The rising role of Airbnb as a distributor came to the fore at this year’s Hotel Distribution Event in London.
An additional route to market was seen as further challenging the brands, with a number of owners questioning the need for a flag.
Jacob Rasin, director of business development, Pandox, said: “I would love for Airbnb to succeed with distribution. They are one of the super-brands of travel.”
Nick Chadwick, SVP hotel asset management, Starwood Capital Group, said: “We’ve put one of our hotels on Airbnb and we’ve been surprised at how many rooms we’ve sold. All our guests have been delighted with the service they’ve been receiving, which is more than they were expecting. The commission is less, but it’s not the easiest tool to use and we don’t have full control of pricing.”
Later in the day Steven Howe, digital manager, Apex Hotels, told attendees of the group’s experiments with the platform at one of its hotels, where it had bought in new customers and, he pointed out, at a cheaper rate than the cost of an OTA.
The cost of the OTAs was a frequent topic of debate, with Chadwick calling for an evolution, potentially driven by new challengers coming into the market. He said: “It would be good and healthy if the hotels were paying the most when they got the most out of the OTAs. Maybe there’s an evolution, a more dynamic pricing model.”
Access to distribution was a factor in choosing – or not – a brand. Stephen Walker, principal, strategic operations, KSL Capital Partners, said: “When we look at operators we ask to what degree can they control distribution and to what degree are they managing distribution. The OTAs are very focused on just delivering rooms, but that’s not the best way to deliver additional revenue sources.”
Rasin was as happy to go it alone, telling attendees: “The first thing we do is to look at which concept will work for which hotel, do we need a brand? Then which type of structure and then net rate – can we run it ourselves? It’s case-by-case but branding is not top when we start looking at hotels. First and foremost we look at what we can do with the hotel, branding is not the first thought – If we keep independent we can be flexible and keep our options – consumer trends change fast – we like options.”
Peter Tengstrom, partner & managing director, Midstar, pointed to the distributors as a method of gauging how successful branding choices had been. He said: “OTAs are more friends now than foes. You have to manage the brand on the OTA’s website, that’s your window to promote the product. The OTAs help show the naked picture if you can’t perform.
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