As the story famously goes, Airbnb got its start in 2008, when design-school graduates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia began renting out air mattresses in their San Francisco apartment to help pay the rent. The startup has since grown into a massively successful web business that allows hosts to rent their homes, apartments and spare rooms to travellers from across the globe.
rundown of the numbers illustrates Airbnb’s explosive growth: the 600-person company, which now has 12 offices globally, has served more than 11-million guests in 35,000 cities. Its website, airbnb.com, has 600,000 listings representing 192 countries.
After a new round of fundraising, Airbnb is now valued at US$10 billion, according to Forbes, making its co-founders — Chesky (CEO), Gebbia (chief product officer) and Nathan Blecharczyk (chief technology officer) — the first billionaires in the asset-lending “share economy.” The valuation means Airbnb is worth more than some major hotel chains, including Wyndham Worldwide (US$9.2 billion) and Hyatt Hotels (US$8.4 billion), reports Yahoo Finance.
Of course, Airbnb isn’t exactly in the hotel business. But the company has a new focus on becoming a full-fledged hospitality brand, with a high-quality stay at the centre of the experience.
Although the owners of Airbnb couldn’t be reached by Hotelier, in a recent interview with CBC News, Chesky said he’d never considered the company as being part of the hospitality business. “As I learned about hospitality, I realized it was something much broader than a hotel,” he said. “We’re in the business of making you feel welcome [and] making you feel like you belong.”
In September 2013, Airbnb hired Chip Conley — the founder of San Francisco-based boutique hotel company Joie de Vivre — as head of Global Hospitality. Conley was tasked with creating a Hospitality Lab and a training program for Airbnb hosts, setting cohesive standards for hospitality, including hosts’ response time, listing accuracy and cleanliness.
“I became a boutique hotelier because I wanted to shake up the conventional wisdom that — in order to offer quality — hospitality had to be conventional,” said Conley, in a release. “Nearly 30 years later, Airbnb is now on the forefront of a new type of innovation built from the same components: meaningful host connections, great design and local experiences.
“But with over 35,000 cities in our network, Airbnb’s hospitality has the potential to impact cross-cultural understanding in a measurable, positive way on a global scale,” he continued. “That’s unprecedented.”
According to Fast Company magazine, Airbnb is planning to add a number of new services, including room cleaning, airport transportation and a streamlined key handoff in an attempt to add some of the comforts and amenities provided at hotels. It’s said to be launching a cleaning service for host properties this summer, including offering fresh sheets and towels for guests.
Revamped mobile apps, launched in November, underline the company’s new standards. The apps include an improved dashboard to help hosts respond to messages and accept bookings, recommendations for improving a guest’s stay and forums that connect hosts. At a launch event at company headquarters, Chesky told 300 hosts, “You’re in the business of hospitality,” reports Mashable. If the hotel industry wasn’t watching Airbnb before, it surely is now.
TECHNOLOGY Starwood Hotels & Resorts
Starwood Hotels & Resorts is unlocking the benefits of mobile technology with a number of innovations that appeal to the connected traveller.
The tech-savvy hotel brand recently developed an enhanced Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) app that loyalty members can use to check-in and open their room doors with their smartphones. The system is being tested at two Aloft properties in the U.S. If it’s successful, Starwood will roll out the feature to all of its W and Aloft hotels by 2015.
The SPG app, which was redesigned in 2012, is ahead of the tech curve. With the help of state-aware technology, its interface changes to coincide with a guest’s journey.
To start, the app is used to search and book hotels across Starwood’s nine brands and more than 1,200 properties globally. As the guest’s stay approaches, the interface changes to reflect the property that’s been booked, displaying photos, reservation details and directions. Once a guest has arrived, information such as room number and dining suggestions is given. “For Starwood, there’s real magic in the intersection of high-tech and human touch, to let us bring true personalization back into the hospitality industry and give our guests an incredible experience,” says Chris Holdren, SVP, Starwood Preferred Guest & Digital, in New York. While the smartphone apps were designed for people on the go, Starwood’s iPad app was created for people at home dreaming of their next vacation. The app has beautiful photography and allows loyalty members to search and book hotels as well as access their account information and points balance.
Starwood took another step forward in April when it launched an SPG app for Google Glass (a wearable computer). The app, which is in beta, allows users to search for hotels using voice commands, explore photos, book rooms and access GPS-enabled directions. “Wearables are going to have a major impact on the guest experience,” says Holdren. “With Google Glass at the leading edge, we wanted to get in the water, start gathering learning and build a great experience for our guests.”
DESIGN Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations
“Four-star luxury” isn’t something most people would associate with an Iroquois longhouse, but combining these two concepts has made Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations a truly unique hotel destination in Canada, if not the world.
Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations is a 55-room boutique hotel built in the style of a longhouse. It also features a cone-shaped museum — reminiscent of an Algonquin smokehouse — dedicated to showcasing the history of the local Huron-Wendat First Nation community.
The $25-million hotel/museum — located in Wendake, Que., a small village on a Native reserve just north of Quebec City — opened in 2008 to honour the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. It is 60-per-cent owned by the local First Nations’ band council and 40-per-cent funded by First Nations Venture Capital of Quebec. Approximately 85 per cent of the hotel/museum’s 125 employees belong to the First Nations’ community.
“When the hotel was built, the goal of the community was, yes, to make money, but mainly to create jobs and share culture,” says Colombe Bourque, GM of Hôtel-Musée Premières Nations, the Huron-Wendat Museum and Tourism Wendake. “[Our employees] are very proud to share their culture and accomplishments with our guests from all over the world.”
From the architecture to the decor, the hotel reflects First Nations culture, which is intrinsically tied to nature. “[Our vision] was to present the traditional in a modern way,” said Bourque. Designed by Montreal-based architecture and interior design firm Lemaymichaud, the property is situated in a woodland setting on St. Charles River (also known by its Aboriginal name, Akiawenrahk). The guestrooms, which feature floor-to-ceiling windows, face the forest and river. The luxurious lobby brings the outdoors in with floor-to-ceiling windows, a central fireplace and birchbark pillars. The interior design incorporates warm wood, stonework, leather furniture and fur pelts throughout the common areas and guestrooms. No detail was overlooked: for example, the room numbers are made of leather, and each one features an embroidered design, such as a turtle or buffalo, made by one of 55 local families.
A big draw is the hotel’s 125-seat restaurant, La Traite, which serves gourmet cuisine inspired by the First Nations. The menu’s main stars are fish and game such as deer and buffalo, and many dishes incorporate herbs found in Quebec’s northern forests, such as fennel and sorrel. The design continues the nature-inspired theme, with seats made from Buffalo leather, a log fireplace, tree-trunk pillars, antler lights and paintings from a First Nations artist.
Bourque describes the hotel’s setting as peaceful and serene. “Guests say that coming here for two days represents a week of holidays in the south,” she says. “You come here and your entire being changes a bit. It’s really something.”