At a roundtable of Millennial advisors hosted by Travel Agent in our New York City offices recently, one of the hottest issues that came up for discussion was the effect of Airbnb on an agent’s business. We also asked if it would be a game-changer should Airbnb decide to offer commission — or do they just want to see the homestay network go away. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
Carole-Anne Hughes Wood, partner relations manager for Ultimate Jet Vacations and also co-founder of the Young Travel Professionals networking group, says, “We’ve seen a lot of business gone because of Airbnb,” but on a positive note she hopes that “Airbnb offers the opportunity for more people to get the travel bug” and get it early. “Maybe they’re not in a financial situation to travel a little differently. Maybe this is where the travel bug bites them, and as they continue to grow either in their career or their financial state in life, then maybe they come back to our caliber. As long as there are more travelers in the world, Airbnb is a good thing.”
Marla Gibbons of Skylar cites another positive: “It’s made the hotels kind of take a step back and say, ‘We’ve got a competitor here. This is a new thing in this industry. What makes us stand out? If it is a luxury traveler, why do they want to stay at an Airbnb instead of a hotel? They get guaranteed connecting rooms. They can check in whenever they want.’” Maybe that’s something, she says, that hoteliers “need to look at and say, ‘Next time [we] do renovations, we should have more family-friendly accommodations. We should have a more flexible check-in policy. We should have free Wi-Fi.’”
Robert Morgenroth of RA Travel says that some of his agency’s big clients don’t want to do hotels anymore at all. “Now, it’s kind of gotten to a point where they are going to be somewhere for two weeks. They’ll put all their staff and crew in a hotel, but the A-list person won’t go in the hotel. We either have to find a house that’ll rent to them for two weeks or we can try to use Airbnb or a local realtor or something like that.”
There are two scenarios to consider, says Justin Lindblad, owner of Willing Foot Travel. “There are people that want privacy [who’ll say] ‘I’ll pay $3,000 a night. I don’t care. I want privacy. I don’t want staff to see me coming in and out and know what the hell I’m doing.’” Then there are those, he acknowledges, who will simply go with “the cheaper version.”
Bernadette Sperrazza of The World Awaits Travel says, “I also think Millennials want this authentic type of experience instead of staying at a hotel where everything’s luxury and handed to you and you’re not really living in the less-touristy area. Airbnb gives you the opportunity to actually indulge in the neighborhood. I do think staying in somebody’s house does give you a little bit of an authentic experience that sometimes Millennials want.” Sperazza cautions, however, that even if Airbnb were to pay commission, “We’re all going to lose on that because you’re not going to make as much money as you would if you were booking a high-end luxury resort.”
“I think I’d rather lose out,” says Blaine Horton of the The Accomplished Traveler. “If somebody wants to book an Airbnb, I don’t really want to do it for them. Then you just run into all these issues that you have no control over. At a hotel, my friend works there. They’re going to upgrade you. They’re going to guarantee your check-in time. They’re going to give you a bottle of champagne when you check in.”
Says Sandy Babin, vice president of marketing for Apple Vacations: “Airbnb is going to continue to evolve. The sharing economy is not going away. We have to deal with it.”