As digital disruptor Airbnb attempts to muscle in on meeting space and business travel bookings, should traditional venues be worried? H&E North looks at the world of Airbnb for corporate events…

After corporate travel, MICE is the next most lucrative market for hotels, yet it’s a sector seen by many as one of the slowest in adopting new technology. It’s little surprise that online tech disruptors such as Airbnb are shaking up the landscape with their innovative peer-to-peer booking platforms, leaving many businesses considering Airbnb for corporate events.

Not only is Airbnb an attractive alternative for business travellers seeking accommodation, its latest meetings platform, Airbnb for Work has enjoyed strong growth since its 2014 launch as Airbnb for business, curating a selection of domestic properties across 800 global markets suitable for small meetings. The latest string to its bow, Airbnb Experiences, gives planners the ability to book team building activities hosted by local experts. Further features aimed at event planners include integration with travel and expenses company Concur, which works within the Airbnb app to help manage
spending on business trips.

With over 700,000 companies using the service to find and book peer-reviewed meeting spaces alongside nearby incentive and team building  experiences, all in addition to competitively priced accommodation, traditional providers are facing stiff competition.

With countless Airbnb horror stories making people think twice about trusting a stranger’s hospitality, the introduction of Airbnb Plus hopes to assuage the fears of event planners by offering a higher tier of inspected homes with faster, dedicated customer support.

However, Claire Steven, General Manager of four-star Leeds hotel, Oulton Hall, believes hotels alone can provide a seamless, convenient and secure setting that Airbnbs can’t match: “A dominating talking point in the industry has become the safety and wellbeing of business travellers. The benefit of staying at a hotel, is that event organisers and travellers have the guarantee that all the necessary safety procedures and systems are in place.”

“Alongside this, delegates can not only expect exceptional service but an experience that facilitates networking and getting together with colleagues in a comfortable, relaxed environment. Those staying can move fluidly from their morning breakfast, to the first workshop, right through to their evening meal, which can be enjoyed with the other guests.”

However, the peer-to-peer business model offered by Airbnb has clearly struck a chord with planners, as they continue to embrace the trend for combining business with experiential events. Its app offers those looking for something different a slick method of booking a convenient local event space with self-catering facilities, at a price many hotels will struggle to beat.

While these unique, private stock meeting spaces come with plenty of benefits, there is a danger of planners taking on added hassle, versus the security of booking a standard venue, typically offering on-site catering and AV equipment. When putting on events, Jonny Edser, founder of team building experience supplier Wildgoose, prefers to book teams into hotels, believing they typically offer a level of service business clients have come to expect:

“True, the Airbnb option may be slightly cheaper, but from the client’s perspective, they don’t want to think of us as simply having taken the most cost-effective option. Organisers already have lots to oversee, and with traditional venues, they don’t have to worry as much about issues arising. For example, if a whole team tried to connect to the Airbnb Wi-Fi at once, could it take the strain?

“Also, due to the existing relationships which we have with hotels that operate some of our events, it’s in our interests to send more customers their way so that both parties get more out of us working together.”

In lieu of the sudden demise of shared workspace company WeWork, the future of sharing economy giants looking to tap into corporate markets hangs in the balance. Financial reports from October 2019 document staggering operating losses for Airbnb to the tune of $306 million, as a result of a $367 million marketing spend in the first quarter of 2019.

Yet with demand for Airbnb Work outstripping expectations, there is clearly a call among time-strapped planners for more streamlined, integrated booking platforms – digital-savvy venues and corporate experience suppliers, take note. But whether Airbnb can sustain its new innovative meetings and events, offering Airbnb for corporate events in addition to its core service, remains to be seen.

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