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WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Pew released a study on the sharing economy in the spring of 2016 in which they found only 11% of adults have used home-sharing platforms like Airbnb.1 Although usage is relatively low, it’s gaining momentum. Consider the fact that 9 years ago, Airbnb’s only rental property was three air mattresses on the founders’ floor.2 Today, Airbnb is in 34,000 cities in 191 countries and valued at $25 billion.3 Still not convinced it’s worth our attention? US Census Bureau data shows that America’s 33.6 million unused bedrooms are worth $174.9 billion.4 Last year alone, it’s estimated that Airbnb claimed almost $1 billion in disruption revenue.5 Airbnb has the potential to change both the tourism and housing industries in a major way. With that, we wondered – who is staying in an Airbnb vs. a hotel? What do travelers expect out of each experience? How do boutique hotels play a role, and why do travelers choose one over the other?





WHO USES AIRBNB ANYWAY? When we asked what type of person consumers would expect to stay in an Airbnb, they described an adventurous, open, often younger, budget-conscious traveler. This adventurer is after a unique, localized experience but knows that they don’t necessarily have to pay a premium price. Overall, the perception of an Airbnb visitor is a savvy shopper that’s comfortable with not knowing exactly what they’ll get. The thought is that they’re willing to take a risk booking a place in the hopes of having a unique experience for a lower price tag than the more commercial alternative. Visitors, especially women, are often after a “homey” experience (in an anti-hotel sense) and prefer to stay in an apartment or house.


Someone who has an extroverted personality, a person who can trust others. Someone very outgoing and adventurous who doesn't let bias or idealistic expectations get in the way of their experience. – Male, 18-34

Adventurous young person with little money. – Male, 55+

Someone who wants a different, maybe cheaper experience than staying in a hotel, where it's more homey and personal than living in a generic hotel room with random neighbors. – Female, 18-34



DIFFERENT IS COOL. Many consumers believe Airbnb guests aren’t interested in being simply “another guest” at a hotel. Some have an anti-tourism attitude, and want to explore and experience things that others might not even know about. They reject the idea of a chain hotel, and prefer the homey and authentic experience granted through Airbnb. Staying in a home or apartment aligns with the unique, “genuine” experience that they seek; they love being able to balance social interaction and cultural immersion with retreating to their own private space – one that is quiet, comfortable, and clean.


You are staying in a real house. You get to see the decorations and style of home in another area. It feels like a home and not just a room. – Male, 35-54

Airbnb provides a more personal, intimate environment than hotels. They also offer a number of amenities and perks that are generally not offered in hotels. Also, they have a better location than most hotels and are an all around better value. Personal touches and services are much more readily available, as well. – Female, 18-34



IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY. Travelers are enthusiastic about the locations that Airbnb unlocks. They find that staying in a home or apartment allows them to be in the heart of the neighborhood, giving them access to areas that don’t generally have commercial options for visitors. Some consumers discussed public transportation much more frequently when talking about an Airbnb stay versus a hotel stay; while a hotel can sometimes be the destination, an Airbnb is a perfect launching off point for exploration. It’s a gateway to a local experience, but rarely the destination itself. This isn’t to say that consumers aren’t imagining a beautiful spot – most want to stay in a home that’s a bit nicer than their own – but rather that their accommodations aren’t all that they’re there to see. While they don’t have a checklist of amenities they require (although WiFi is a must), staying in a place with a kitchen is a bonus (just to have the option to cook), and potentially frees up funds for other experiences.


Comfortable space (intimate interior size -loft/ studio layout for living room/kitchen/bedroom with private bathroom plus balcony/patio) walkable to amenities is ideal. Property that has no formal check-in/out so just a security code to access is best. – Female, 35-54

It's a little adventure - but a safe one. The living spaces are vetted by the person who rents them. Locations are often exclusive or convenient. The prices are more than competitive. But mainly the living spaces lack the sterility of a hotel, giving you the feeling of having a home away from home. – Female 18-34



TOAST TO THE HOST. When it comes to their hosts, consumers unanimously agree on a pseudo-behavior code. A host is someone who is present if needed, but otherwise leaves you alone. They’re cordial, hassle-free, organized, and friendly. Most of all, a good host makes their stay simple: the space is clean and there’s no need to hunt down codes to open the garage door or acess the WiFi. The host, often through lack of interaction, makes visitors feel safe in their temporary home.


