If you are in the travel and hospitality industry, the growth and success of Airbnb certainly has your attention. I happened to tour Airbnb’s new San Francisco headquarters last fall and gained a bit of insight into their recent service expansion. I was especially struck by the “host-as-guide” service that really taps into and extends the “live like a local” movement that gave Airbnb its start.
Who doesn’t love the personal attention and insight that comes from a local showing you the city sights in a very personal way? With dinner suggestions, personal guided tours and more, visitors feel like they have been given back stage passes to experience what life is really like to live there, not just what the guidebooks point you to (another site specific to this trend is the www.showaround.com). It is that personal touch that DMOs and hoteliers alike must try to replicate in the name of improving visitor experience. On the Island of Dominica, for example, travel editor Peter Greenberg noted that the real charm of the island was in the local’s eagerness to help visitors fully experience the island, often saying, “Hey, I know a guy… who knows a guy.” As the visitor, you feel like suddenly you have tapped into something special, a local knowledge or experience that will uniquely enhance your stay and make your vacation truly memorable.
So, how should DMOs and hotel properties respond? Here are a few thoughts. While “local concierge” as a concept has been around forever, it is true that only the swankiest resorts can still afford full-time, knowledgeable staff positioned in their lobbies. Consider arranging and marketing driver guides-on-call for one, 2, 4 hour or full day tours. Make website chat functionality, staffed by knowledgeable locals, available to answer questions. Develop a list of local travel tips, have them available on your website, and print them out for guests. Keep them current and relevant with upcoming events and happenings in the area. Research and develop local tours that include unique and quirky stops (beyond the usual suspects). More and more travelers are looking to experience the local flavor and culture of a destination. The growth of culinary tourism is a good example. Singapore recognized this and collaborated with TripAdvisor to develop a special hyper-local content section highlighting their many unique neighborhoods in addition to the city’s more well-known tourist attractions.
There is no doubt that while Airbnb appeals to a more independent, self-catering traveler, it is here to stay and will continue to grab for an ever-greater share of travel spend. Their success has come in part from tapping into this “live like a local” movement. DMOs and the hospitality industry can either ignore this or work to leverage the underlying drivers behind it.