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Airbnb: towards professionalization

While in its early years, the private rental platform offered a casual and innovative formula involving meeting the hosts and being transported into a foreign yet familiar environment, its latest developments illustrate a rise towards professionalization. A step-by-step analysis.

When the Air Bed & Breakfast website, the ancestor of Airbnb, was launched in 2007, it was because its designers could not afford to pay rent. Hence they arranged a few airbeds on their own apartment's floor, and offered a place to stay and breakfast to anyone looking for a place to stay overnight in San Francisco. This experiment, during which three people were hosted at Brian Chesky's and Joe Gebbia's flat, would have a major impact on the future of their burgeoning business. Its founders understood that it would be easier for people to forge connections with locals while staying at their place, in a casual and friendly atmosphere: this sums up, more or less, the 'travel philosophy' that shaped the rising star Airbnb's early beginnings - in line with the 'Couch-surfing' spirit that had the wind in its sails at the time.

Nevertheless, the platform's recent and current initiatives show that Airbnb has come a long way since the 'airbed' initial stage within the professional lodging business. A piece of information recently leaked in Bloomberg stated that the SF startup was on the brink of launching a 'premium' selection of rentals across its Airbnb listings, featuring high-quality accommodations based upon careful home inspections. This way, different ranges could be distinguished similarly to the way they may be in the professional hospitality industry, which has its star-scoring system.

It would appear that those wishing to have their accommodation listed under the 'premium' tab of Airbnb will have to meet standard requirements such as the availability of bathroom items (such as shampoo), of coffee, tea and bottled water in the kitchen area, as well as good-quality bedding.

This is not the first time that the San Francisco-based startup comes up with projects to make its supply more professional. A telling example is that it offers the services of a professional photographer to take high-quality pictures and highlight the accommodation's main features. In addition, the platform also advises its hosts on how to organize space, in order to both optimize the guests' stay and to standardize its many listings: "put a carafe of water and a novel by the bed", "show personality, not personal items", "learn from hotel bathrooms [...] and place rolled up white towels in a basket"... These tips refer to services already offered by hoteliers. Hence it comes as no surprise that more and more hoteliers list their rooms through Airbnb, without truly differentiating between their offer and private listings.

Even the check-in, which used to be the privileged moment when guests meet their host, has been automatized: when owners are not physically present to meet their guests, Airbnb recommends they leave the keys in a lockbox, protect the house via door code, or put a 'trusted neighbor' in charge of handling the keys over to the upcoming guests. Targeting business travellers and not only leisure ones also contributed to make Airbnb experiences less social, being shrunk to pure, automatic check-ins whose business travellers are very used to, who only consider Airbnb a cheaper and more widespread accommodating option than a hotel.

As our infographic highlights, Airbnb's 'traditional recipe' still distinguishes itself from the hospitality business in a few key points: first and foremost, it does not offer the services of an on-site trained staff, available 24/7. It also offsets the absence of dining outlets with the possibility for guests to cook for themselves. However, what has for a long time been Airbnb's hallmark - social interaction and meeting with locals - is threatened by automatization and efficiency issues.

In parallel, luxury hospitality seizes the opportunity to personalize the customer experience thanks to a tailored concierge service, as Starwood's 'W Insiders' illustrates: they indeed aim at offering their guests unique and exclusive services... Meanwhile, tourism residences also offer kitchen areas in their apartments, a trend also followed by numerous hostels that make a well-equipped communal kitchen available to its guests. There are several signs of convergence worth noticing.

Airbnb, a key player in the sharing economy, now has about 4 million listings available across its global network; it is more or less equivalent to the top 5 hotel groups' supply combined. And the San Francisco-based company increasingly mirrors the operational model of its professional counterparts by offering tailored services, distinguishing between ranges, providing guarantees on its listings' quality, as well as erasing, step by step, private individuals from the equation.

Also read:

  • Open Homes, Community Tourism Program: Airbnb's charm offensive?
  • Cuba: Trump allows U.S. tourists to stay in Airbnbs but not in hotels
  • The decree obliging renters using Airbnb and other platforms to register at the town hall has been published!
  • Airbnb creates its own accommodations

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