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Why Airbnb Keeps Winning at Hospitality

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Why Airbnb Keeps Winning at Hospitality

Where does Airbnb get off? Seriously. Late last year, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky used Twitter to engage in a lengthy dialogue with customers about where Airbnb might be heading as a company. Why should you care? Well, because that conversation started with a simple question from Chesky: "If @Airbnb could launch anything in 2017, what would it be?"

Wait a minute… Airbnb asks for feedback, listens to guests, and shapes its service around what its guests actually want? How dare they. After all, as hospitality operators and marketers, didn't that used to be our job?

This all came back to light recently when Hilton Hotels’ CMO Geraldine Caplin called Airbnb a “lodging company,” as compared with Hilton’s larger focus on hospitality. I’ve already made clear my position that Airbnb definitely meets the definition of a hospitality company, but I don’t want to dismiss Caplin’s statement out of hand. Hilton ought to be able to beat Airbnb in terms of delivering great hospitality. Any hotel company should. In fact, I’ve argued repeatedly that it’s critical for hotels to succeed in that effort.

I’m about to do it again.

Now, given this blog’s focus, it's fair to ask what any of this has to do with digital. Sure, it's Airbnb and yes, Chesky used Twitter to enable the conversation, but that's not why the exchange should be important to you. After all, it's no secret that digital has permanently changed the way your guests interact with brands and businesses.

What is important are the results of that change — and how you must respond.

What Chesky and his team recognize is that customer experience is the new marketing. Everything depends on the quality of the interactions your guests experience at every step of their journey. Why? Simple. Your guests carry a printing press in their pocket. Oh, and a full-HD video camera and a production studio and a broadcast network too. And they use these tools to share every element of their experience with their friends and family and fans and followers across social networks.

A 100-room hotel running at 60% occupancy with 1.4 guests per room hosts roughly 31,000 guests per year. And with an average of 200 connections on Facebook alone, those guests have the potential to reach an audience of over 6.1 million people. Even if these numbers wildly overstate your guests' social media activity and only 10% of those guests actually bother to say something about their stay — never mind what it says about their experience at your hotel if only 10% of your customers feel it's worth talking about — that's still over half a million opportunities for potential guests to hear about you each year. Imagine the stories they might hear.

This is equally true for "traditional" ratings and reviews seen on TripAdvisor and OTA's. I won't spend much time on this topic; you live with this reality every day. But it's worth noting that a recent TrustYou study found, "…guests are 3.9 times more likely to book the hotel with the highest average review score when price is equal" and, even better, that "76% of travelers said they were willing to pay more for a hotel with higher review scores." My real-world experience with properties all around the globe suggests this is true in practice as well as in theory.

Increasingly, marketing is less about telling your brand's story and is instead about ensuring your guests have a great story to tell on your behalf. A study from and Fuel Travel found word of mouth was the 2nd most influential factor in your guest's decision-making process. What do you suppose your guests say about you?

None of this happens without digital. Before the internet, your guests maybe could tell a few friends about their travels — or bore them to tears with slides from their trip. But now they're constantly connected with an engaged audience who want to listen. Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter work hard to ensure only the folks who want to see the messages your guests share actually do. And, yes, you have to make certain the rest of your digital platform reinforces those messages once your guests' friends and family are ready to hear more. That's crucial. But it all starts with how they're finding out about you in the first place.

Customer experience is the new marketing. Airbnb gets it, which is why their CEO spent his Christmas holiday talking — and, more importantly, listening — to customers. The question now is: How do you plan to spend your next holiday? Or, for that matter, every other day this year?

If you’re looking for even more hospitality marketing goodness, you might also want to take a moment to review the slides from Tim’s recent seminar, “Digital Marketing Directions: The Key Trends Driving Your Hotel Marketing Next Year” here:

Finally, you will definitely want to check out some of our past coverage of the mobile, local, social web and how to make it work for your hotel, including:

Note: A version of this post originally appeared on Hotel News Now, where Tim Peter writes a quarterly column for the magazine’s Digital Tech Impact Report.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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