One of the most poignant criticisms of P2P accommodation websites is that the network's decentralized nature leads to slack standards as far as hospitality. The argument is that such a large collection of independent contractors acting as hoteliers can lead to an inconsistent experience that ultimately impacts the brand's longevity.
Indeed, this is a significant challenge for tech-heavy startups seeking to create full-on hospitality businesses.
Companies like Airbnb started as a technological solution to a real-world problem, and focused heavily on the technology side of the business. As both individual companies scaled and the larger market for P2P accommodations grew, providing a consistent hospitality experience became much more important.
Tnooz spoke with two companies, Airbnb
, about how the segment's growth has impacted priorities.
Airbnb's Chip Conley
Chip Conley recently took the helm of hospitality at Airbnb, taking the newly-created title Head of Hospitality.
The job came about after Conley spoke to the company in a one-off talk, which turned out to signal a shift in the way the company was thinking of itself. In effect, it wanted to move from being a technology company to a hospitality company.
When asked about why he took the job after decades in the hotel trade, Conley elaborates:
What was so apparent to me was that this is in some ways the future of hospitality. The hotel industry is not going away, but for the company to have grown to 550,000 listings, and projected to over 1 million a year from now, says that: 1) there's an underlying premise that seems to really resonate with humankind - the idea of turning strangers into friends, and 2) On the transactional side, there are millions of bedrooms that are empty and not being used.
And there are a lot of people struggling financially, whether an empty nester that cant find a job or a younger person in an expensive economy such as London or New York, there are lots of people that need the financial benefit. There are also a lot of travelers that want to go out and experience the world more affordably or more spatially.
One of the key questions in this shift is how exactly hospitality is defined. This is the sort of definition that matters as each company strives to differentiate and catalyze its unique perspective with both hosts and guests.
How do we define hospitality at Airbnb? It's a holistic and comprehensive perspective: first and foremost, helping our hosts be all that they can be and deliver the experience to our guests. It's also more than just that: how does our Customer service department approach this with a hospitality mindset?
How are we presenting ourselves to the world as a brand? If we're a hospitality brand , do we have a loyalty program some day? Do we create a brand promise around hospitality? We have a host guarantee - our form of insurance - but is there a guest guarantee?
What is the brand promise of staying at Airbnb and how that relates to the Nine Standards we've just launched? How do we do a better job over time to better deliver a search experience for where you're going to go and what you're going to do? If our technology knows the guest well, can we deliver a collection of experiences that are well-suited to you on a personal basis?
These questions clearly shows an eagerness to define just how the company is existing within the thriving ecosystem that it fostered. Other questions, beyond the implementation of the Nine Standards announced late last year, include updating the review system and how the 3-person hospitality team can infuse the concept of hospitality company-wide.
Conley speaks often of "the hospitality moments of truth," which will eventually be distilled in a way that can teach all current and future hosts about the Airbnb style of hospitality.
We will be decentralizing some of the hospitality work - how can they deliver hospitality moving forward? The course, Hospitality Moments of Truth, will probably be converted into an e-learning class and using e-learning technology (we're hiring an education manager for hospitality), or something that a community manager could teach to new hosts in person.
When you start driving a car, you have to get a license and you have to know what you're doing. I see a host like that - becoming a host needs more of an educational process in a way that doesn't feel bureaucratic and silly. Education needs to be delivered in ways that people can enjoy it - and then you've got the certification to be a host. We have 1,000 new hosts joining Airbnb every day, and the on-boarding process doesn't have enough in terms of helping those hosts be all they can be.
Housetrip's Arnaud Bertrand
Housetrip co-founder Arnaud Bertrand has been providing home stays and rentals since 2009.
Tnooz asked him more about how standards of hospitality are being infused into their global host network, and how those challenges impact the growing segment.
Regarding these challenges, Bertrand sees awareness and regulation as the most pressing:
I think the 3 biggest challenges are: awareness of the category - despite all the coverage of our space, the majority of the public out there is still not aware that they can use us for all their trips; ensuring that as our category becomes more famous we make a good name for ourselves and become known for awesome guest experiences; and making sure that the legislators do not come up with laws that forbid us outright, but rather come up with sensitive legislations that enable us to grow and contribute to the economy.
Beyond these, Bertrand also sees a challenge in the key difference between the P2P accommodation industry and hotels, as far as as being both a technology and accommodation platform.
I think the big difference between ours and the hotel industry is that websites in our category are in a way both distributors and the hotel brand.
We not only distribute accommodation but are also in charge of making sure that those accommodations meet specific standards, that hosts are guest friendly, etc. To tighten the metaphor, we're both an OTA like Expedia and a direct supplier like Hilton.com.
So I think the way the industry is evolving is that companies like us are differentiating themselves through the guest-friendly standards that they make their hosts adopt. And that's part of our brand promise.
And in regards to hospitality standards, Bertrand prefers some decentralization ahead as far as standardizing hosts - and sees the value in the direct approach of Airbnb's specified hospitality training.
Besides the above, should there be a common ground, a set of rules that all hosts no matter where they list abide with? As explained above companies in our space currently undertake that responsibility for the most part and do more or less a good job at it (I like to think we do a great job).
That being said I am personally all in favour of delegating part of this to a third party - be it a professional association or the legislators - because it can only give more trust and visibility to our sector. However I don't think this is likely to happen; we'll likely rather have to individually assume that role ourselves.
Housetrip's current hospitality standards include:
We unlist hosts who don't play the game and have a track record of actions that may lead to poor guest satisfaction.
[We have] systematic quality control of all our listings, as we give each of our properties a quality score based on 30+ different KPIs that we make transparent to our hosts and that defines their rankings in our search results. The message is "if you don't work on ensuring a superb experience to our guest, you'll do very poorly on our site."
We have industry leading satisfaction scores. You just need to look at TrustPilot, an independent review aggregator, to understand the sort of feedback guests give on their HouseTrip experience.
We're the only one with a loyalty reward system. You automatically earn one free night for every 10 nights you stay with HouseTrip. The value of your free night is the average price you paid for the 10 nights and your free night is redeemable on our entire property portfolio with no exception.
Finally, we also run a holiday guarantee program where we will relocate guests for free if they are unsatisfied (and obviously the host doesn't get paid, his quality score is lowered and he may be unlisted).
Bertrand concludes with the importance of engaging all stakeholders for buy-in as these hospitality standards are developed and implemented across the network.
The very key is to ensure that all the players engaged in our activity work on giving a good name to the industry and the only way we can do that is by working relentlessly on delivering an excellent experience to guests. Our industry needs to become famous for excellent experiences that are vastly superior to hotels. At least that's what we think and focus on at HouseTrip.
NB: Golden key image courtesy Shutterstock.
NB2: Author is an Airbnb host.