A Hotelier's Perspective on the Sharing Economy: Welcome, Airbnb. Seriously.
August 17, 2015 9:59am
I am a hotelier. Let's get that bias right out there. Everything I know and everything I do is focused on creating transcendent experiences for the guests who stay at my hotels.
But unlike some of my colleagues in the hospitality industry, I am also a strong believer in the sharing economy. And I believe that rooms and cars are only the beginning.
Let's talk about rooms for a moment. More specifically, let's talk about Airbnb. It's important to understand, in my opinion, that there are two very different and distinct Airbnb customers: The couch surfers, who are looking for the most affordable room they can possibly find. They will not be my customer for a while, simply because they're not looking for the kinds of experiences I can offer them, or at least they're not willing to pay for them-yet. The second group is the creative class, and they care more about things like design, comfort, convenience and certainty. Because their careers require them to work and be creative while they're on the road, an inspiring environment is for them a business necessity-not an indulgence or a "nice to have." These travelers avoid cookie-cutter, bland hotels like the plague because, life is short and they want to make the most of every moment. This is our sweet spot because we deliver the experiences these customers want without sacrificing convenience, certainty and - here's the big differentiator - service. I, as a hotelier, am responsible. I, as it says in my company manifesto, own every moment.
I'm personally glad that there's an affordable option for travelers who just need a base camp for exploring a city. It's also a great way for home owners to make a little extra money. That is, after all, how the founders of Airbnb got their start: by renting out air mattresses in their tiny San Francisco loft when all the nearby hotels were booked up during a design conference.
I have used Airbnb myself, albeit with a slightly more critical eye, but still with an open mind.
Now, I began by telling you my bias. To elaborate on that a bit, my personal conviction is that hotels are the last bastion of potentially perfect service in America. Since even the most storied and impeccable hotels are run by humans, imperfections are, of course, inevitable. But I believe that the way in which a hotel responds to those occasional imperfections is what defines them as a hotel. It's what makes a hotel truly great. Or not. Because a truly great hotel is and should be all about you. The guest. Not about the hotel or the hotel's owner. Not about a list of rules you need to follow. You can tell it's a great hotel before you even check in. Just the right amount of communication, confirming your stay, welcoming you, providing some ideas for local events and adventures and maybe even a couple of well-kept local secrets. When you arrive, you're treated like you're the most important person in the world.
Because, to a real hotelier, you actually are. Every element of your experience is designed with you in mind. Arrive whenever you want; we'll be here for you (and it'll never be an inconvenience to give you the keys). Picky about your pillow? Try a few from our pillow menu. Want ice cream at midnight? Done. Our showers are meticulously clean (absent of strange razors, true story) with towels always an arm's length away. Need your breakfast packed to go? Our pleasure. Want to invite someone over for a meeting? We have suites, boardrooms, private dining rooms and bars to match just about any audience. Plus, your Uber driver will find our building before they find 1422 6th Avenue Apartment 5C.
Which brings us back to Airbnb. There are always going to be some uncertainties, the chief of which is whether the owner is actually even hospitable or not. I love surprising guests with thoughtful little details, so that everything they touch, smell, hear and taste at our hotel inspires and elevates them, reminding them of their value as human beings. From my own experience and the countless horror stories I've heard, this isn't necessarily the modus operandi of many Airbnb owners. The surprises are more likely to be things like dirty bathtubs, televisions that don't work, broken furniture and the occasional random person with an extra key walking in at inopportune moments.
And moments are what a great hotel is all about. Creating moments for our guests that immerse them in the city they're visiting. Moments that cause them to leave our hotel with more energy, inspiration and positivity than when they checked in.
My primary issue with Airbnb? There's just this nagging feeling that I'm somehow imposing, a stranger in somebody else's home. "Please contact the owner if you would like to have visitors." "Learn how you can be a considerate guest." Do I run the dishwasher before I leave? Do I launder the sheets and towels? Why do I feel like this is kind of about them and not about me?
There is a reason that hotels are said to be in the hospitality industry. Because if we aren't hospitable, we don't survive. In the final analysis, if Airbnb can serve the budget conscious segment of the market for people just starting out, we can carve out our own territory for the creative class, who can afford it, to offer refreshed, elevated and authentic experiences without forgoing the heart of what we do - our service.
In the end, it is simply a value proposition. Because it is the value of our guests that drives every single thing we do. We own every moment.
Tags: bashar wali,
Bashar Wali graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a B.S. in Hotel Restaurant Institutional Management. Officially he resides with his family in Portland, Ore. but can often be found jetting to new markets and kicking the tires on potential Provenance Hotels.
Contact: Bashar Wali
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August 21, 2015 4:53pm
Bashar—Good article. As a hospitality trainer, I see the good, great, bad, and outright ugly in our business, trying to coach people up as I do. So I know that not all hotels are as guest-centric and super-service oriented as yours aim to be, and that has driven some people to Airbnb. But I for one would not even consider it—camping out in someone’s home while on the road! it’s hard enough to stay with family when doing that, let alone strangers. You’re right, it feels like an intruder situation. I don’t see them as a serious threat anytime soon to hotels, at least to me.