More planners must now face the ‘Airbnb affect’ on room blocks

When the Airbnb debate began in the meetings and events industry three or four years ago, it affected just a narrow swath of the overall market. At that point, only some industry-wide shows and Fortune 1000 customer events held in the biggest cities had a noticeable number of attendees choose to stay in a private residence rather than in a hotel room contracted by the event organizer.

But things are changing at the macro level in ways that will cause a larger percentage of meetings and events to contend with participants who book alternative accommodations through Airbnb, VRBO or another private-residence online broker. For starters, more than 18 percent of business travelers booked a private residence through Airbnb for business travel in 2016, and Morgan Stanley research suggests the final 2017 figure to be at least 23 percent.

Next, not only are millennials generally more adventurous and eager to seek out authentic local experiences in their travels, but the “sharing economy” they routinely use provides yet another option, alternative-taxi service Uber, which rounds out their stay at a private residence. Uber and similar ride-share services not only respond to customers fast, but also are competitively and transparently priced. If the cost of a private residence and an Uber ride is equal to or less than a hotel room in a host city, an event could see a noticeable dent in its room-block pickup.

The other half of the equation that limited the complications Airbnb presents for meetings is changing, as well. Because there were only a few cities—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu and Washington, D.C.—with a critical mass of apartments in or near their business districts, only planners using those destinations had to think about their attendees opting for alternative accommodations. But with downtown redevelopment and gentrification happening across the country, Airbnb is a possible option across many more meetings, including those that are not citywides.

Yet Elizabeth Schnell, managing director of Preferred Convention Services, an event-housing coordination firm based in Torrance, California, says that despite the factors that could boost the use of alternative accommodations, other factors could serve to dampen that demand.

Smart Tip: Offer a registration discount for attendees who book into the official room block.