#AirbnbHorrorStory Video Goes Viral: So How Can Hotels Cash In on the Potential Decline of Airbnb?

May 18, 2023

By now, most of us are familiar with the origin story of Airbnb. In fact, the Airbnb founder story is popularly dubbed as one of the most inspiring entrepreneurial stories of our time, with credit to its humble beginnings. What began as two guys renting air mattresses in their apartment and later selling election-themed cereal to keep the idea afloat evolved into a world–renowned, $31 billion company. At its conception, Airbnb’s founders had no investors and thousands in credit card debt. Yet, against all odds, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk managed to steer Airbnb to large-scale, lasting success and notoriety.

But within the world of hospitality, Airbnb isn’t only an impressive not-so-overnight success story; rather, it signified a disruptive shift in travel culture and preferences. For years, the competition experienced within the hotel industry was exactly that – within the industry. Hotels only had other hotels (and perhaps the odd bed and breakfast or cottage rental) to worry about; that is until Airbnb entered the chat and disrupted the industry in an unprecedented manner. Suddenly, travelers around the globe seemed more than eager to flock to the flexible booking platform that promised bespoke, unforgettable, “one-of-a-kind” home-share accommodations that traditional hotels simply couldn’t replicate.

As of 2022, Airbnb’s platform was populated by 2.9 million hosts on Airbnb worldwide, with 14,000 new hosts joining the platform each month and over 7 million listings across 100,000 cities. Moreover, a survey conducted by Airbnb in 2021 found that 60% of respondents preferred to stay in an Airbnb over a hotel for their next vacation, while a 2019 survey by AllTheRooms Analytics found that Airbnb had surpassed the number of rooms available at the top 5 hotel chains in the world combined. Sometime after 2014, hoteliers could no longer ignore the writing on the wall – Airbnb was the new darling of the hospitality industry, especially in the eyes of millennial travelers. That is, until recently. As 2023 stretches out in front of us, we now witness the first signs of Airbnb’s potential fall from grace. 

Will Airbnb’s Greatest Differentiator Become Its Greatest Downfall?

When Airbnb achieved mainstream popularity, it marked the beginning of the sharing economy – an economic model defined as a peer-to-peer (P2P) based activity of acquiring, providing, or sharing access to goods and services often facilitated by a community-based online platform. More specifically, it introduced the unique appeal of the home-sharing hospitality model – a framework which, prior to Airbnb, was reserved for individuals offering their spare bedroom to visiting family members. Airbnb listings appealed to a new generation of travelers, specifically those seeking a more boutique and otherwise unique or memorable experience (a direct contrast to the continuity and rigid brand standards often maintained by popular hotel chains).

Airbnb listings were often anything but generic accommodations, offering travelers access to unique property types that allowed visitors to experience local culture more authentically and personally. At the same time, these listings were often more affordable than nearby hotels, and the platform promised users greater flexibility than hotels traditionally did. While hotels usually have set rules and frameworks to adhere to, Airbnb allowed guests to check in and out at any time, while hosts were empowered to set their own rules and regulations. The icing on the cake was, perhaps, Airbnb’s enthusiastic embrace of technology – for years, the platform has leveraged technology to make the booking (and reservation management) process more convenient and efficient for travelers and hosts alike.

However, as news of the COVID-19 pandemic consumed regions around the world, a notable shift occurred across the hospitality industry. For years, Airbnb benefited from the freedom it grants hosts to set their own rules and curate unique, unusual accommodation options. Bespoke offerings are, after all, the bread and butter of this platform. In the eyes of millennial travelers, Airbnb’s departure from traditional hospitality standards and conformity was refreshing and exciting, that is, until the COVID-19 pandemic. In an article published in the New York Times in May of 2020, the author posed the question on everyone’s mind: Had COVID-19 disrupted the disrupter? “For years, home sharing has put pressure on hotel rates and occupancy levels,” the article read. “Social distancing, hygiene, and refund policies may be the new game changers. As the industry seeks to recover, the contest between hotels and home shares finds both struggling to convince the public that their rooms are virus-free, their terms are fair, and their offerings are social-distancing appropriate.”

Even now, as pandemic-related fears fade into the background, Airbnb still finds itself caught in the crossfire of online criticism. On February 20th, a TikTok user posted a now-viral video detailing what she perceives to be the end of Airbnb’s reign. “We are in an era right now where hotels are making a comeback,” she shares in the clip. “I feel like a lot of Airbnb hosts right now are getting flack for their absurd cleaning rules and the cleaning fees that are associated with the booking fees.” This portion of the video has since been stitched by various users chiming in with Airbnb horror stories. At the same time, an onslaught of comments offers a rather enlightening glimpse into consumer opinion surrounding Airbnb in 2023. Comments include sentiments such as:

– “Airbnb’s have gotten out of control; with all the extra charges, it is better to stay in an upscale hotel.”
– “That’s why Airbnb is failing; there is no safety verification, no guarantee you won’t be filmed on secret cameras, and weird rules.”
– “Airbnb was cool when it was cheaper, but now that it’s not, I’m going back to hotels.”

If you click on the #airbnbhorrorstory hashtag on TikTok, you will see hundreds of videos with over 33 million views. “Some social media users have been speculating for weeks that the “Airbnbust is upon us,” shared Time magazine in November. “The conversation has swept across a number of social platforms, from Twitter to Facebook to Reddit, and it includes other short-term rental platforms like VRBO, too.” Similarly, Nerd Wallet ran an opinion piece titled, Unpopular Opinion: Airbnb Has Become Terrible. “The early days of Airbnb, like the early days of the internet, were full of promise,” writes the author. “Here was a way for travelers to see the world while meeting hosts and enjoying authentic experiences, all on a shoestring. Yet this promise, like the promise of the internet itself, has been corrupted by greed, lack of competition, and poor product management. Yes, Airbnb is to travel what Facebook is to the internet. In a word: terrible.”

Many of the factors that once worked in Airbnb’s favor may now be contributing to the platform’s potential demise.

A Time for Technology

As the appeal of Airbnb continues to loose momentum amongst travelers, hotels have a critical opportunity to highlight their advantages.  It’s easy to get caught up in products and profits, but many hotels lose sight of this basic fact: guests generate revenue.

Guest experience is what impacts all business outcomes. It’s the foundation for building and sustaining a successful brand. Putting the guest first allows organizations to invest in value-added products and services that guests love. But leveraging guest experience as a competitive advantage depends on great data, a  guest-centric culture, and technology that empowers the entire team to deliver a quality experience.  However, according to PWC, technology isn’t a final solution—it’s an enabler.

If you’re trying to gain a strategic advantage through guest service, you might focus on implementing technologies that empower exceptional experiences at every touchpoint. For example, marketing automation can free up time, eliminating time-consuming tasks so that staff can provide high value attention. Data can drive personalization, services, marketing, and pricing strategies. Predictive analytics can be used to respond to guest expectations as they evolve. A reservation recovery solution can streamline and simplify the direct booking process and re-engage travelers needing more time to make a booking decision. 

With the right booking abandonmentabandment technology, hoteliers can automatically inspire ‘almost-guests’ back to complete bookings once they are ready using customizable multichannel campaigns triggered based on behavior, delivering the optimal combination of intent-driven emails, SMS text message reminders, and web push notifications.More importantly, these campaigns include room info, dates, prices, and more to maximize your personalization and answer all the questions a prospective guest may have been holding on to before making a booking decision.

By leveraging the latest technologies, and collecting and analyzing data, hotels are better positioned to make informed decisions to drive their guest experience strategy, and discover the most valuable opportunities for revenue and loyalty.