Popular home rental site Airbnb now ranks third among the highest-valued startups — and for good reason. The company taps into travelers’ desire to get an authentic taste for an area, feel personally welcomed, and have an enjoyable time without breaking the bank.
As in any industry, it’s important for those in the hospitality world to evaluate who the disruptors are, what they’re doing right, and what it takes to stay competitive. Hotels can adapt quickly to incorporate the things that make Airbnb so attractive to consumers.
- A personal touch goes a long way. One great thing about Airbnb is that travelers can get to know their hosts on a personal level, maybe even by sharing a drink or meal together. That same level of personal connection can win over hotel guests, too. I have a vegan niece, and nothing brightens her eyes up more on a trip than when a concierge suggests a great vegan restaurant.
By simply equipping front desk staff with the knowledge of an area and attractions guests may be interested in — think maps the concierge can draw on or a ready-made list of can’t-miss spots — hotels can build rapport and brand equity with customers.
- The location within the city is important. People use Airbnb for everything from bachelorette parties to family getaways to business trips, and those various reasons for travel can involve different city neighborhoods. A bachelorette party would probably look for a place downtown, while businesspeople might want a spot in the financial district.
Hotels should take a deep dive into the demographics of who their customers are and why they’re traveling in the first place to best understand where to launch their facilities.
- Travelers want to get a true feel for the city. Airbnb hosts possess a singular advantage over hotels: authenticity. Stop in any large hotel brand location anywhere in the world, and it will probably look and feel the same, no matter what city it’s in.
Travelers like to feel like they’re experiencing a city in the most genuine way possible. That could include everything from an Airbnb host providing a list of wineries worth visiting to introducing travelers to family members. Hosts may even invite their lodgers along for a night out.
These scenarios may not be possible in hotels, but they can still differentiate their appearances and atmospheres across cities to give a sense of local flavor. They can also add little bits of “home” — region-specific snacks or local craft beers, for example — to really give customers the authentic experience they crave.
All things considered, hotels have to master one thing to compete with Airbnb: the art of listening. That means not only collecting data, but also using it to understand customers’ values and mindsets.
Hotels must have a grasp on customer needs and desires to be able to meet guests where they are and provide those amenities. The next step is communicating these benefits effectively to customers, whether through media relations, advertising, or other promotions.
That level of personal attention can be the difference between a one-time stay and brand loyalty for life, even against competitors such as Airbnb.
Shea Davis is a senior vice president at Mitchell, an award-winning public relations firm that creates real conversations between people, businesses, and brands through strategic insights, customized conversations, and consumer engagement. The agency is headquartered in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with offices in Chicago and New York City. Shea’s focus is on brand reputation for the hospitality and travel industries.