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Airbnb is about to become the world's largest hotelier, WHY should I care?

The new sharing economy is everywhere we have all heard of, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, KickStarter & possibly even the non-profit Kiva. But have you heard of DogVacay, TaskRabbit, ParkingPanda, (hmm I am starting to sense a trend here?) Or other room rental sites like FlipKey, Roomarama or One Fine Stay? What about Breather.Com, for meeting space? It is nearly impossible to keep up with all the new businesses providing alternatives for the business traveller.

For those of us in the Meeting Planning Industry, we have to be aware of these trends because some of these new trends and businesses can greatly impact our jobs.

Sue Peltier wrote about this in her article “Is Airbnb becoming a threat to your room block?" on Meetings.net and in, “Will Airbnb impact traditional meeting room blocks?, on Conferences That Work said, Adrian Segar wrote that while he is a fan of Airbnb personally, he thinks it will have a large impact on conferences, specifically in pre-booked room blocks. Chip Conley, head of global hospitality and strategy for Airbnb in “Are you experienced?" published in Meeting Planning Professional states, “Sharing those resources means we don't have to go out and build new hotels, new cars, etc.," he says. “And if we could actually be a little bit more efficient in our use of resources in the world, that's absolutely a great thing for the environment."

And as Conley points out some cities, like San Francisco are actually lacking in hotel rooms, so Airbnb works with meeting planners to provide alternative accommodation. “San Francisco is a very hotel-scarce city—there just aren't enough hotel rooms for the sheer volume of people coming in," he says. “So we're working quite closely with meeting planners to actually provide alternative accommodations for their attendees."

So, undeniably Airbnb and other similar site will impact how meeting planners do business. Ignore them and other online booking agents at your peril. So what does it mean for us as Meeting Planners, how do we adapt? There are some advantages for attendees who use Airbnb or similar platforms, and there are some disadvantages.

Some of the advantages are, cheaper rooms, two people from the same business can share a 2 bedroom apartment, and often at a similar price to a single hotel room. Attendees can experience more of a local flavor, experience the city get a local feel. For many attendees it can positively impact his or her bottom line, which can be the difference between attending or not. If you are in a situation where the rooms are sold out at a large meeting or conference it can be an excellent way to allow more attendees to participate.

The biggest disadvantage for the meeting planner is the unknown. We rely on booking room blocks, to ensure a good room rate, and venues often waive the cost of the meeting rooms as incentive to ensure the participants stay in the hotel. This is relatively unchartered water in the business travel industry, so we need to address the issue up front. We won't know how many rooms we can count on. As planners we have to do what we do best - plan ahead! We have to be prepared in advance to tackle this issue.

There are a number of things we can do to encourage participants to stay in the conference hotel. Try thinking creatively on how to incentivize participants to stay on site. Here are a few ideas:

  • Reduced Registration fees for those staying in the hotel.
  • Provide early registration for those who book their hotel at the same time.
  • Provide a VIP event only for those staying in the hotel, for instance a reception with the keynote speaker, or a networking event.
  • Bring the local flavor to the participants; hire a bus for a night tour of the city, or tickets to a local cultural or sporting event.
  • Provide a basket of local goodies, in the conference hotel rooms.

As we embrace this new economy, or way of doing things anticipating how it will affect your meeting, incentivizing participants to stay in the conference hotel, and creating a contingency plan for a drop in room sales, will impress your client, and ensure you have a successful event.

CMP