High-end hotels don’t see tourism platforms like Airbnb as a threat, study finds

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The increase in tourism and the proliferation of vacation rental platforms offering apartments, houses and rooms have completely changed the tourist landscape, especially in large urban destinations. Together, these circumstances have become a major challenge for local government in cities like Barcelona. This is mainly due to the conflicts they can create between the inhabitants of the city and the question of the regulation of the different types of tourist accommodation.

A team of researchers from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) interviewed managers and directors representing high-end hotels to find out their perception of this situation. According to Francesc González Reverté, lead author of the study, a researcher in the NOUTUR group of the UOC and a member of the faculty of economics and commerce of the university, “the study uses an emic approach and a qualitative methodology to determine the opinions and attitudes of high-end hoteliers in Barcelona in the face of competition from Airbnb.”

In the study published in Tourist geographiesthe researchers examined the arguments, the discourses and the differences between the different types of hotels, according to the orientation of their activity, during interviews with the managers of the establishments.

According to González, “Upscale hoteliers do not see Airbnb as a direct competitor. However, there are various nuances in their discourse, ranging from a position of having a superior product to greater concern about the effects of Airbnb on their business and its disruptive effects.”

In particular, the researchers point out that there is a dominant discourse on Airbnb that it is not a concern among high-end hotels. This discourse is based on their superiority product compared to what Airbnb offers, as well as the fact that they cater to very different clienteles.

According to a second speech among hoteliers, Airbnb is a source of concern, but also an opportunity to learn and innovate to improve. Finally, the third speech sees Airbnb as a complementary competitor and sees it as a potential ally, with which new business models could be established.

The researchers also explain that high-end hotels have reacted skeptically to platforms like Airbnb, and in a reactive rather than proactive way, suggesting that they see it as some threat to their industry. “Some hoteliers see Airbnb as a threat that requires a proactive and unified response from hotels, taking into account the urban environment and the neighborhood where they are located,” González said.

He also added that “high-end hoteliers don’t think platforms like Airbnb pose a perceived risk, but budget hotels and guesthouses have clearly suffered from Airbnb, according to the latest research.”

The city of Barcelona has more than 850 hotels, 183 of which are considered high-end, with nearly 34,000 rooms, according to figures from the Turisme de Barcelona tourist board. Additionally, estimates suggest that there are currently around 19,000 listings on Airbnb for the Catalan capital.

Perceptions of Airbnb vary widely across the hospitality industry

The researchers identified various nuances in the discourse regarding Airbnb among high-end hoteliers. In general, large chains tend to see Airbnb as a non-existent competitor that does not affect their business model. However, vacation hotel chains point out that Airbnb can help turn less consolidated or less profitable hotels into tourist apartments. At the same time, hotels highlight the unfair competition they face from Airbnb, and the difficulty they therefore have in competing with the platform. Finally, city hotels and smaller city chains view Airbnb as a spur for innovation and continuous improvement.

There are also a few points of consensus. González said, “In any case, hoteliers are particularly emphasizing Airbnb’s aggressive impact on the because it promotes the processes of gentrification and touristification in the most touristic neighborhoods, which makes it a factor of urban distortion and leads to discontent and tension among members of the local community.

In discourse analyses, the arguments and perceptions of the actors are extremely useful for identifying their attitudes and their contradictions, in this case among tourism actors.

González said: “Among high-end hoteliers, it is striking that certain aspects of their discourse on platforms like Airbnb are the same as the arguments used by the who protest against this type of tourism. In other words, they both see Airbnb as a company that creates urban externalities and therefore needs to be constrained and heavily regulated, but they have different goals and a different strategic perspective.”

Despite the regulations governing this type of platform in place in Barcelona, ​​various resident groups and social organizations have expressed the need to use methods to monitor and record apartment rentals and associated trends over time, restrict the density of rental apartments in certain areas, establish tourist taxes for users and owners, and distinguish commercial apartments from those for shared accommodation.

“Of course, these measures are not intended to meet the needs of hotels but rather to reduce the urban impact of Airbnb, in particular in the fight against the displacement of residents due to rising prices and housing shortages. However, the hotel sector can indirectly benefit from measures aimed at regulating its competitor,” González concluded.

This study is part of a larger research project on the effects of the collaborative economy on tourism entitled “The collaborative economy and tourist areas: contributions, transformations and challenges”.

More information:
Francesc González-Reverté et al, Airbnb as a hotel competitor in tourist cities. Perceptions among high-end hoteliers in Barcelona, Tourist geographies (2022). DOI: 10.1080/14616688.2022.2131898

Provided by Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)

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