Roddy Watt: Don't fear the likes of Airbnb

Roddy Watt: Don't fear the likes of Airbnb

It’s undeniable that the growth of alternative accommodation providers such as aparthotels and Airbnb create a threat for hoteliers.

The sharing economy offers an affordable, alternative option for travellers to immerse themselves in local culture and is disrupting the ever-competitive hospitality market.

But it isn’t all doom and gloom for the independent hotel owner; provided they understand their market and cater to the demands of an increasingly discerning clientele, they can continue to prosper.

Airbnb is popular due to experience and price point. It challenges the status quo by delivering an ‘authentic’ experience, be that a short break to a local neighbourhood in a vibrant city, or a private hut off the beaten track. In today’s market, guests are increasingly seeking that something special – a different but personable offering that provides them with a more memorable experience.

While Airbnb can most certainly do that, there’s no reason independent hoteliers can’t also compete.

Rather than fear the continuing rise in popularity of Airbnb, independent hoteliers need to instead learn and adapt. Although it may be difficult to compete on price, they can compete on experience.

Not all Airbnb customers are strapped for cash or looking for low-budget options, which means independent hoteliers can home in on the unique experiences that they’re able to offer their guests by guaranteeing an authentic stay that is also professional and reliable – and which has real service at its core.

Hoteliers need to align their product with the ‘living like a local’ ethos, focusing on, for example, local and seasonal cuisine, the uniqueness of the properties, the heritage, the locations and the experiences available to guests.

From marketing attractions, experiences or restaurants that are frequented by locals rather than tourists, to inviting guests to enjoy tea and coffee with staff and learn their stories, there is so much opportunity for hoteliers to tap into their knowledge of the local area and offer guests the immersive experience they’re craving. Independent hotels are better placed to offer these memorable and meaningful experiences over the larger, more sterile and uniform hotel brands, and it’s something that should be exploited in order to compete in the current market.

It’s likely that the market will be further defined by ‘budget’ and ‘experiential’ demand into 2018 and beyond, but that’s not to say that each will appeal to separate audiences. Depending on the purpose of their travel, at times guests will be motivated by price, at times they will seek something convenient and functional, and at other times they will be looking for that special, personal and memorable experience.

Hoteliers must also think about the Airbnb customer journey, particularly as they are now making a strong play for the business travel market. They must work out how they can compete, whether on price or uniqueness of product. Those who fail to do either may well fall by the wayside.

The sharing economy and the disrupters are here to stay and will only grow in number and sophistication as technologies continue to develop. However, by successfully and consistently delivering excellent service and a differentiated product, correctly positioning the brand and effectively marketing to the correct audiences, independent hotels will not only be able to survive, but thrive.