Airbnb hotels

Did Airbnb Actually Help Hotels?

Like some of the most exciting startups of this century, Airbnb is a new kind of “aggregation” platform. It’s a portal that connects producers and consumers in the marketplace for accommodations—like Facebook does for content, or Amazon for commerce, or Uber for driving.

Five years ago, the “disruption story” being told was that Airbnb was going to challenge hoteliers and maybe even make their business obsolete, as young people ditched Marriotts and Hiltons for the empty beds of strangers. Since then, Airbnb has enjoyed one of the more magical runs of any company founded in the 21st century. With a $31 billion private valuation, it’s the second-biggest “startup” in the country, after Uber. Its annual revenues are doubling by the year.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, Airbnb has, in its own way, helped hotel bookings remain steady by taking nearly a third of travelers out of concierges’ hands.

Last year was the best year ever for hotel occupancy in the United States. The stock prices for the major hoteliers Marriott and Hilton are both up more than 40 percent in the last 12 months. The construction rates of hotels hasn’t kept up with demand, so, if it weren’t for the disruptive network of private rentals, travelers might be facing sky-high hotel rates.

Though the tech-fueled short-term rental firm is often positioned as a competitor to the hotel industry — for an example, take Accor’s recent announcement of its intention to offer a luxurious experience with similar features to Airbnb — there might be a fine balance of, dare we say it, co-existence between the company and hoteliers.

Like just about every story these days about revolutionary tech platforms, Airbnb is a story both of democratized access to commerce and the unintended consequences of those democratizing efforts, even when they succeed on their own terms.

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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