Local hoteliers are acknowledging the rising importance of Airbnb for business travel.
Mikael Svensson, the general manager of the 499-room Viceroy hotel on Dubai's Palm Jumeirah, which will open in April next year, says that when he travels to London he stays in a Knightsbridge flat that is half the price of a hotel room.
“Airbnb has three main advantages: price, quality of accommodation and location,” he says. “No other source of apartments gives you as much choice.”
Airbnb launched a parallel portal for business travellers last year and in January revealed that more than 50,000 employees from 5,000 companies have used the rental site.
Olivier Gremillon, the managing director for Airbnb in EMEA, chose, last week, to stay in an Airbnb flat with a view of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai’s Downtown district, while attending the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference.
“I like hotels for a few days but prefer Airbnb for more than that,” he says. “It is nice to have the full use of a home, with more space, a place to cook and an extremely private atmosphere.”
Until last week, local regulation prevented homeowners from listing their properties as all Airbnbs had to be operated by a company. But on Thursday, Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing said property owners will be able to rent their homes directly. This applies to full accommodation, not room rentals.
Not everyone welcomed the competition. “The main disadvantage for Airbnb for the executive traveller is that you really don’t know who you are staying with. There is no guarantee about the service, or whether the bed is comfortable or the shower works,” says Russel Sharpe, the chief operating officer of CityMax, a UAE chain of three-star hotels. “You don’t get the reassurance of a trusted brand.”
Then again Airbnb, now valued at US$50 billion and with more than two million listings, has become a trusted brand.
“Airbnb is in a grey area of regulation in the UAE,” says Thomas Grundner, the vice president for regional sales and marketing at Millennium Hotels and Resorts. “If that changes it could become another distribution channel for us too.”
q&a it’s better than a hotel
Airbnb’s Olivier Gremillon tells Peter Cooper more about the attractions of the portal for the business traveller:
Do you target the executive traveller?
Yes, I am one myself. The best thing to do on the website is to set-up a business-travel-ready filter. Then you will get a flat that’s ready for business use with 24/7 check-in, ironing board and great Wi-Fi. We can also offer direct billing to companies.
What does Airbnb do better than the hotels?
Some guys I know from Microsoft book a big house from us and share it with their colleagues when they are away on business together. Normally, they all work in different offices. It’s a different type of corporate bonding exercise.
Any other special applications for the business traveller?
If you are relocating to a new country or town then renting one of our apartments is a much better way to get to know your way around than living in a hotel. You live more like a normal resident right from the word go. It’s also cheaper.
How can Airbnb add to UAE hospitality?
If you take the Fifa World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, for example, then 25 per cent of visitors to that event stayed in Airbnb accommodation. It could be the same for Expo 2020 in Dubai – and save building an enormous number of hotels that may be difficult to keep full afterwards.
What is your commission model and inventory?
We charge 3 per cent to the host and fees for guests range between 6 and 12 per cent but can be higher or lower depending on the specifics of the reservation.
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