Is There Room for Hotels in the Sharing Economy?

While Airbnb and its competitors continue to create big headaches for the lodging industry, at least one major hotel chain is showing its willingness to play ball with the room-sharing model. And more chains could follow.

For people who work in the hotel sector, saying “Airbnb” in the wrong quarter can feel tantamount to heresy.

But what may seem like an impossible chasm for the industry to leap is setting the stage for an unlikely collaboration, with the Hyatt hotel chain’s recent investment in London-based Airbnb competitor Onefinestay.

Last month, Onefinestay confirmed the investment as part of a $40 million Series D investment round, and some synergy from the collaboration is already evident.

On Monday, Skift reported that Onefinestay is working closely with Hyatt on a pilot program to promote offerings at the hotel chain’s five-star Hyatt Regency London—The Churchill.

“The game here is about exploring,” Onefinestay CEO Greg Marsh told the website. “The opportunity here is recognizing this is a new type of activity and trying to understand it and meeting guests’ needs as best we can.”

Regulatory Concerns Persist

Hyatt’s collaboration with a company known for booking travelers in fancy vacation homes and apartments is an unexpected departure in an industry that has traditionally perceived similar room-sharing competitors as a threat. Last year, for example, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) informed its members via email that it was launching a campaign against short-term rental companies.

“We’re talking about a new business model being adopted by some who are using apartment stock and turning them into illegal hotels,” AH&LA CEO Katherine Lugar said in an interview with Lodging magazine last year. “Ensuring there’s a level playing field and sensible regulations in place that keep the safety of our guests is paramount.”

But while the campaign has had some success, particularly on the regulatory front, it hasn’t slowed Airbnb’s growth.

An Unlikely fan

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson has argued multiple times, including on television, that Airbnb is an interesting model for the hotel industry to learn from.

“I think it’s a better leisure play than a business traveler play. It is a better value play,” Sorenson told The Washington Post earlier this year. “So I think folks who maybe wouldn’t otherwise travel might use Airbnb because they can get a room in New York or Washington instead of sleeping on someone’s couch.”

And there may even be room for collaboration. Skift reported Monday that Marriott may make its rewards program available to Airbnb travelers, though neither company would confirm this.

Whether that suggests the sharing economy might find some common ground with the hotel industry is still up in the air. For now, though, the industry’s success is starting to become hard to ignore.

(Onefinestay screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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