Industry Update
Opinion Article16 September 2016

4 Lessons Airbnb’s Marketing Strategy Can Teach Hoteliers

By Michael Innocentin , Executive Director, Digital Marketing at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International

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Oh, the infamous Airbnb. For years, major hotels have taken comfort that it's left alone their most valuable travelers. Since its birth (and near-failure) in 2008, the home-sharing startup has targeted leisure travelers with the promise of authentic local travel experiences.

But no more. Now valued at $30 billion — more than any major hotel brand — Airbnb has set its sights on business travelers. It announced in July that it had inked a partnership with a trio of travel management companies: American Express Global Business Travel, BCD Travel, and Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

Will business travelers bite? Some, like Tad Milbourn, CEO of San Francisco tech startup Payable, already have. Business travel spending on Airbnb grew by 249 percent internationally during 2015 alone, beating out every major hotel company, according to a report from Certify. Our unassuming thinking — that corporate travelers need the services, security, and safety of a traditional hotel — has allowed Airbnb to gain the upper hand.

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A few hotel brands have already snapped up similar sites to avoid being frozen out by Airbnb. French multinational hotel group AccorHotels, for instance, recently acquired Airbnb competitors onefinestay, Squarebreak, and Oasis.

"It would be absolutely foolish and irresponsible to fight against any new concept, offer, or services like this, let alone fighting against the sharing economy," AccorHotels CEO Sébastien Bazin says. "This is where the world is leading us. All of those new services are very powerful and very well implemented and executed. You need to embrace it."

While most hotel brands aren't about to remodel their prized properties to enter the sharing economy, they can learn from Airbnb's marketing prowess.

Wake Up to Airbnb's Marketing Brilliance

Airbnb has excelled at digital marketing because of its dedication to getting the basics right. By leveraging hosts' and guests' feedback, Airbnb communicates the authentic experiences it can deliver to travelers of all stripes.

To accelerate your digital marketing capabilities, take a few pages from Airbnb's playbook:

1. Optimize your site with A/B testing.

Let's be honest: A lot of hotel websites need work. That's a problem, considering that Google found 74 percent of leisure travelers and 77 percent of business travelers plan trips online, beating out all other sources of information.

Leverage A/B testing like Airbnb to build a site customers love. The home-sharing giant tests everything from site layouts to slider bars for price filters to determine customers' preferred configuration. You might not have the resources of Airbnb, but constantly improving conversion rates is key to online marketing. Try Google Analytics Content Experiments or the Visual Website Optimizer to get started.

2. Get a room via paid search.

While hoteliers have invested for years in paid search, it's time to up the ante. Just last year, Airbnb expanded its search advertising and reports more than 20 percent of its total traffic coming from the tactic. Plus, it recoups some of those costs by charging hosts 12-15 percent on new bookings referred by paid search.

Hotels should pay attention to the amount that Airbnb spends to attract bookers. While many hoteliers are comfortable spending up to 10 percent of the sale cost on paid search, which is in line with traditional travel agent fees, the reality is that it may be necessary to spend more to attract qualified traffic.

3. Crown content king

Airbnb is an early and excellent adopter of content marketing. Its success can, in part, be attributed to articles that stoke consumers' wanderlust and images about the experiences an Airbnb stay can provide. Airbnb's city guides, packed with features including restaurants where locals eat, have been particularly effective. Travelers desire authentic experiences, and Airbnb leverages a holistic content strategy to demonstrate how "real" a home stay can be.

To craft your own content strategy, think about what stories you want to share with customers. If you cater to the young at heart, what wild adventures have customers had by booking with you? Collaborations with loyalty members and frequent travelers are an excellent way to expand destination-specific content. If you can tell the story customers want to hear, they'll come to you when they're ready to make a purchase decision.

4. Give guests a voice

Rather than ignore guests who want to share their experiences online, why not embrace them? Airbnb leverages hosts' and guests' experiences, running a blog that hosts local content curated by hosts. It even shares guest photos on social media and allows hosts and guests to customize its logo

Tap into the power of user-generated content by inviting guests to write for your blog. Rather than create a "me first" echo chamber on your social accounts, feature guests' photos. When customers feel heard, they'll advocate enthusiastically on your behalf, both on- and offline.

Like it or not, this isn't 1990 anymore. Airbnb knows guests are searching online, reading reviews, and consuming content before booking. Before it wins the business crowd, too, make its strategies your own and prepare for a full house.

Michael Innocentin

Michael Innocentin is executive director of digital marketing for FRHI Hotels & Resorts, which is now part of AccorHotels, a world-leading travel and lifestyle group and digital innovator offering unique experiences in more than 4,000 hotels, resorts, and residences, as well as in more than 2,500 of the finest private homes around the globe.

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