Hotels ne regrette rien

Contributor/ The Vulture

Regrets? The Vulture has been known to have a few, although usually they fade after the sun’s come over the yard arm.

For Sébastien Bazin, Accor chairman & CEO, it wasn’t the nifty white suit with embroidered company logo worn to a recent launch, but not investing in Airbnb. The same Airbnb which, if the Parisian authorities are to be believed, is running amok all over town and ruining things for everyone.

A surprising comment from Bazin, but then Bazin is a dab hand at surprise, having also opened up Accor’s distribution platform to all-comers, with – and this is the branded head-scratch – no need to sign up to any of the company’s brands. Not even the brand-lite jobs which the other operators are eagerly shovelling out. And it will be even cheaper than the online travel agents.

Time will tell as to what balance Accor will strike between providing its own booking site with the scale it needs to take on the likes of Booking, or destroying its own brands and everything it stands for.

With moves like these, it is indeed a shock that Bazin didn’t scoop up some of Airbnb. After all, has he has noted, it took a stake in Mama Shelter, and some of the staff there have piercings.

But while us observers are fearful of Bazin’s next earnings call and whether he will appear naked, adorned in Accor tattoos and piercings, others in the hotel sector are eager not to be so regretful. At luxury sharing platform One Fine Stay, Hyatt was one of a number of investors to contribute to a $40m funding round, with the former CFO at InterContinental Hotels Group also joining the company.

At Wyndham Hotels speculation has linked the company to a £7.5m investment in LoveHomeSwap, a subscription service that allows homeowners to swap their homes. The company is no stranger to the sharing economy, with parent Wyndham Worldwide confirming at the group’s first-quarter results that it was using HomeAway to distribute its Exchange and Rental business.

Wyndham Hotels’ CEO Steve Holmes said: “Technology continues to present great opportunities to broaden vacation rental distribution. There are two distinct business models in the rental industry, the rent by owner model, which is self-explanatory, and the professionally managed model where we are the largest player. Supporting both of these models are third-party distribution channels such as HomeAway, Airbnb, and online travel agencies.”

For Wyndham, it’s all about distribution. For Accor, it’s all about distribution (and potentially destroying half of the company). But is it also about brands? The global operators have been churning out brands like, as the term goes, billy-oh, in the past two years, the upshot being that the eager consumer can now stay in a room where they can do chin-ups on the clothes rails, should they be so minded.

But this frenzy of choice cannot match the likes of Airbnb for what the consumer really wants – the super-niche. In an age where personalisation is king, it rules the empire. The consistency the brands hawk comes through the Airbnb brand and the security that provides. The group’s storming success with the consumer suggests that identical chairs in every town are not high on the guests’ lists of priorities. The hotel sector – not one for realising what the hell is happening before it’s too late – has thrown its lot, and some of its cash, in with the current devils and the hope is that the deal will work for all. It may just.