Does Airbnb compete with travel counselors?

Via a new pact with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) this month, homestay provider Airbnb has opened a new front in its campaign targeting travelers who might otherwise opt for traditional accommodation in a hotel or resort.

The Airbnb-CTO marketing initiative will promote 18 Caribbean countries, with online profiles of each country, including current travel protocols. Airbnb customers will also receive email newsletters highlighting traveler activities in each country.

THE ADVERTISEMENT

The information will also be presented in an online Airbnb “Discover the Caribbean” section, with links to each country’s tourism website.

“As the Caribbean continues to reopen, we are helping usher in the safe return of travel to this wonderful region,” said Carlos Munoz, Airbnb’s policy manager for Central America and the Caribbean. “We are also delighted to promote the significant economic impact generated by hosting on Airbnb.

“The partnership will help [CTO] promote the region responsibly by providing our members with a platform to showcase their destinations while highlighting the health safety measures each has implemented, ”said Neil Walters, Acting Group General Secretary.

However, while it ostensibly offers Caribbean travelers expanded options, the Airbnb-CTO pact, like most plans offered by the homestay giant, leaves travel advisors indifferent most of the time, as Airbnb does not offer agent commissions.

Antigua and Barbuda is one of the 18 Caribbean countries presented online through an Airbnb-CTO partnership. (Photo by Brian Major)

“The CTO is trying to help boost tourism, but at the same time, it slaps travel agents because Airbnb is not agent friendly,” said Jennifer Donszecz, president of VIP Vacations. “Travel agents have been actively selling the Caribbean during this crisis and you would think the CTO would recommend travel agents before partnering with Airbnb.”

Caribbean Competition

Additionally, many advisors see the company’s business model as a long-term threat, competing directly with advisors for consumer customers and vacation rental reservations.

Although the CTO has no formal connection with advisers, agents book a significant percentage of Caribbean vacations. Recognizing this, the CTO has sought to hire advisors through various promotions in recent years. Yet that didn’t lead many advisers to view the new partnership with emotion.

“Of course the advisers are [losing clients to Airbnb] and more and more of them, ”said Richard Turen, managing director and owner of luxury travel agency Churchill and Turen, Ltd.

Turen raised a point frequently mentioned by advisors contacted by TravelPulse: Airbnb’s quality control standards are often inconsistent.

“They don’t do quality control on their sites,” said Edouard Jean, owner of New York-based Massive Travels. “I hear so many stories where people went to property or home and that was not what was featured online.”

Turen said: “A recent study showed that the back seats of Uber cars contained much more bacteria than the average public toilet. What would be the result, I wonder, if a similar study involved unregistered private apartments and residences? and unregulated Pay? “

Jean added: “They don’t work with travel agents and I don’t know if I would work with them because they don’t control their properties. You want your customers to have good experiences. You don’t want that. kind of problems. “

In addition to the CTO, Airbnb has formed partnerships with travel groups including the American destination marketing organization Brand USA and VISITFLORIDA, the state marketing group. Some advisers say the competition is not for travel customers, but for reservations.

“The loss of business due to these new partnerships remains to be seen,” said Claire Schroeder, an Atlanta-based independent contractor for Elevations Travel. “Hotels and resorts have better protocols in place to maintain necessary standards of cleanliness at this time.”

“But I’ve lost business in the past with Airbnb,” Schroeder said, “especially in expensive cities like New York, London, Rome and Paris. I’ve had customers who have a great Airbnb experience, then a very difficult situation with [Airbnb] with little help with the problems encountered. “

Impact of COVID-19

In fact, some advisers say the COVID-19 pandemic could give Airbnb an edge over traditional hotels and resorts.

“I’m not losing clients to Airbnb, but yes, I am losing bookings to them,” said Holly Lombardo of Comprehensive Travel Planning Services. “Especially in light of COVID-19 where travelers remain drawn to a reunion away from home with friends and family.”

Like other advisers, Lombardo also pointed out a lack of quality control with Airbnb accommodations. “When clients ask me if I work with companies like Airbnb, I politely explain to them that I don’t,” she said.

“Other than the fact that there is no compensation, there is no way I can qualify these rentals in terms of quality and service if something goes wrong,” Lombardo said. “I just can’t put myself in a position where I can’t fully support who I refer to as my valued clients.”

Lombardo also pointed out that issues with changes and cancellations, so crucial in this era of pandemic-hit closures, represent another area of ​​potential concern for travelers who book Airbnb accommodations.

“A personal friend of mine had a sum of $ 7,000 [Airbnb] booking last April for a rental in Florida, ”Lombardo said. “Due to COVID, they were legally unable to travel to Florida, and the owner refused to reimburse their $ 7,000. They have exhausted all possibilities and the owner has given them a future stay to use in six months, “she said.” They lost everything. “

Stephen scott
“We have to find a way to collectively do the same thing ourselves. Said Stephen Scott, Travel Hub 365. (Courtesy of Travel Hub 365)

Some travel counselors say the solution lies in finding a par with Airbnb. “We have to find a way to collectively do the same on our own,” said Stephen Scott, Founder and CEO of Travel Hub 365. “Our agency is developing our own travel app and direct consumer website called Odyssey. Travel Application. “

Scott said: “We understand that sometimes travelers book online, and sometimes they book with an advisor. The message needs to come from all domains, and we need to encourage it from every booking channel. “

In fact, some advisors see little cause for concern. “I think it will have limited appeal, so it doesn’t concern me at all,” said Cal Chensey of Bucket List Travel and Tours. “I believe most guests still want the resort experience with restaurants and activities,” he said.

“It might be attractive to people over the next few months, but once everyone has the vaccines, this niche market will not affect our business.”

Claudette Covey contributed to this report.

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