improve the home-sharing market—and offer perks like fully reviewed properties, fluffy white towels, and popular loyalty programs.
On a one-month trip to Buenos Aires this summer, Craig Sowerby tried an Oasis home-share (the one Hyatt dumped). It was far nicer than the Airbnb he rented later. But he wasn’t impressed with the service. He had fresh towels and sheets weekly but no wifi. Sowerby says simply offering a “more expensive Airbnb” won’t work.
As hotels experiment, so do home-share agencies. In fact, Airbnb is making some hotel-like changes. In September, Airbnb partnered with a Thai hotel association and added rooms from 50 hotels to its offerings. The company is also trying to adopt certain standards for what guests can expect by introducing “Airbnb Plus.” Plus properties must pass a quality inspection.
In a capitalist society, competition often spurs rivals to make improvements—like providing better quality and more options. This keeps customers coming back instead of straying to the competition.
Daniel Mount teaches hospitality at Pennsylvania State University. He thinks hotels should keep developing home-sharing—even if it doesn’t promise big profits. He says, “I don’t think five years from now, hotels want to look back and say, ‘Wow, we should have done that five years ago.’”