While much of the attention in the past couple of weeks has revolved around TripAdvisor’s emergence as a hotel booking site, the company’s Flipkey unit has been quietly adding Airbnb-style room rentals to its existing portfolio of vacation rentals.
Commenting on the initiative, TripAdvisor spokesperson Laurel Greatrix tells Skift: “This is a very recent addition and it means that any homeowner, anywhere in the world, can now list their spare room for free through TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals (just as they can an entire property). Travelers will see spare rooms listed in their search results alongside other properties (houses, apartments, villas, condos, etc.) available in the area they’re looking at.
“TripAdvisor’s mission is to help travelers book and take the perfect trip. For a growing number, this means the opportunity to live like a local in their destination and stay in non-traditional, more affordable accommodation. As the world’s largest travel community, we’re excited to connect these travelers with the increasing number of homeowners who are sharing their homes, spare rooms and local knowledge with visitors from all over the world.”
In HomeAway’s second quarter earnings call August 4, CEO Brian Sharples pointed to TripAdvisor as having added room rentals to Flipkey’s selections.
“It seems like TripAdvisor has changed their strategy several times in the past few years,” Sharples said. “They appeared to be trying to move much more towards an Airbnb-type model.”
Airbnb’s hyper growth has not gone unnoticed at TripAdvisor headquarters or anywhere else, of course.
TripAdvisor’s Flipkey site was running an advertisement on Facebook yesterday that read: “Going to Brooklyn? Book a vacation rental. See 100+ rentals starting at $65/night.”
If users clicked on the Flipkey advertisement on Facebook they would navigate to a Flipkey page that offers “Brooklyn Condos, Apartment Rentals, & More.”
Flipkey appears to be phasing in the Airbnb-style room rentals in select markets, perhaps as a test, because its Chicago pages don’t mention apartment rentals but merely tout “Condos, Vacation Rentals, & More.”
Back on Flipkey’s Brooklyn section, users can filter apartment listings by the number of desired bedrooms.
Flipkey users can rent a room from “Kathleen M” who writes that she’s been “a host with another popular travel site since August and have had an incredible time opening the doors of my brand new 2-floor classic Brooklyn warehouse apt. to spectacular people from all around the world.”
Kathleen says she has two roommates in the 8-bedroom and 2-bathroom “warehouse-style apartment” and the available rooms are set up as either private or shared spaces.
The prospective renters can read reviews of the property from past guests, see the owners’ response rates and peruse details about amenities and the location.
Flipkey users can contact Kathleen with questions or request a booking for $81.38 per night. The owner has 24 hours to decide whether to accept the booking.
Guests pay a 5-15 percent booking fee that’s included in the rate, and hosts that list on Flipkey for free pay a 3 percent processing fee per booking.
How does Flipkey attempt to reassure users that the room rental listings are legitimate?
Flipkey states: “Every property advertised on FlipKey goes through a baseline verification process before being published on the site.”
But the TripAdvisor site is also hedging its bets, stating: “We work hard to promote owners and managers with stellar practices on FlipKey; however, we urge all travelers to use their best judgment when securing a booking and ask that you please contact us if you feel suspicious in any way about the owner/manager you are dealing with.”
Is TripAdvisor trying to become the next Airbnb? That is a simplistic way of looking at it. TripAdvisor, with its hotel and restaurant reviews, hotel bookings and restaurant reservations, as well as tours and activities offering, is a much more well-rounded travel site than the younger Airbnb at this stage.
Still, TripAdvisor has some Airbnb envy, and wants to take advantage of the sea changes that the sharing economy is driving in the global lodging industry.
Asked how many markets TripAdvisor’s new Airbnb-style room rentals are currently in, Greatrix of TripAdvisor said: “As for number of markets it’s in, it’s available anywhere in the world. Any homeowner with a spare room or entire property is welcome to list.”
What About Booking.com?
Sharples of HomeAway said Booking.com, which currently offers more than 707,000 hotels, vacation rentals and apartment hotels, likewise has been adding room rentals.
Both the Priceline Group, which owns Booking.com, and TripAdvisor are public companies, which tend to be somewhat conservative. However, TripAdvisor indeed appears to be taking a much more aggressive approach to room rentals than Booking.com is doing.
Booking.com, though, is quietly dabbling in “homestays,” Tnooz reported last month.
Skift used the “homestay” filter on Booking.com for a late August stay in London and found only two properties available. Like Booking.com’s hotel product, these two homestays were of the pay-at-the property variety and they were instantly bookable (reservable) unlike properties on TripAdvisor and HomeAway.
Booking.com offered no information about the owner of the homes and there was a paucity of reviews.
Booking.com’s and TripAdvisor’s seemingly different strategies trigger the question: How long will Booking.com be able to stay on the sidelines when it comes to Airbnb-style rentals in terms of really scaling them up? With Booking.com’s pocketbook, though, it can always afford to acquire a sharing economy site (other than Airbnb) if it felt the need.
The Booking.com site last night was showing that it had 22 apartments in New York City for a September 22 stay out of 574 available properties but most of the apartments appeared to be hotels or professionally managed vacation rentals. There didn’t appear to be many individuals renting out rooms in their apartments Airbnb-style.
Sharples said HomeAway isn’t feeling any adverse competitive threat from TripAdvisor’s and Booking.com’s apartment rental additions to date, and Airbnb’s nascent moves to add professionally managed vacation rentals.
HomeAway, though, has been busy studying how much an inventory overlap it has with Airbnb. HomeAway found that there is around a 10 percent overlap with Airbnb in the U.S., and it is researching the commonalities in Europe, where Sharples said he believes it is around 20 percent.
“So there is a difference: Europe is a much more competitive market where people are much more willing to use multiples sites than what we find in the United States, but other than that there haven’t been any real big changes [in competitive dynamics] since last quarter,” Sharples said.
Rest assured that the competitive dynamics in the lodging industry will undergo tremendous changes in coming years and the big players are all maneuvering for advantage.