Letting the Air out of Airbnb

DISRUPTION

  • Ten years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the IPhone and, as he predicted, changed the world. The original device looks almost “cute” alongside the powerhouse cell phones we all use today, but it was a mighty disrupter that upended the music and publishing businesses forever. It even introduced the word disruption to business discourse.
  • Then Travis Kalanick imagined fellow citizens offering each other a lift and Uber disrupted the transportation industry reducing the word “taxi” to an historical reference.
  • After dealing a knock-out punch to the publishing and bookstore industries, Jeff Bezos unleashed Amazon on retailing and mighty department store chains like Macy’s and JC Penney’s could feel the ground give way under their brick and mortar retail palaces.
  • In 2007 Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia decided to blow up an air mattress and rent it out in their apartment in San Francisco to help pay the rent. When Nathan Belcharczyk showed them how to utilize the new IPhone and internet powerhouse combo to turn their air mattress into a business, Airbnb was born and the travel industry was put on notice.

TRAVEL INDUSTRY

At first Airbnb seemed like a boutique niche that would appeal primarily to thrifty vacation travelers who wouldn’t mind sleeping in somebody else’s bed. Millennial solopreneurs and traveling salesman might look to save a buck and join retirees bunked into spare rooms and garage apartments, but legitimate business travelers would never stoop so low. Or would they?

Chesky and Gebbia had their first customers in their apartment in the summer of 2008, during the Industrial Design Conference held by Industrial Designers Society of America, where travelers had a hard time finding lodging in San Francisco. By March 2009, the Airbnb site had expanded beyond air beds and shared spaces to a variety of properties including entire homes and apartments, boats, tree houses, and private islands. In February 2011, Airbnb announced its 1 millionth booking. In January 2012, the company announced its 5 millionth night booked internationally and, in December 2013, reported over 6 million new guests in that year alone. The travel industry was starting to smell disruption.

MEETING AND EVENT INDUSTRY

Rather than recoil from this new disruptive force, meeting and event planners have found ways to take advantage of this new force in the travel industry.

  • A shortage of available lodging in San Francisco during a large conference was the initial spark that ignited Airbnb. A shortage of available hotel rooms is still a problem in many convention cities and planners are turning to Airbnb as a solution.
  • Younger budget minded attendees are eager to stay in alternative lodging to save money. Planners are even including an Airbnb widget on event websites to make it easy for attendees to book their own alternative accommodations.
  • Smaller more intimate venues for incentive programs, board meetings and bonding programs, for example, are available all over the world and now listed on Airbnb. Planners must carefully research available services and insurance in these boutique venues, but once a planner understands the caution required when booking outside the traditional venue market a wide variety of properties tailored to specific needs becomes available on Airbnb.

As one planner said recently during a discussion of Airbnb’s role in the event industry, “If this is disruption, bring it on. Airbnb has expanded my options beyond my wildest dreams. It was just up to me to see the possibilities.”

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