Why classic hotels do not need to fear Airbnb
text: Hans Schloemer // photography: istock
An airbed and breakfast. It was a simple idea. Airbnb, a contraction of “airbed” and “breakfast”, began in 2008 in San Francisco as an online exchange for simple places to sleep in private apartments. Today, the start-up company is an overnight empire: over 300 million guests, around 4.5 million properties worldwide – from sofa beds to luxury homes. France, as the world’s number 1 destination country, has a particularly strong profile: Paris is Airbnb’s biggest market, with around 60,000 offers available.
It is not just hoteliers who are feeling unsettled by this. Politicians and residents are also angry. Online platforms such as Airbnb, they claim, encourage the more unpleasant aspects of mass tourism and drive residents out because of rising property and rental prices. Residents also feel burdened by the noise of constantly changing guests.
Paris already has a limit of 120 days per year for the rental of entire apartments. The question is, however, whether all of the property owners adhere to that limit. Ian Brossat, Deputy Mayor responsible for housing, is calling for a complete ban on the rental of entire private homes to tourists in the centre of Paris. “The city has lost 20,000 apartments and houses in the last five years”, says Brossat. “They’re hotels by another name!” Business people would buy apartments in order to convert them into money-making machines by renting them out through online platforms.
Jacques Boutault, Mayor of the 2nd arrondissement, is also crying foul. His district has lost around 3,000 residents, he says, including many families. Three schools have allegedly already closed classrooms. “It’s important that inner cities stay authentic and vibrant. That’s ultimately what the tourists come for”, says Boutault.
Airbnb France regards such claims as “out of touch with public opinion” and “removed from the legal reality”. Despite all the criticism, growth continues apace: by 2028, it is anticipated that Airbnb will be hosting a billion overnight stays per year. The giant has long since been looking carefully at wealthy customers. Airbnb boss Brian Chesky launched Airbnb Plus for this very reason.
Bye-bye mattress, hello luxury: Airbnb Plus promises standards offered by the best hotels. It also aims to create a category for boutique hotels. This is a clear declaration of war on the classic hotel industry. So should it be worried? Not really.
It is true that even commercial Airbnb suppliers are still enjoying the tremendous competitive advantage of appearing to remain protected from the enormous requirements to which the hotel industry is subjected and which drive up its costs. It is possible that, in some cases, they are not even paying tax or insurance. But this imbalance will surely in future be corrected through legislation, to protect the interests of cities and communities in the first place.
It is also becoming apparent that Airbnb prices are approaching hotel prices. This will also discourage potential users, as will possible discrimination during the booking process, unreliability on the part of the property owner, and not least concerns of not knowing what they will find when they get there.
Contrasting this are the transparency and superior service that hotels can offer. Even smaller and medium-sized businesses do not need to fear competition from Airbnb. Provided they have something to offer other than rooms and breakfast, that is. This might include personal service, a friendly, perhaps even family-style atmosphere, and culinary moments of pleasure.
Far too few hotels are using their technical superiority over private providers. Anyone who can open their room door using an app, check in while on the move with total convenience or pay virtually, will find their stay particularly stress-free.
As the worlds of media and digital technology have evolved, guests have changed too. They want to be entertained, they value emotional experiences and stories that they can tell back home. A hotel that is more than just functional is literally a place of experiences and entertainment, increasing loyalty and bringing positive comments on social networks, firing up the good old word-of-mouth system, which – even in the age of the Internet – is a factor that should never be under-estimated.
Hotels are able to score points here by particularly highlighting the personality of the host or destination, or by creating unusual hotel rooms that can be featured on social networks such as Instagram. In open lobbies with a relaxed, lounge-like character, there is always something to see, and they offer the perfect place for guests to strike up conversations. Why leave the sense of community to Airbnb? Cooking lessons, book reading evenings, a gallery for local artists – good ideas and real customer services have always been the key to success in the hotel industry.
The prospects for the French hotel industry are rosy in any case. The populations of India or China, for example, have only just started to discover travel. As their affluence increases, so too will their desire to travel. And France is right at the top of their list of destinations.