AIRBNB VS BOOKING: WHO WILL WIN THE ONLINE ACCOMMODATION BATTLE? Comments Off on AIRBNB VS BOOKING: WHO WILL WIN THE ONLINE ACCOMMODATION BATTLE? 1258

The next years promise to offer a fascinating duel between two very different type of internet giants in a quest to own the $555-billion global accommodation market. Challenger Airbnb, posterchild of the Sharing Economy, is striking hard and fast to become the new King, but current leader Booking.com seems well suited to extend its phenomenal growth track for another decade. Who has the better cards to win the game?

The lines between private and hotel accomodation are blurring. Phocuswright most recent study among Airbnb bookers showed that the key drivers for booking a privat accommodation were the same than for hotel bookers: price and location (meet local people and experience local culture ranked 3rd and 4th respectively).

Airbnb seems to have acknowledged this fact and is pushing forward major transformational changes that were announced with great fanfare these last weeks:

“Our competition is two companies –  Expedia and  Booking.com – and I’m extremely excited about what the next ten years have in store.”

To date, Airbnb already offers more than 24,000 boutique hotel listings on the platform. This might only represent around 5 percent of their 4.5 million listings, but they are 100% instantly bookable. 1.9 million properties were available for instantly booking out a total 4 million listings in August 2017, and the company claimed that 70% of all new listings were using this facility (most likely spurred by the fact that share of hotels and Bed-and-Breakfast newcomers is higher than individual properties). We can deduct that the total number of instantly bookable properties on Airbnb today is likely to be north of 2.2 millions, hotel inventory representing aprox 10% of the total.

Despite boutique hotels being typically smaller than traditional hotels, the room capacity of these type of lodgings will still in average more than double the number of rooms offered by private accommodations. Therefore it seems reasonable to assume that the weight of hotels exceeds 20% of the total Airbnb instantly bookable room inventory.

Booking.com leading the pack

Meet Booking.com, current worldwide leader in the online accommodation sector with over 1 million room nights booked per day. They consistently outperformed the entire industry during the last decade thanks to the flawless execution of a simple but super-efficient formula:

  • Maximizing the onboarding process for all type of lodging properties to offer the largest choice of accomodations
  • AB test to death the booking funnel to maximize conversion
  • Laser focused optimization in Search Marketing allowing them to efficiently outbid the rest of competitors

Each of these success factors re-enforced the other ones, creating the most powerful booking platform of the industry.

The clash of titans

The same way that Airbnb is making a foray into the hotel sector, Booking.com has gradually expanded its footprint into the vacation rental sector during these last years.

In the prepared notes of Bookings Holding Q3 earning call, CEO Glenn Fogel stated:

aggressively expanding our vacation rental business is a key part of our growth strategy. As consumers increasingly desire to explore more unique places to stay, including homes and apartments, we want Booking.com to remain to be the leading platform to search and book all types of accommodations

In the latest Q4 earning call they announced that by the end of 2017 Booking.com listed over 1,200,000 vacation rental properties, which represented a 53% year-over-year growth

Compared to Airbnb 1,980,000 instantly bookable properties (assuming the rest are hotels), Booking.com has an aprox. 700,000 property gap to cover if they want to compete head to head against Airbnb in the inventory game.

This seems to be a key strategic goal for the company, as they highlighted in Q3 earnings call:

“We’re also making significant investments on the IT side. So we’re adding teams of people under our booking home umbrella, and they’re focused on improving the experience with property owners, including individual property owners that are putting their apartment or home up for rent, to make it a more intuitive experience, easier for them to self-signup and improve efficiency that way.”

Assuming they can keep up a 50% YoY listing growth in private accommodations, it would take them little more than a year to catch up with Airbnb current offer.

The winning cards of each contender

Airbnb´s CEO argues that his company has the upper hand in this race thanks to their unique home sharing content, a passionate travel community and a one stop shop travel app offering homes, experiences and restaurants. On the supplier side, Airbnb´s lower commission structure of 3% to 5% should make them an attractive distribution channel for homeowner and hotels in comparison to the likes of Bookings.com who charge in average between 15% to 20%.

All of them seem valid points, but let’s dig a little bit deeper if these assets are sustainable in the long run.

The inventory game:

With 4.5 million properties, Airbnb beats all its competitors in number of listings. But Booking.com, with teams in 198 offices around the world focused on contracting and their well-oiled onboarding process, will likely close the gap on the most valuable part of the inventory, which are instantly bookable properties.

Many homeowners will diversify the risk by listing their properties among the 2 to 3 sites that guarantees them enough leads to maximize occupation. As long as Booking.com is part of this shortlist, the private accomodation content of both players will increasingly overlap.

Airbnb latest moves will strongly increase their inventory in the near future but the largest part will be Bed-and-Breakfasts and Boutique Hotels that in many cases are already present in Booking.com.

The increasingly strict city regulations for short rentals across the world poses a serious risk in the inventory game too. According to the Financial Times in the UK only it represented a loss of $100 million last year and this recent article showcases the example of San Francisco where Airbnb lost over 50% of its listings between Aug17 and beginning of 2018. This trend will impact Airbnb to a higher degree than Booking.com, who has been cautious in playing by the local rules in this area.

Brand strategy: rational vs emotional

Airbnb has managed to build the first truly lifestyle brand in the online travel industry thanks to their unique content and their design driven focus through the entire customer journey. This strategy has paid off with a loyal community that connects with Airbnb values at an emotional level.

