A senior Airbnb executive invoked Mahatma Gandhi in defence of the rapidly growing accommodation sharing site at yesterday’s WTTC Summit.
Chip Conley, Airbnb head of global hospitality and strategy quoted Gandhi on the British in India, saying: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Conley, who joined Airbnb last year after 32 years in hospitality, suggested the sector and Airbnb could learn from each other.
He said: “There are a lot of opportunities for us to learn from hospitality. But at the heart of Airbnb is the democratisation of hospitality. It is about choice.
“There are four things you can learn from Airbnb: people want to live like a local, people want maximum choice with limited complexity, some people want minimal services, and you can customise the experience by what you know about the customer.”
NH Hotel Group chief executive Federico Gonzalez Tejera told the Summit: “In the hotel industry, there is still space to innovate.
“Airbnb is a competitor – it is a competitor for consumers who want to go somewhere and sleep. Many business people still want to go to a business hotel.”
He added: “Not every consumer wants that sort of host. Not every hotel is well located. Not every apartment is well located. ”
Gonzalez Tejera described the regulation on hotels as “a burden”, but said: “We will survive and become stronger.”
Dara Khosrowshahi, president and chief executive of Expedia, said: “The travel industry has been growing at 3%-4% a year for years so it’s not a zero sum game.
“Airbnb is adding supply to the marketplace and whenever you do that you put pressure on price.
“That is a bad thing for a hotelier today, but it’s a good thing thing in opening up the market to new travellers.”
However, Gonzalez Tejera said: “This is not a 50% margin industry. Margins are not great. In many countries, 30%-40% of the [room] price comes from regulations on safety or for VAT.
“The worst, if we assume prices go down, is that I close the hotel, open an apartment building and fire 1,000 people.”