Everyone in the Hospitality Industry Has an Opinion on Airbnb

Two recent hotel-industry events seemed to focus heavily on the topic of Airbnb, with many hospitality pundits opining that the company isn't playing by the rules. The industry's negative attitude toward the company comes as regulators are closing in on the startup's business.

The lodging industry has a big issue on its mind, and that issue surfaced in a major way during a pair of New York City conferences last week.

At the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association’s (BLLA) Hotel Investment Conference and the 37th Annual NYU International International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, panelists couldn’t stop talking about the new disruptor in town, Airbnb. And the fact that the accommodation-finding app was such a hot topic means that opinions are a bit all over the place. Read on for a few examples.

BLLA Hotel Investment Conference

Smith Travel Research Senior Vice President Jan Freitag: “[Airbnb’s] touchy-feely, ‘share a room’ thing, that’s all bull. The reality is that these are full units.”

Commune Hotels + Resorts CEO Niki Leondakis: “We should have been where Uber and Airbnb are now with booking three years ago and [boutique hotels] are slow to the table.”

Nola Hospitality Senior Vice President Paul Ruffino: “New York is like no where else. People call me for rooms in New York and they never ask me what the hotel looks like, where it is, if it’s a great place. All they care about is the price because it’s a commodity market mostly. I think people still use Airbnb because it’s kind of a commodity market by market so when they go to New York they go to Airbnb, right, maybe?”

NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference

Interstate Hotels CEO Jim Abrahamson, chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA): “We’re not going to stop them, but they have to be regulated. Half the inventory of Airbnb is illegal in New York.”

Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian: In revealing that his company had invested in a competing home-sharing service called onefinestay, he said that “we have to move towards this stuff, to pay attention to how guests look at different experiences.”

Hilton President and CEO Christopher Nassetta: “I think there’s an opportunity with Airbnb, HomeAway and these platforms to be additive if everyone’s operating by the same rules. Travel and tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, the pie is growing bigger and these organizations are allowing that by democratizing the industry and ancillary spend—that’s good! But what’s important is that you don’t have businesses being created that are skirting the rules.”

Airbnb’s Headaches Rise

And that’s not the half of it. In recent years the crackdown on unauthorized Airbnb rentals in New York City has affected the number of the service’s listings, according to the New York Post.

“Increased attention to and growing outrage over Airbnb has compelled the city to increase its enforcement against illegal hotel activity,” Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal told the Post. “It’s clear that this has had a chilling effect on the industry.”

The hotel industry itself, through AH&LA, has launched campaigns against the startup and others.

And in the company’s home base of San Francisco, concerns about Airbnb hurting the local housing market are leading local legislators to attempt to regulate the local industry yet again. But the company defends both its practices and its local users.

“For thousands of San Franciscans, Airbnb is an economic lifeline, making it possible to stay in the city they love,” company spokesman Christopher Nulty told the Associated Press.

For some hotel-industry critics, however, even these regulatory efforts may not be enough. On Tuesday, Monty J. Bennett, chairman and CEO of the Ashford Group of Companies, who spoke at the NYU event, wrote a CNBC op-ed in which he described Airbnb as “akin to a criminal enterprise under federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organization Act) statutes.”

Bennett, whose company owns significant interests in the luxury-hotel industry, insisted that regulatory efforts should reach wider than they are.

“More city councils, state attorneys general and U.S. attorneys should look into Airbnb’s practices,” he added. “Lawmakers should seriously determine the legality of enterprises such as Airbnb and ensure that everyone is playing by the same rules.”

(Effie Y./Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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