Sharing or caring?

Fred van Eijk, Managing Director, Travel Counsellors Australia

Fred van Eijk, Managing Director, Travel Counsellors Australia

Sharing or caring?

Let me start by saying I am a fan of Airbnb. Actually of the sharing economy. It creates opportunities you otherwise would not be able to take, gives some extra income and it is at times better for our planet. I have had some unforgettable memories of my weekends in an Airbnb accommodation, mostly good, but not always.

I remember arriving in our apartment in Paris on the 31st of December on time for our new year’s celebrations. French plumbing will never get an award, but this was worse. The toilet did not flush. Bit of a challenge with 4 people. The owner was on a ski break in the Alps and was not contactable. Despite several attempts no Parisian plumber was prepared to come and rescue us as they were eagerly preparing for their own parties whilst we desperately used the toilets in neighbouring café’s. Thanks to the only friendly neighbour in the building did we get someone to fix it for us. Not a drama, but obviously rather inconvenient and for me a great confirmation of the value of having a caring travel agent who books only through reliable partners and offer a 24/7 support when needed.

I also have an apartment on Airbnb and almost always welcome lovely guests. Except once when it was booked through a travel agent for his customers. Sharing economy is a people to people business. The moment it becomes part of another industry it can go wrong and becomes difficult to fix. Therefore I believe travel agents need to step up and not step down. Only offer accommodations to your clients when you are certain of the quality, service and care. That’s what they need you for and when appropriate are happy to pay a little bit extra for too. Don’t be a Jack of all trades, but be the master of added values.

In the very least there are insecurities with privately owned and listed accommodations. If a traveller is ok to accept that and deal with the consequences himself, that is fine and let him go ahead with it directly and let him take his own responsibility. If the traveller wants professional advice and a consistent offering and not only follow edited recommendations, he should embrace a travel agent. It’s two different economies and these can flourish next to each other. Mixing them up could be a sour cocktail.

Is this sharing economy a threat to the hospitality industry? You might think so, however some stats say otherwise. And so do these new developments of smart investors and hotel groups around the world. Not a threat, but a wakeup call and lessons to learn for the traditional hotel industry.

San Francisco based Airbnb was founded in 2008 as a way for people to easily list and rent out their spare rooms or their houses online. Since then, about 150 million people have stayed in three million Airbnb listings in more than 191 countries, according to the company.

People who want to pay less and/or want to experience more of a local flavour and stay in neighbourhoods where there are no or limited hotels. The cool neighbourhood Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York is a good example, where now funky hotels such as the Whyte and the William Vale have opened their doors and became immediate hotspots. In the Fitzroy suburb of Melbourne Tyrian serviced apartments offers a professional, well managed and consistent accommodation as an answer to Airbnb. In Sydney Veriu is another great example. Guests even check in at a café instead of the traditional reception area. All great alternatives for guests who do not want insecurities, but do want to go local. And for travel agents a great opportunity to offer a quality product whilst listening to the needs of their clients and offer their care to them.

My home town Amsterdam is one of the most popular Airbnb destinations in the world, the impact is clearly noticeable in the streets and a worrying development for us locals who are demanding higher quality tourism. An estimated 22,000 rooms and apartments are now offered for rent in the Dutch capital. But a threat to the hotel industry? Smart entrepreneurs open more affordable apartments and hotels in up and coming parts of our city. Amsterdam based hotel entrepreneur Arjen van den Hof recently opened De Jonker, a trendy converted building with 15 studios and suites all with kitchenette, perfect for a stay with family or friends and situated in upcoming and green Amsterdam East within walking distance of the city centre.

The city was smart as well. It reached an agreement with Airbnb to collect tourist tax and millions of euros are now received each year for the benefit of the city and its inhabitants and visitors.

Amsterdam’s hotels occupancy rates were at 76 percent in 2014, increasing to 78 percent in 2017 and estimated at 79 percent or more in 2018. The average daily hotel rate in Amsterdam was at 121 euros in 2014 and keeps growing. According to PwC’s forecast, this figure is expected to rise further in 2017 and 2018, despite the opening of more and more hotels.

Instead of seeing Airbnb and other new guys on the block as a threat or a loss of booking, client or guest, listen to the demands of the guest who wants to have a different experience or a more convenient accommodation and not paying ridiculously pumped up rates such as 900 dollars for a room in Sydney on new year’s eve which would normally be under 200 dollars. It is fair to say, that thanks to Airbnb we are seeing lots of great reactions in our industry. But it is even more fair to say, thanks to the travellers for making it so clear they want a different experience. Also a big thank you to the entrepreneurs, operators and caring travel agents in our industry to listen to these travellers and to come up with great accommodations at fantastic locations with the service the modern traveller should expect.

 

Source = Fred van Eijk - Travel Counsellors

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