What Airbnb Can Teach The Hotel Industry

If only we could go back in time — you know, B.A., “before Airbnb” disrupted the hotel industry and gobbled up billions of dollars in revenue that were diverted from traditional hotels. 

It’s tempting for hotels to want to blame Airbnb and make them out to be the villain. Here’s an idea: instead of thinking of the company as a source of frustration, try making their success a source of inspiration.

Since going back in time, to a pre-Airbnb era, is not an option, hotels and resorts are better off accepting and embracing the new ways of doing business that Airbnb’s success has ushered in. Hotels are looking at the case study of Airbnb and its unique approach to the guest experience, and are realizing that they have to make some changes. Many are seeking unique ways to connect with the increasingly digitally savvy millennials as well as Generation Z.

How can hotels reclaim their customers and recover their share of the market? How, in other words, can they turn a crisis into an opportunity? Here are eight lessons learned from Airbnb’s ascendancy that hotels can start applying today:

Looks Matter

Hotels can enhance the guest experience by introducing unique room types with different layouts and configurations. A rooftop bar appeals to almost all of your customer segments, especially millennials, and is an example of a feature that hotels alone can offer. Another is the idea of designing a custom space where guests can congregate, check their social media accounts, and enjoy a beverage.

A team with each member handling different functions and facets of your hotel is needed to drive a change project of this scope. The designer will drive the hotel of the future and is a key player who needs to be at the table from day one and involved in the entire process, especially when it comes to experiential elements. Nowadays, how your hotel looks and makes your guests feel is just as important as its list of amenities. It’s also important from a design perspective to ensure that your hotel authentically represents the community in which it resides.

Content is Marketing

Airbnb understood early on that content isn’t just how you satisfy a reader but it’s also how you attract an audience and build a brand. Their primary customers were travelers and potential hosts. Airbnb’s content marketing strategy focused on authentic and relevant experiences and included online contents, blogs, and city guides. One particularly successful strategy was producing a glossy magazine for Airbnb hosts which included profiles on artists, chefs, and other stories celebrating the passions of their community.

Hotel operators should borrow a page from Airbnb. Consider the different audiences you want to reach, from the business traveler to the millennial hipster to families. Tell a story — not a self-serving narrative about how great your hotel is, but a story that casts the customer as the hero and your hotel as the helpful guide who facilitates everything the customer needs to complete her journey.

Be Digital Driven

People tend to get one thing wrong about Airbnb. They commonly describe it as a hospitality company, while the people who run the company insist it is actually a technology company. Consider its interface: it’s intuitive, inviting, and interesting, which is not always the case with all hotel websites.

If you want your piece of the millennial pie, not to mention Generation Z, then enhancing your digital presence and capabilities is a non-negotiable. The younger generations seek a digital experience that is easy and efficient. Strive to provide an online experience that simplifies the pre-booking process and makes it a piece of cake for guests to uncover the information nuggets they’re looking for, as well as photos and visual elements that create an emotional connection with your hotel.

If your website is the first and most important contact point for your guests, then it deserves special treatment. Airbnb’s clean and well-organized interface did not happen by accident. Before it was ready for primetime, the home-sharing company tested different designs and configurations with customers and fine-tuned it based on their feedback. Granted, you may not have the big budget that Airbnb has, but there’s a lot you can do that won’t break the bank. Borrow a page from Airbnb by using user-generated and co-created content provided by your guests. Encourage them to post photos on their social media networks or contribute a guest blog for your website. Turn your guests into your very own focus group and make them your brand ambassadors.

Airbnb understands that the guest journey begins with research and planning, which increasingly occurs on a tablet or Smartphone. Prior to booking, guests will devour blogs, conduct searches, check social media and consult user reviews.

Like Airbnb, hotels should invest in online marketing and paid search to attract prospects.  

Create Local Experiences

Part of Airbnb’s success can be attributed to its ability to make guests feel as though they are part of the community rather than apart from the community. They provide guests with an insider’s view of a community; for the duration of their stay, they can feel like a local rather than a tourist.

Hotels, on the other hand, have traditionally emphasized the services and amenities that they offer inside their hotel. Sure, they provided information on local attractions, but not much more than that. In the post-Airbnb world, hotels are positioning themselves as facilitators of local, authentic experiences and helping to connect guests with local products, local flavors, and local perspectives. Hotels are seeking to better understand their surrounding community and environment, so they can blend into the landscape — culturally and from a design perspective.

Be Unique

Competing in the post-Airbnb world is all about differentiation. One way to stand out is through cultivating a personality for your hotel. This is kind of a revolutionary concept when you think about it. Before Airbnb changed the rules, hotel branding had always been about creating consistency, so customers knew exactly what to expect regardless of the city they were in. The guests didn’t want any surprises. The big difference now is that they want a surprise. They want to experience something unique. The Airbnb website makes each rental seem like special, one-of-a-kind experience in contrast to some cookie cutter hotel brands. The takeaway is clear: being big and corporate is out, while being local, small, and real is in. This is especially true of millennials. With this in mind, hotel operators should try to create a unique personality for each of their properties. Although Airbnb is a large technology corporation, take a look at its website interface—its brand personality is intimate and personal, and engenders trust.

Leverage technology 

Hotels are seeing the writing on the wall and are beginning to incorporate more technology into the design of experiential offerings. Some are using software-based PMS systems like StayNTouch to simplify the booking and check-in process. Investments in technology are the one factor that could really level the playing field and enable hotels to compete more effectively in the Airbnb world. In addition, the introduction of technology across various branded properties will reduce operational and marketing costs for hotels.

Data Matters

One factor that has enabled Airbnb’s sustained success is its talent for capturing customer data that it uses to provide a more relevant and customized experience and message. Obtaining the right data to deliver personalized experiences is not difficult at all. Leveraging this information by converting it to offerings that guests seek is yet another way that hotels can try to win back some of their customers. To be truly data driven, you need access to customer feedback, which is another activity in which Airbnb shines. They are seasoned experts when it comes to motivating guests and hosts to leave reviews, which is essential to creating a sense of trust. Hotels, on the other hand, tend not to invest as much time encouraging guest reviews. As a result, the negative reviews stand out and get disproportionate attention.

Maximize Strengths

The good news is that, although Airbnb has taken a good chunk of your market share, all is not lost. For one, not everyone wants to spend their vacation or business trip at a stranger’s home. In addition, hotels have unique strengths that the short-term rental industry simply cannot touch. Hotels, for example, offer convenience, security, and, for people who prefer predictability, a familiar and recognizable place to spend the night. And while Airbnb may suit guests who value privacy and seclusion, hotels have real human beings who will interact with guests, not to mention a concierge, fitness centers and meeting rooms, a place to take a stroll, and often a restaurant and bar.

The short-term rental market popularized by Airbnb provides consumers with another option, but it has not and will not replace hotels. There’s plenty that hotels can do to level the playing field with Airbnb and regain their competitive position.

In this blog we examined two strategies to win back the market: First, emulate Airbnb in key areas such as its adoption of technology, the simplicity of its digital presence, and its use of storytelling and content marketing; and second, stand out and draw a contrast with the short-term rental industry by building on hotels’ existing strengths and highlighting their unique selling points.

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