How hotels can beat home sharing

Photo credit: Paul Bradbury//Getty

The hotel industry likes to whine. It’s true, right? First (and still), the online travel agencies. Hoteliers love to bemoan what they allude to as egregious commission structures. Turns out, hotels have always been receptive to the traditional 10-percent travel agent commissions, but hike it up to 25 percent and throw it online and hoteliers scream bloody murder. To be fair, there are “Goodfellas” characters that would blush at that rate.

Hotel chains and their owners are never going to wrestle back control of their inventory unless they take the intrepid step of pulling their hotels off the OTA sites. I don’t think this will ever happen, though the impasse between Hyatt and Expedia, which appears to have been hashed out, shows just how serious negotiation talks between hotel chains and OTAs have become. And while hotels continue to collaborate with OTAs, in recent times they’ve made efforts to drive a bigger proportion of direct bookings, their cheapest reservations channel.

Short of ridiculing the Travelocity gnome’s height, hotel companies, to some degree of success, have pushed the notion that booking direct is unfailingly the customer’s smartest move: lowest rate, loyalty-point accumulation, peace of mind that the booking is not in the hands of a third party should something happen, so on and so forth. Hotels have made strides in doing that and it’s the same adherence to message that could help them blunt the impact of today’s most pressing distruptor: home-sharing platforms.

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The AH&LA and other lobbying groups continue to mount campaigns over the legality of sites like Airbnb—and hotel companies and owners should allow them to continue to do this on their behalf. But instead of whining over a level playing field—taxation, fire, life and safety (all important issues)—hotel companies and owners, in order to beat back home sharing, should promulgate their strengths while underscoring home sharing’s weaknesses.

In San Sebastián, Spain, on vacation, a group of us used HomeAway to find an apartment. It was cheaper than any hotel in the area (they were all sold out) and had a stunning view of the sea. All compelling reasons to use home sharing—I get it. Here’s why not.

First, what better after a long trip then having to call your “host” and wait 25 minutes for her to show up with the key? Then, once she arrives, the requisite tour and instruction on how to turn the lights on and off. Second, we were there four nights and afforded one towel each. Not that I necessarily needed it since I could spit sunflower seeds harder than our shower’s water pressure. Still, there was no housekeeping to replenish any linens, nor were there any travel amenities, such as shampoo or soap. Third, and what drew my real ire, no responsiveness to a vexing event.

At one point during our stay, we were locked out of the apartment. If you lose your keycard at a hotel, a quick trip to the front desk will remedy the situation. Not here. A string of phone calls to our host went unanswered, as did texts and emails. Yes, the situation was our doing, but to not have recourse to fix it was unacceptable and infuriating. Luckily, we found another tenant in the building who was able to hop the balcony and let us into the unit. Oh, and he never even asked if we were actually staying there.

Here’s the upshot: the things that make hotels great can be used to dilute home sharing. This is my major issue with the hotel industry: instead of being complaintive, show conceit. Don’t beat around the bush; tell the consumer bluntly why you are the better product. It’s not about disparaging the other; it’s about showing your wares, your benefits.

OTAs have taken their slice out of hotels. Home-sharing sites are turning residences into business opportunities. There are disruptors out there with a taste for blood. It’s time to pull out the crucifix.