Airbnb is the worst thing to happen to the industry. Or is it?

In the wake of the Great Recession, concepts like couch-surfing and home-sharing have been welcomed by flocks of consumers from across various socio-economic backgrounds. Why is the sharing economy succeeding even in the face of mounting litigation from all sides? Is there something the hotel industry can learn from it?

Let me put it this way: When an ostrich has its head buried in the sand, all it can see is sand. Much is the same with hotel and taxi companies. Both are in industries that were slow in acknowledging and responding to shifting economic demands and trends. Having never seriously faced outside competition, hoteliers and taxi drivers developed a false sense of security because they could only see what they wanted to see: heads in beds and butts in seats. Plain and simple. How could anything change from that basic premise?

That mentality is entirely the opposite of the food and beverage industry. Restaurateurs have to constantly innovate because their goods are literally perishable. They recognized consumers were changing overnight because of technology. This paradigm shift ushered in the philosophy of, “Why dine out when you can dine on professionally prepared food in the comfort of your own home?” In the end, the F&B industry hitched a timely and very profitable ride on the sharing economy’s coattails. We should be doing the same thing!

While many hoteliers are ashamed to admit it in private and never would in public, many of us have utilized home-sharing. On multiple occasions during networking events at industry conferences, the topic of where people are staying has been broached. Typically, there is usually someone who whispers under their breath, “I am at an Airbnb.” There is a pained expression on their face, but it must feel better once it’s off their chest.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If admitting it is the first step to recovery, then I will confess to having used Airbnb and HomeAway. Their apps are comfortably nestled on my iPhone among all the other alternative travel platforms.

Why are mainstream travelers and even hotel executives utilizing home-sharing services such as Airbnb? For reasons such as:

  • Value: Home sharing can offer a vast value proposition over hotels, especially in dense urban locations and second home markets. Units are typically larger and offer most of the amenities you have at home included in the price. If you are on the more budget-conscious end and don’t need an entire home to yourself, it is possible to just rent a room or couch surf. Most important, there are no hidden fees, and the price you see online includes taxes and cleaning surcharges.
  • Authenticity: For many modern vacationers and even some business travelers, indulging one’s senses in life as a local is key to providing a fulfilling experience. Standing in someone else’s shoes to see, smell, touch, taste and hear what they experience every day enriches the soul. Some of the savvier landlords will even provide locally sourced goodies to get the party started (who doesn’t like a free bottle of wine, candies or scented candles?). It is also becoming more common for homes to be furnished with a map and guidebook highlighting some of the owner’s favorite local spots.
  • Uniqueness: Renting a private home or apartment offers something different because unlike branded hotels, no two units are alike. They’ve got a character, flavor and a story to tell. The place you rent might be a small eco-cottage on someone’s back garden in Scotland, Doc Holliday’s house in Texas, a treehouse in the Costa Rican jungle, a flat in Berlin’s gayborhood or a sprawling villa on the Dalmatian coast. The number of unique opportunities is endless, not to mention they make great stories and are frequently Instagram-worthy.
  • Location: Location, location, location. It can make or break you. In today’s world, many travelers do not want to be based in the “touristy areas” where older hotels were typically congregated. Authenticity once again comes back into play. The idea being, get me in a comfortable residential area near where I need/want to be. It should be a relaxed, casual environment within easy walking distance of my destination, preferably with nearby restaurants and bars frequented by locals.

In one guise or another, services such as Airbnb are here to stay. Neither the amount of litigation thrown at these operating platforms nor the potential fines levied on providers will deter the sharing economy. At one time, Austin, Texas outlawed Uber and Lyft. However, the local populace immediately switched over to Arcade City. This black-market ride-sharing service utilizes blockchain technology and can be easily accessed via Facebook. While this temporary switch did come with some security issues, it addressed users’ overall needs and demands.

Needless to say, if you shut down one system or platform, another one will pop up almost instantaneously. So instead of hunting the undefeatable tiger, embrace and learn from it to give your guests what they want.