Earlier this year, Airbnb unveiled bold new plans to attract business travelers with an online portal designed to help simplify travel expense management. The move signaled to the entire hospitality industry that the California-based peer-to-peer rental service is very serious about building a brand that appeals to more than adventurous spirits. If Airbnb can make submitting expense reports easy, won’t by-the-book business travelers be more inclined to consider booking a trendy loft space in Williamsburg instead of a standard king in Midtown Manhattan?
Not so fast. While Airbnb clearly poses a threat to hoteliers in the leisure market, I’m beginning to believe hotels have one very simple advantage when it comes to business travelers: the check-in process.
Take a look around the industry, and you’ll see that hotels are rapidly reinventing the way the check-in and check-out processes work. Last week, Starwood unveiled SPG Keyless, a mobile entry system that allows guests to bypass the front desk, go to their rooms and unlock their doors with a few swipes and taps. The service is available in 10 Aloft properties, and by early 2015, it will unlock the doors to 30,000 doors in 150 Aloft, Element and W properties around the world. Hilton is not far behind either. Starting in 2015, the brand will equip rooms with smartphone entry technology, too.
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The Limits Of Innovation At Airbnb
Airbnb cannot keep up with this pace of innovation. With a network of 550,000 apartments, homes, ranches and other types of accommodations, the company’s infrastructure does not allow for a technology provider to make changes to each of its doors. That may prove to be a big challenge in efforts to entice business travelers. Here’s a look at how a guest actually secures his or her key when booking through Airbnb.
“Guests and hosts work out details for checking in, exchanging keys, and checking out directly with each other,” the Airbnb website reads. “There is no online check-in or checkout process.”
“Before the start of the reservation, use the Airbnb messaging system to coordinate check-in and checkout times, make plans for the key exchange, and ask any other questions,” the website continues.
SEE ALSO: Another Sign That Airbnb Is A Serious Threat To The Hotel Industry
Convenience Is Crucial
The vast majority of business travelers do not want to deal with this type of additional work. I’m not just talking about veteran travelers who have belonged to hotel rewards programs for 40 years, either. Everyone — Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials and whatever name we actually land on for the emerging generation of hotel guests — wants convenience. After a long day of traveling, spending time in meetings and filing reports, no one is excited about the prospect of coordinating a time and place to pick up a key.
While I know the pick-up process can work smoothly for many Airbnb guests, there are many times when it fails. For example, consider Nicole Hackett’s experience, which I discovered in Travel Market Report. Hackett is the director of travel services at Graham Holdings. When she booked through Airbnb, she went to pick up her key in an unlikely place: a smoke shop.
Unlocking The Future
The guest experience will continue to evolve. We’ll see plenty of changes in hotels and hotel alternatives like Airbnb. From new lobby layouts to free Wi-Fi offerings to health-focused properties, this is an era of experimentation. With all of the new tests, tools and technologies that may reshape the hotel industry in the next five years, there seems to be one simple truth: the key to guest satisfaction is keyless.
Curious about how hotels will look down the road? Check out “3 Trends That Will Redefine Hotels.”