The host should be reliable and easy to reach. The place should be advertised honestly, so I know what to expect. – Female, 18-34

Hosts offer to show me around city but leave me alone if I don’t need help. – Female, 18-34

I appreciate hosts that are concerned towards their guest's safety, privacy, and enjoyment. – Male, 18-34

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THE MOST TRUSTWORTHY HOSTS… Are hotels. When describing the type of person that would prefer a hotel over an Airbnb, consumers paint a picture of a conservative, private, and more introverted guest – much the opposite of the Airbnb traveler. They’re not looking to stir the pot. Predictability is a plus – even when it comes to the more mundane things, like knowing they’ll have access to “endless hot water” and knowing what the rooms will look like. They appreciate consistency and knowing exactly what they’re going to get in terms of process (from booking through checkout) and amenities (housekeeping, workout facilities, pool, etc.). This guest values security, and wouldn’t want someone having access to them and their things. For some, there’s a greater sense of trust in an organization than in an individual – if something goes wrong, the hotel will take care of it.


Since a hotel is run by a public business, I will be at more ease that I know what services I will get by going to a hotel. While Airbnb sounds great for better deals and more exciting lodging, I can't be sure that I can trust a host. – Female, 18-34

Consistency. At a hotel, a major chain especially, I can expect similar service and products. I know I can talk to a staff member and get results when there are issues with their service or product. Some hotels offer deals with local businesses that can make traveling easier. – Male, 35-54

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HOTEL AS THE DESTINATION. Although they still seek convenience, travelers don’t have as high of expectations for a hotel stay as they do for an Airbnb stay when it comes to affordability and location. They prioritize security, peace of mind, amenities, and the hotel experience over neighborhood. That said, for many, the hotel itself is the experience. This is their chance to get away – to get pampered, relax, and lounge without the everyday distractions of being home. Women in particular crave an all-encompassing getaway. Travelers prioritize space, cleanliness, and comfort. They’re mildly obsessed with towels, linens, and in particular, pillows – something that didn’t come up when discussing a potential Airbnb stay.


The room is clean, quiet, smells fresh and has no odor. The bed and pillows are soft and feel as if they hug you as you lie into them. The tub is clean, large, and feels luxurious for a relaxing bath. The breakfast is extended to 10 AM, and checkout is at noon. – Male, 18-34

When traveling for vacation, I want as many luxury options as possible including spas, pools, shopping, and entertainment. – Female, 35-54

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AMENITIES GALORE. Because the hotel is viewed as the destination, and travelers have more prescribed expectations in terms of what their experience should look like, they have higher standards for amenities when it comes to hotels. Things like diverse breakfast options, pools and hot tubs, workout facilities, game rooms, and on-site restaurants and bars add to the fun and convenience of a hotel. Consumers recognize amenities as a competitive advantage for hotels, and therefore expect them to be top-notch as they’re seen as a direct reflection of the brand itself.


Quiet, Cable, HD television, Wifi, Mini bar, Firm mattress, Clean linen and towels, Blackout curtains, Clean carpet or hardwood floor, Easy access to interstate and/or attractions, modern decor, Digital thermostat, Pleasant smell, Pool, Fitness Center, Hotel Bar, Friendly and accommodating staff, Flexible checkout times, Reasonable cost, Reward program – Male, 18-34

Clean room, lots of amenities, up to date fixtures, newspaper at your door, free breakfast, gym, airy light room. – Female, 55+

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ENTER: BOUTIQUE HOTELS. Many large hotel chains are expanding to include smaller, boutique-style brands, often targeting millennial travelers.6 Starwood created Aloft with – you guessed it – loft-style rooms and upscale pet amenities. Hilton’s Canopy is opening its first location in the red-hot millennial travel destination of Reykjavik in July 2016. Hyatt Centric offers unique wellness and remote work amenities. Marriott is leveraging video content to promote their brands, Edition and Moxy. Many other chains have additional brands in the works. These niche hotels have the potential to deliver the more localized experience that Airbnb is known for, for example, Canopy encourages guests to “grab a Canopy bike, check out the local culture, and get to know our new neighborhood.” 7



UNIQUE IS THE NEW BLACK. Boutique hotels are thought to deliver a unique experience – whether it’s regionally decorated rooms, personalized interactions with staff, great culinary options on site, or smaller touches that often slip through the cracks at more standardized chains, such as chocolate on pillows. An ideal experience at a boutique hotel includes outdoor lounge space, suite-style living (but not necessarily a kitchen), and luxurious options to unwind. This idea of luxury exists at many levels – from nice shampoos and soaps in the room, to being waited on “hand and foot” by staff, to more traditional elements of hotel luxury such as breakfast-in-bed or upscale spa experiences. Consumers are enthusiastic about the benefits of breaking the mold of a traditional hotel stay.


