Social communities provide a lesson for hotel marketers: anything goes, nothing is fixed; the latest variations of hospitality do show clearly this.
My friend Ruth went away full of expectations: She had for the first time in her life tried home exchange: Six weeks in an old warehouse in Brooklyn, converted into spacious lofts. Ruth is an high-flying architect, but for six weeks in the Big Apple hotel she would need to create houses an estimated 300 years.
However, with home exchange that was no problem. So it looked like at least: You swop flat with another guy, and next time it will be vice-versa. The other guy was Susie. The mid-fifties lady from New York had sent directions by e-mail, she changed beds and hid the key under a wobbly window sill. "Good journey," she wished.
Okay, Susie had concealed that there were lodgers: Past every sunset an agile gang of nocturnal cockroaches began to rustle in corners and air shafts. You need some time to get used to. This goes for leaky windows, collapsing heating and a leaking roof as well.
But after the return visit in Ruth's own home, the marble floors dull with aggressive abrasive scrubs, the well-beloved and ridiculously expensive olive oil mysteriously disappeared before departure and the completely emptied fridge - then home exchange is just still in the experimental stage. Ah, by the way: If you by chance read this – you'll regret it, Susie!
Nevertheless the story illustrates both the front and back side of a marketing concept: Travelling does not necessarily mean finding yourself in standardized rooms, drinking standardized coffee and pay standardized room rates. Travelling is a sensual experience – the more stimulating the better. And there is also the "sharing" idea – we globally tend to share everything nowadays, files, software, cultures, and emotions both nice and Susie-based.
In brief: Internet has brought us closer together in many ways. As a response to it, social networks have generated entirely new forms of hospitality. Sure it will take a few more years before home exchange also in the travel expense management for large enterprises is a fixed size...
One step further than sites like Home Exchange or Intervac, but with an even more playful interpretation of the new "sharing" philosophy room intermediaries as US based Airbnb.com operate: The world leader of the young industry provides "exceptional" accommodation around the globe – which are, as far as you ask Airbnb, private homes of relaxed people from the neighbourhood.
The – unexpressed – context: Staying with a local seems to be one hundred times "cooler" than a businesslike hotel residence and promises added value for free such as insider tips, unique experiences as a part of the family and friendship forever. How heart-warming. But true? (better do not ask Ruth!)
Naturally such offers like the Airbnb make Hoteliers quite nervous – they immediately have in mind a world where everybody will be staying with friends and hotels become empty places. How awful. But do not worry: The certainly funny business idea of Airbnb is based on a simple marketing ploy: It pretends to be addressed only to private individuals who want to earn "with unused housing allowance".
But who says that people are allowed to participate only privately? Exactly. And this is also a varied offer of Airbnb. Let us have a look at the playlist: Whether the accommodation for six people in an old airplane, forever landed in Costa Rica, or the Hotel Villa Stella in Florida, a luxury accommodation for up to ten guests with daily price from $ 2,100, are pure private domiciles.
These are obviously not poor tenants who can only afford their property using overnight guests – they are no doubt professional hoteliers. It is therefore recommended innovative hoteliers, to get into the act as well. Set up in your property an Airbnb-floor, with individually decorated rooms, even crazy and perhaps low budget. And soon you are back in business.
Now you only need a local to make the whole thing look and feel as authentic as possible – please no drilled entertainers or dressed-up cowboys! But someone who can offer your Airbnb shoppers a warm welcome, true tips and maybe even a guided tour. Have already in your staff? You see, the concept also fits you.This is strictly an exclusive feature, reprints of this article in any shape or form without prior written approval from 4Hoteliers.com is not permitted.
Roland Wildberg is Travel Writer and Correspondent based in Berlin, Germany. He started as an Editor for the National daily 'Die Welt' (tourism section), later on switched to a freelanced career and nowadays mainly publishes on the Web. Observing the hospitality industry always has fascinated him as it looks like the perfect combination of sleeping and writing – work-live-balance as its best.
Roland also heads the annual 4Hoteliers ITB Berlin news micro-site journalist and video/photo teams. For more info: www.4Hoteliers.com/itb