End of year is a great time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. In 2016, the lodging industry saw opportunities and pitfalls. I often wonder how micro lodgings in Maine, Maine Bed and Breakfasts, can learn from these industry moments. It is important to watch the industry leaders and utilize any tidbits of knowledge that trickle down to smaller businesses. Airbnb is a great company to watch and learn from. Many think that Bed and Breakfasts are in competition with Airbnb, this is true and false. My small bed and breakfast is in competition with other hosts on Airbnb, but not in competition with Airbnb. Airbnb is an online platform (my website might be in competition with Airbnb, but that’s another story). In my world, Airbnb is a online travel agent for my business. As a host on Airbnb and as an independent innkeeper, I watch Airbnb closely to see if I want to stay associated with the bigger conglomerate. 2016 presented some interesting topics for hosts and innkeepers associated with them to consider. Here are my 2016 Airbnb lessons:
- Be careful with discrimination. Have a policy of inclusion and respect. As a seasoned Innkeeper in Maine, I know that discrimination is not an option in the business world. If you have a legitimate business, you must know that there are federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination. The Airbnb non-discrimination policy that was introduced in 2016 was a surprise to me as a business owner. I assumed everyone on Airbnb understood that if you open your house to guests, everyone can be your guest. Educating yourself on all federal and state laws impacting your business is important. In Maine there are very few cultural differences that would provoke discrimination. There are, however, challenges in allowing children and pets in Maine Inns. If Airbnb doesn’t already have a policy on these factors, they will soon. Service animals are definitely a whole new ballgame for innkeepers. Here is the Maine law on service animals: http://www.maine.gov/mhrc/guidance/serviceanimal_housing.htm
- Airbnb is not going away. Find ways to make it work. With a valuation of 30 billion dollars in 2016 and 2.3 million listings, Airbnb is not going out of business any time soon. Airbnb is proving to be a strong force in the industry and as a small lodging business, you should get on-board. Airbnb is an online platform that sells rooms. If you sell rooms, you should be listed on Airbnb. Including Airbnb in your sales strategy opens up doors to new possibilities and a younger demographic. A partnership with a online travel agent allows a better flow of communication and understanding of practices. Seeing what other hosts are doing can formulate new business ideas. I, personally, would love to see PAII (Professional Innkeepers Association) or AIHP (Association of Independent Hospitality Professional) create a partnership with Airbnb and become a compliment to the online platform. A collaborative community could be formed.
- There are bigger powers than you out there – ‘Book on Google’ ‘Google Hotel Ads’. If you think it is hard being a small fish in a big pond, think about how hard it is to be a big fish in an ocean. There is always something bigger than you. Airbnb is not without its challenges. I am not even referring to the lawsuits and compliance issues, I am referring to those on top trying to knock you down. Airbnb and other online travel agents like Expedia and Booking.com, will have more competition in the near future. Google, a multinational technology company that is king in the search engine world, has been trying for years to cash in on travel revenue and they might have finally figured it out. In the past Google would pass guests on to independent websites. Now Google is integrating booking engines right into their search options and ads so you can book directly from Google. The impatient guest can now book a lodging with less clicks. Not all booking engines are equipped to hook into the Google system yet, but I am sure this will be an option soon. It will be interesting to see how OTA’s try to compete with Google Instant Booking.
- Be innovative, look for different revenue streams. Airbnb Experiences & Noirbnb. The traditional Bed and Breakfast industry is constantly ridiculed for staying stagnant. Doilies and grandma images are conjured up when B&B is mentioned. It is important to change and move with the times. Airbnb in 2016 introduced Airbnb Experiences. Airbnb knew that it needed to move to the next level of hospitality and diversify their income. By adding more options, you could potentially increase revenue. All Innkeepers know that creating packages is a valuable sales model. Some guests need a little motivation to book one place over another and if your property can combine a sunset sail and a comfortable room, that sunset sail might tip the scale in your favor. In 2017, try to sell experiences at your property. Re-visit your package offerings and be creative. The other innovation that Airbnb saw in 2016 was Noirbnb. Noirbnb is not a product of or related to Airbnb but a reaction to the discrimination issues plaguing Airbnb. I am not saying the introduction of this new travel platform is right or wrong, I am just in awe of this new company. Noirbnb saw opportunity in another companies flaws. Noirbnb’s motto is that they are creating a welcoming and safe platform for guests to choose accommodations. Noirbnb will have to be another blog post. An understanding of this reactionary company is way too complicated. The start up story is sobering. Lesson is to always be looking for opportunity in the market.
The purpose of listing my 2016 lessons learned, is to share with and motive Innkeepers in 2017. Small businesses are an important component of any economy. Do not feel overwhelmed, but learn and move on. Here is to more heads in beds in 2017.