Hotels can learn from Airbnb, according to a panel at the Annual Hotel Conference 2016 at the Hilton Deansgate hotel in Manchester.
Starting off the discussion, director of hotels and hospitality at BDRC James Bland suggested that millennials "are not loyal to specific brands but they still value brands as a concept - they value them more highly". He added that the comfort of a home outflanked cost in a recent survey of reasons why people book a home stay, and that there is a desire for "unique, new, exciting experiences".
Roxane Gergaud, co-founder of budget boutique hotel website Doris & Dicky, said she originally set up the website because she found it difficult to find small, charming hotels that she could afford. She admitted that she hosts on Airbnb and also uses the website to find accommodation. She said: "The offering is different. It's important to benefit from the learnings, but also to call out the benefits of staying with hotels."
Chief executive of BDRC Cris Tarrant agreed that customers are looking for "authentic" experiences, adding that, in the US, Airbnb is generating tourism economy. He highlighted that 12% of respondents in a recent homestay survey said that, had they not booked with Airbnb, they would not have made the journey at all. "Once, the most important thing was the room. Now, people are much more social and are looking for social spaces," he explained.
"Airbnb is encouraging people to travel in a different way," agreed Andrew Shaw, associate vice-president of hotel development at InterContinental Hotels Group, "which means they're out there and they will use us". However, he emphasised that hotels need to "focus on what we have got and what we are offering", adding: "If you lose millennials to Airbnb now, it will be much harder to get them back later".
Tarrant said that hotels are thinking about "protecting their own revenue", when they should be looking at opportunities for new revenue streams, and that "brand loyalty is a digital tool" that hotels need to deploy. One of the important benefits of hotels he highlighted was that brands allow customers to be "confident" in their accommodation decision; however, he added that the industry needs to make sure it is "providing the experience the customer is looking for".
Google's Edward Lines encouraged delegates to think about mobile offerings: "Every year we're seeing mobile device bookings increasing - and not just from generation Y."
Shaw took a positive line and agreed age could be a factor in travel behaviour: "Millennials will grow up and have kids and they will change. The fundamentals won't change, we just have to make sure we catch millennials and keep them on side."
Latest video from The Caterer