My favorite boutique hotel has unique qualities and a fun feel (i.e., local artists painting each room differently or decorating to a theme). Courteous and knowledgeable staff. Fun ideas and history. Drinks on arrival or surprises in the room. Just more attention to detail compared to larger hotels. – Female, 18-34

Excellent and personalized service, unique rooms, trending furnishings, spa-like area (saltwater pool and hot tub), very open concept, plants, green/renewable energy – Male, 18-34


BRIDGING THE GAP. One way that hotels can fight Airbnb’s takeover is through these unique hotel chains. When we asked consumers what they expected of a boutique hotel experience, they envisioned a smaller footprint with unique, local flair and an overall sense of luxury – but nothing suggests that this couldn’t come from a larger hotel chain. Even those with established names and long legacies in the hotel industry have the opportunity to provide a unique experience to guests that break the traditional mold of what consumers expect a hotel to be. These chains from Hilton, Marriott, Starwood, Hyatt, and more, not only have potential to succeed, but could have a very strong foothold in the travel industry, as they are the best of both worlds in terms of uniting the more localized aspect of Airbnb and the trust and security that comes with staying at a chain hotel.








BRINGING IT HOME. Airbnb is revolutionizing the travel industry, both through its own booking platform and the innovation it has catalyzed in the hotel space. Here are a few things hotels should consider moving forward in order to deliver on traveler’s needs and desires: • Digital doesn’t matter as much as we think it does. Especially when it comes to millennials, we’re quick to think that any improvement is riddled with digital advances. Many of the emerging millennial-focused hotels include technological bells and whistles, including robot bellhops (Aloft)6, keyless entry (Moxy)8, and more. Consumers didn’t discuss digital at all when talking about ideal experiences at an Airbnb, hotel, or boutique hotel. Beyond expecting WiFi, they aren’t seeking out the latest and greatest gadgets as part of their stay.

• Trust in an individual vs. an organization. Airbnb has proven that we trust each other on a level that a decade ago many people would have thought was not possible. Yet many travelers are still hesitant to choose to stay in a location where a stranger has access to them and their things over a place that operates under a larger brand. While Airbnb has an opportunity to market themselves as a larger brand, touting the support and security that they provide to hosts and guests alike to increase the comfort level of travelers, Hotels have a leg up. The challenge for them will be remaining the trusted hospitality choice while broadening the experiences they offer their guests. • Different is good (but not always better). There will always be a segment of the population that wants a streamlined travel experience where they know exactly what to expect, and different trips require different lodging (e.g., business trip vs. bachelorette party). That said, more and more, travelers are seeking out unique experiences and want to explore in ways they haven’t before. While Airbnb is uniquely positioned to enable this type of travel, hotels don’t need to sit on the sidelines. Hotels can play host by crafting personalized recommendations for travelers, such as asking staff members to share what they love about the area, much like a host would (e.g. “Our Manager, Terry, loves to do this hike with her kids!”). • More than millennials. The desire for a unique experience – such as regional décor and personalized interactions– is not unique to millennials. While major hotel chains are often innovating primarily with millennials in mind, they should consider trying to deliver unique experiences to young and old travelers alike. 24


BEHIND THE SCENES. We believe that with forethought and careful execution, you only need a few questions to glean a ton of insight. Using ThoughtPath, our proprietary cognitive framework, we crafted a handful of questions around Airbnb, hotels, and boutique hotels and asked them of 1,500 consumers each. Feedback in hand, our qualitative experts utilized our (iM)merge Analytics approach to cull through the data, tease apart the nuance, and gain a deeper understanding of how consumers view and discuss each type of accomodation.


THE QUESTIONS: PREFERENCES Describe a situation when you’d prefer to stay at [a hotel over an Airbnb / an Airbnb over a hotel]?

IDENTITY Describe the type of person who would prefer to stay in [a hotel over an Airbnb / an Airbnb over a hotel]?

EXPERIENCE Explain what you are looking to get from a stay at [an Airbnb vs. a hotel / a hotel vs. an Airbnb]?

BOUTIQUE If you were going to stay at a boutique hotel, what would you expect your experience to be like?


SOURCES 1. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/05/19/the-new-digital-economy/ 2. https://growthhackers.com/growth-studies/airbnb 3. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-36212451 4. https://www.thestreet.com/story/13545819/1/rental-rewards-america-s-spare-bedrooms-arean-untapped-175-billion-opportunity.html 5. http://fortune.com/2016/01/27/big-hotels-airbnb/ 6. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/10/travel/millennials-hotels.html?_r=0 7. http://canopy3.hilton.com/en/index.html 8. http://moxy-hotels.marriott.com/our-story



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Brand Wars: Hotels vs. Airbnb  

A look at the rapidly changing hospitality industry, comparing hotels, boutique hotels, and Airbnb.

Brand Wars: Hotels vs. Airbnb  

A look at the rapidly changing hospitality industry, comparing hotels, boutique hotels, and Airbnb.

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