For sheer chutzpah, it’s difficult to beat Airbnb’s announcement that is expanding its home sharing platform to offer holistic travel experiences.
Not content with disrupting the hotel trade, the hosting service wants to put its live like a local stamp on the global tourism sector, in a pitch for the complete customer journey including ultimately flights, restaurants, groceries and Uber.
With 2.3m listings globally, listings-wise Airbnb is already bigger than Hilton Worldwide, Intercontinental and the recently merged Marriott and Starwood Hotels. The impact of its expansion on travel websites such as Trip Advisor has yet to be analysed but businesses in this sector should be concerned. Here are four ways in which hotel groups and travel websites can fight back:
1. Offer deep personalisation
With its aim of becoming a travel super-brand, Airbnb risks diluting its trademark quirky, personalised approach. Big hotel chains and travel websites should respond by meticulously tracking customers’ digital footprint from choice of airline to mini bar selections. Armed with contextual information, they can make relevant and detailed suggestions around customers’ choices both big (holiday type) and small (favourite wine in mini bar) so that returning customers feel recognised and welcomed. The best in class hotels and travel sites could curate bespoke door-to-door experiences precisely matching guests’ budgets, interests and available time, to offer memorable, branded experiences.
2. Reinvent loyalty schemes
These tend to be corporate, boring and geared to keeping guests in the hotel footprint. A reimagined loyalty scheme could unlock much more relevant guest rewards. For example; individually tailored discounts to hand-picked restaurants, premier tickets to popular attractions or exclusive VIP content.
3. Market consistency and convenience
Airbnb is great for variety but hotel chains and travel websites are well placed to offer consistency of experience for those customers who prefer to know what to expect. Hotels and travel websites should also major on convenience, using smart tech to constantly innovate apps that help returning guests avoid check-in queues, seamlessly connect to Wi-Fi and enable keyless entry to hotel rooms.
4. Leverage local knowledge and connections
Airbnb has been smart in creating a distribution platform for locals offering interesting trips and experiences. Travel websites also do this but now need to raise their game both in terms of presentation and the type of trips on offer. Meanwhile hotel groups can leverage their home territory advantage and real world connections to offer guests money can’t buy experiences. These could range from sold-out tickets to a concert, gig or match, to a table at the city’s coolest new restaurant.
Commenting on the launch of Trips, Airbnb global chief of hospitality Chip Conley explained how Airbnb is “innovating in a way that’s going to force other companies to rethink how they’re doing business.” The travel and hospitality sectors must rise to Conley’s challenge and disrupt Airbnb right back.