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When Airbnb’s leadership held a giant event earlier this year to announce sweeping changes to the company’s products and platform, little was said about its strategy to crack the lucrative meetings and events sector.
Airbnb has spent the last couple of years becoming better connected to the corporate travel ecosystem, but competing on meetings has taken a back seat.
Airbnb this week released a tool for meeting planners and group travelers to show Airbnb properties near an event. It’s essentially a do-it-yourself tool that creates a landing page for an event on Airbnb along with a widget featuring a map for your website under the new brand Airbnb for Events. The following link is an example of a landing page. (Please don’t book a room for the party because there actually is no party.)
The site that generates the map and landing page is extremely easy to use, but not very detailed in terms of providing details about the event. It’s not the kind of thing that an event run by a professional would use alone to provide housing suggestions to attendees.
Airbnb is also integrating the tool into a variety of event and activity planning sites used by consumers and small groups.
The reality, though, is Airbnb has offered similar functionality to partners for years now. Skift Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting reported on an Airbnb executive who said in June 2015 that a “select number of clients” were using similar functionality back then. Airbnb has partnered with Stay22 to put its rooms into event widgets in the past, as well.
When asked about this, an Airbnb representative said that the company in the past had partnered with large events to provide lodging and allowed smaller events to book Airbnb stays through an affiliate program that didn’t involve map-based booking. This is the first time it created a tool that “scales globally,” he told Skift. Airbnb declined to speak on the record about its strategy in the meetings and events space.
How Airbnb Can Be a Meetings Disruptor
The approach, for now, seems to be for events to use Airbnb in addition to traditional hotel stays. It makes a lot of sense for attendees, considering how limited and pricey hotel rooms can be during popular events.
It seems less geared to associations or the corporate market than small businesses or your cousin’s bachelorette party.
Proper third-party meeting planners may be skeptical of embracing this kind of tool for business reasons; they can’t negotiate discounts with Airbnb, and they’re not getting a commission on rooms booked on the platform. There’s also no guarantee an attendee will head to their Airbnb home and find it up to the standards expected from a traditional hotel, and that can hurt an event’s reputation.
It’s surprising that Airbnb hasn’t worked more strongly to leverage its global supply of accommodations as an alternative to traditional meeting spaces at hotels or convention centers. Why not use a nice house or swanky apartment for your company off-site instead of a boring beige hotel meeting room? Companies like Groupize and Meetingsbooker, among others, are competing to reduce friction when it comes to booking and planning simple meetings.
This is perhaps the greater business opportunity than simply supplying accommodations to attendees. Companies, like Breather, that combine the Airbnb aesthetic with instantly bookable meeting spaces are growing, as well.
As Airbnb pushes further into professionalizing its hosts and developing add-on products to sell to travelers, a wider push into the complementary sectors of meetings and business travel seems inevitable. For now, Airbnb for Events is a limited start in meetings and events for the homesharing giant.
Airbnb was created to provide conference attendees a place to sleep when hotels were full, and it isn’t surprising to see Airbnb return to its roots in the sector.