At first, I thought that Airbnb was going to occupy a lodging niche that nobody wanted to, or could, digitally manage, given the dispersion of supply and the variety of behaviors attributed to homeowners interested in putting their homes up for rent by periods. But after a deep reflection on the strategic focus of the company, different view exchanges among tourism agents in New York (home of its founder, Brian Chesky), and the concerned monitoring of American hotel strategist Chip Conley, with whom I have exchanged some epistolary views on the subject, I confess that my current impression is radically different from the original. Airbnb wants to enter not only in the hotel market but in the entire value chain of the tourism business. And it wants to enter to transform the world of travel through the generation that will manage it in the coming decades: the so-called millennials.
Several indications suggest Airbnb is now heading towards that revolution. The technological culture in the hotel industry is moving slower than the emergence of new technologies. And it takes effort and awareness adjusting to the profound changes imposed by the digital society. Many of the innovations proposed on the Pacific don’t make sense on the Atlantic, when geographically it should be the other way around. Way too many hoteliers believe that it’s too soon for the digital hug and express their reluctance to consider, for example, WiFi access as a basic commodity no different than having hot water or a bathroom in the room. They remain convinced that the reception area is inseparable from the idea of hospitality. They reduce the entire millennial generation to a niche, with its demands and behaviors neglected in the short term. Or, worse, they see as very far off my warnings about the imminence of the automation of services, the predictive analytics of Big Data, the interconnection of all mobile and static devices in the hotel via the Internet of Things, the restructuring of hospitality in an emotive industry, the strong development of neuroscience in customer identification and its spread through social networks, etc., etc., etc.
Meanwhile, Airbnb has other plans for them. For now, Chip Conley and Brian Chesky study how to delete or replace the management of the handover in renting apartments. The solution, which is technological, won’t take long to arrive, and it will reach fully to the global hotel industry. Yesterday I went for a moment to the Hyatt Times Square just to see how many guests used automatic check-in check-out posts in relation to the reception desk. This simple visit confirmed my suspicions: business travelers accustomed to using smartphones preferred to save their greeting to the receptionist on duty, more at night than in daylight hours. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the need for reception will disappear, but it will save money on human resources in large establishments and achieve increased customer satisfaction by bypassing cumbersome processing. The reception desk will be converted into a warm and welcoming information space, which will largely rescue another counter already disappeared in most hotels, which is that of janitor.
Curiously, one of the biggest criticisms towards Airbnb come from luxury establishments, whose market is not related to low cost consumer products, family or long stay products. These critics point to a lack of services such as breakfast, bathrobe, anti-stress massages, transportation to and from the airport and others. How many non-luxury establishments offer luxury bathrobes in their bathrooms? How many offer a private vehicle to the airport? How many offer spa facilities? And let’s not get into breakfasts because most establishments fail in this regard.
No one can be in any doubt, however, that Airbnb will enter the airport-hotel transfer service by developing an adjacent platform similar to Uber, or Way2Ride, like the ones we use every day to catch a taxi. For that matter, why not also manage a restaurant reservation from this platform, or the tickets for a museum, a haircut appointment or shopping at the coolest store. Further still, if the most consistent complaint of the hotel industry about the phenomenon of exchange between individuals occurs around the tax discrimination of business, it is logical to think that Airbnb will soon develop an application from which homeowners and small hotel managers can manage tax payment automatically without operating entanglements, or extraordinary costs, due to the expected seasonality of their income. What hotels or travel agencies now manage the comprehensive travel experience? None that I know of. This is because no tour operator has raised the following question: do you know your customer?
Understanding what Big Data is and its purpose is key in predicting the steps that the tourism industry is taking nowadays, who its protagonists are and what technologies are making it possible. In analytics, Big Data is based, no doubt, in the Airbnb strategy of taking by assault the orb of tourism. Know your customer and you will be able to sell him a bed, a bowl, a haircut or a complete dream.
If Amazon or Google don’t take care of tourism, Airbnb will be the one to do so.
Fernando Gallardo |