The hospitality industry is in flux over the continued and growing success of its step-sibling, Airbnb – a company representing proof that when something works well for consumers, it doesn’t take long before its competition starts feeling the woozy side effects. There are endless debates over the legitimacy of the concept, but seemingly, Airbnb looks like it’s here to stay, in some form or another. How can we, as traditional hotel operators, adapt to the new climate? How can we look beyond the cloudy uncertainty of our brand and business, while still keeping our feet grounded and focused on sufficiently meeting our guests’ needs? Follow these tips, reconfigure your perception on the issue and soon, you’ll be floating back to the top in no time.
First of all, let’s define the situation. Airbnb is “a social website that connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.” It sounds simple enough, but the truth is, it’s a brilliant marketing tactic and an extra income opportunity for people who don’t mind opening up their homes to strangers. The first step for many hotel operators is to recognize that they’ll never be what Airbnb is, and rather than loathing the fact, they should embrace what they are – full-service hotel operations with an unmatched breadth of accommodations that no one household could ever live up to. Once hoteliers come to terms that they can’t change their identity during these times, then they’ve already overcome the first hurdle.
So what can you do to stay afloat?
Take a look at Airbnb’s main demographic and figure out how you can win their loyalty. The service attracts families who need space to spread out. Revamp your marketing efforts and strategize a campaign that drives families to your property. Be creative with your larger rooms and suite offerings. Ramp up your children’s programs and assure your guests that their little ones are well taken care of when staying at your hotel. Offer supervised activities for kids and day-care services for moms and dads who may want to escape kid-free for a few hours. Airbnb locations don’t come with live-in nannies, so by offering this service, it gives you the upper hand.
Take a look at your group packages. Think about modifying them to be more appealing to prospective guests? Be creative – throw in a dining credit for groups of five or more or offer a bigger discount in room rates per night for groups larger than 10.
You can’t talk about Airbnb without addressing the millennial factor. Travelers in their 20s – many of whom are either still in college or have recently graduated and are making just enough to get them by – are bargain seekers.
According to a recent Vacation Confidence Index conducted by Allianz Global Assistance, “the average American will spend $1,621 on a summer vacation this year, compared with $1,895 in 2014. And as for those millennials, 40% say they'll spend less than $400 on summer travel this year.”
This is important to note – you don’t need to compromise your average rate per night to get the millennials through your doors. It may seem to be the most logical strategy, but once you start lowering your average rates, it will be difficult to bring them back up. You do not have to cheapen your rooms. Instead, show younger travelers the value of what it means to stay with you.
Sarah Bartlett, vice president of revenue and distribution for Hotel Asset Value Assessment (AVE), explained, “as hoteliers, we have to do much better about targeting millennials, by first and foremost, understanding what makes them click. Look at Airbnb’s photography, their story, the engagement with their audiences and step up your game by recognizing the technology and forms of communication that millennials prefer.”
Create a presence with millennials through your social media platforms and hone the right tone of voice that speaks with them, not to them. Offer college students with a valid ID special dining and entertainment offers. Bring on the right marketing and web talent who can identify with the 20-somethings, what styles of photos they are drawn to and what they truly want to explore on their vacations. Offer them more than just a hotel stay, but an experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Look at venues across your property and find opportunities including happy hours, Sunday brunch and entertainment.
Reassess your mobile booking platform. Work closely with your web marketing team to ensure that your mobile site is user-friendly, features the most cutting edge technology and has all the tools that a guest might need, right at their fingertips. Keep in mind the different user interfaces that people use, including iOS, Android and Microsoft, and make sure your sites configure accordingly. Take it one step further and create an app for your hotel. Offer check-in perks and encourage your guests to upload photos of their hotel experiences direct through your app. When you’re in tune with the latest technology trends, the world can be your oyster!
Airbnb has mastered the humankind angle, and they use it well, and now you can, too.
Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO at Airbnb, said, “we believe in humanity and we’re putting that humanity and truth into the soul of our marketing.”
Their recent campaigns, including the popular, “Never a Stranger,” commercial, evokes a “just like home” feel and offers a uniquely comforting humankind element. Use the right people in your marketing collateral and be strategic about who you select as your voice-over for video productions. Allow your videos and graphics to go viral by sharing them across your social networks. When selecting talent for your productions, think diversity think global and think bigger! Airbnb has shaken things up for the hotel business on a global scale, and it’s because they know how to speak to everyone – no matter their race, color or sex.
Airbnb launched a very powerful video entitled, “#HostswithPride” that catered to LGBT travelers. The message was simple yet effective: LGBT travelers are welcome to stay with us. Consider dedicating some marketing dollars to come up with hotel promotions and packages for the LGBT guest. Be genuine in your marketing and make sure the compassion continues past the “pitch” and through the rest of their stay. There is a huge LGBT community that not only fit in higher than average income brackets, but they are always on the lookout for destinations that make them feel comfortable, safe and at home.
“The important thing for us hotel operators to remember is to educate ourselves on the topic, before trying to change our strategies,” said Bartlett. “Participate in conversations about Airbnb, talk to hotel associations and organizations who are pushing for more regulatory actions.”
Airbnb is still a novel concept, and moreover, it’s a difficult business model to quantify in terms of success. We know that the awareness surrounding the brand is skyrocketing by the minute, and we know that millennials gravitate to their lower room rates. But there is a lot of unexplored territory, so for now, let’s focus on the amenities we do have and enhance them. Strengthen your brand’s culture without compromising it. Hype up the offerings that Airbnb can’t compete with, including dining establishments backed by iconic culinary names and full-service spas. Airbnb might be a great alternative to hotels for many travelers, but if we keep up the good fight, it will never be a substitute for the powerhouse known as our hotel industry.