What the Sharing Economy Means for Association Meetings

One CVB recently became the first to partner with Airbnb. If more destinations decide to do the same, how will it affect association meetings?

Late last month the San Francisco Travel Association (SFTA) made headlines when it became the first destination marketing organization to partner with Airbnb.

Airbnb is part of the evolution of the travel industry. As the destination marketing organization for San Francisco, we’ll continue our strong relationship with the hotel community as we leverage this new way of doing business.

“The growth of the sharing economy has generated new visitor demands for creative lodging and transportation options around the world. San Francisco is excited to be the first destination to formalize a relationship in this exciting new space,” said Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel, in a statement.

Together, SFTA and Airbnb will connect tourism to neighborhoods by encouraging visitors to live like a local. There will be neighborhood tourism toolkits created for local merchants, and unique content will be developed about local neighborhoods, businesses, and experiences throughout the city.

Additionally, Airbnb will be connected to meeting and event planners to achieve peak attendance during citywide conventions and big events while meeting the diverse lodging preferences of a wide range of delegates coming to the city.

“Airbnb is part of the evolution of the travel industry. As the destination marketing organization for San Francisco, we’ll continue our strong relationship with the hotel community as we leverage this new way of doing business which extends to many business sectors within our industry to meet the needs of our visitors, provide increased value for our partners and expand tourism-related revenue overall,” D’Alessandro said.

While cities and the hospitality industry have been overwhelmingly negative toward services like Airbnb (although the Hyatt hotel chain recently invested in London-based Airbnb competitor Onefinestay), usage and revenue continue to grow, with the company accounting for 40 million room nights in 2014.  In other words, it’s not going away anytime soon, and associations need to be prepared for its potential effects when it comes to conference housing.

Potential Meeting Effects

A conference room block is the traditional way that association meetings handle their attendee accommodations. And a strong room block gives a group more negotiating power with both the host cities and its hotels. Yet, a recent joint study showed a third of group room nights are already booked outside event-contracted room blocks in the United States. Will this number increase as business travelers become more comfortable with Airbnb and other short-term rental services?

My answer for now: Depends on the attendee.

For example, I think one major consideration is who is covering the cost of an attendee going to a meeting. If it is the attendee’s employer, I would say it’s more likely he or she will stay within the room block because of an employer’s unfamiliarity with the service and that the company may be concerned about the risks it takes on by putting an employee in a short-term rental.  (A recent GBTA Foundation survey showed that one-in-four companies don’t let business travelers use ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft for similar reasons.)

However, if attendees are footing the bill, I think they will be more open to using a short-term rental, which could potentially save them money not only in terms of lodging but also in terms of food since they’d have access to a kitchen and can cook their own meals. Also, a short-term rental could be more family-friendly if they’re traveling with children.

In addition, looking at attendee demographics and job roles may also be a good way to determine the likelihood of short-term-rental usage. For example, if your meeting has a large number of student attendees, they may be more likely to book a three-bedroom apartment that a few of them can share for less money, while if your attendees are all execs, chances could be greater they’ll stay within the block. Perhaps one way to combat student attendees staying outside the room block is to offer a student room rate or something similar.

But, even with these considerations out there, I do think it’s necessary for associations to start thinking about how these services will affect their meetings. After all, you don’t want to be caught off guard if in the next few years you see your room block numbers dwindle. Heck, associations may even want to consider working with these services to offer attendees different housing options.

How do you think the sharing economy will affect association meetings moving forward? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Yuko Honda/Flickr)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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