Will the brand premium they currently command against other industry players such as Booking.com be sustainable over the next decade? Certain facts seem to play against them:

  • their key strength, the uniqueness of their lodging content, is gradually getting diluted
  • new products additions that are more commoditized like restaurants, powered by 3d party technology provider Resy, or new property types like Airbnb Plus, with more standardized hospitality-like features, don’t always match with their core values
  • the company moving from a niche startup player to a mainstream corporation-type actor might potentially alienate part of the core Airbnb base.

Booking.com comes from the exact opposite branding spectrum with a marketing strategy focused on profitable traffic acquisition via performance driven online channels and a rational value proposition based on choice and price.

However, things don´t stand still in the internet giant neither and channeling more advertisement dollars to branded channels like TV have become a strategic priority (likely also driven by the fact that Google CpC´s inflation have made them hit a ceiling in how much value they can extract in this channel). In Q3 earning call Fogel confirmed their goal to advertise Booking.com on TV in 30 countries by end of 2017 vs 12 countries the year before. In the 2017 annual report their branding investment grew by nearly a third year on year to $392 million.

The new tagline “Hotels, homes and everything in between” for US TV creatives highlights the fact that they offer more than hotels, and some of the ads specifically target the vacation rental audience:

Footage shot by Booking.com employees showcases the many destinations where the travel site offers accommodations. From hotels to igloos, with over 1 million places to stay, Booking.com encourages travelers to book theirs.

CFO Daniel J. Finnegan confirmed this strategy in their last earning calls

“I think where we have an opportunity in the future is with our brand advertising to get the message across to people that, you know what, if you love Airbnb and that type of property, well, take a look at Booking.com, too, because we’ve got a massive amount of those properties as well as the more traditional properties, as Glenn said, available to you in one search.”

One stop shop travel app?

Airbnb recently shared their lofty ambition to become the proverbial “one stop shop travel app”. Offering Homes, in-destination activities labelled Experiences and restaurants is a good start, but key travel components like flights and car rentals are still missing.

While Booking.com has been busy expanding services to cover all traveler needs (flights, train, car rental etc.) for desktop users, their mobile app is so far limited to accommodation only. Two possible reasons might explain this:

1.  Hotel conversion has taken a hit in their tests on mobile adding new products due to the limited screen space

2.  The non-hotel services are integrated via white label solutions that work fine in a desktop environment, but pose a serious technical challenge for a seamless integration in an in-app environment.

Airbnb´s vertically integrated full-stack platform has an edge in this respect, but its current limited offering outside accommodation can so far not fulfill the promise of a one stop shop. Other players like Tripadvisor or Expedia are better positioned to truly offer a multiservice app covering all travel needs.

Commissions and fees – which is the right formula?

To have the full picture of distribution costs, final prices and operating margins, commissions and customer fees have to be added together. The website for Homeowners Gonitely provides a good overview in this article on the current landscape of commissions and fees:

Airbnb can lure hotels and hosts with 3% to 5% commission levels thanks to their customer fees ranging between 5% to 15%. Adding it up, their overall revenue margin are probably not far from Booking.com, who applies a 15% to 18% commission and a no fee policy across all properties.

From a consumer perspective, in a rate parity scenario between both players, Booking.com would be consistently cheaper in final price thanks to this policy.

This might have been less of an issue for Airbnb in the past thanks to their unique inventory, but with the increasing overlap of their content, it can pose a serious competitive threat – except if properties provide Booking.com more expensive rates to offset the higher commission.

Fogel wasn´t shy in highlighting this situation in the last earning call:

“We do not charge the travelers fees. I mean that’s also an annoying thing for a customer, you go through. You think the price is one thing. Then all of a sudden you see there’s this big service fee. That, also, to me is not the proper way to go. So I believe we have a superior offering.”

And the winner is…

According to a report on alternative/private accommodations released by Susquehanna International Group in 2017 the 2018 global accommodations market could be as big as $555-billion, private accommodation with $106 billion representing 19% of its total. Who will grab the biggest slice of this market in the coming years?

To pick a winner let´s look to the end consumer. As mentioned at the beginning, Phocuswright report (US consumers only) concluded that Airbnb customers are increasingly driven by the same factors than hotel bookers: price and location.

Booking.com with its simple value proposition around price and choice seems to be better-positioned to beat Airbnb in their home turf than the other way round.

The current leader in hotel bookings can rely on a 6 times higher global traffic volume than Airbnb according to Similarweb. They seem better prepared for a mobile first future with a significant higher mobile share of mobile (although this doesn’t factor in App traffic):

Booking.com is still below Airbnb in their home market US, but clearly beats them in the rest of the world (ranked by largest markets for Airbnb):

In terms of direct traffic, Airbnb has a higher share than Booking.com but in absoluteterms Booking.com would beat its competitor hands down:

Google worldwide branded queries also give Booking.com a leading position, although the long-term trend shows Airbnb closing the gap:

Booking.com has another winning card in the sleeve: their 2017 advertisement Budget of $4.1 billion allowed them to outspend all competitors, while keeping industry record Ebitda margins thanks to their advertising efficiency. This spending is likely to keep growing in coming years, based on the historical trend.

Despite Airbnb´s deep pockets and the fact that they recently reached operational profitability, it is difficult to see how they will be able to get anywhere close to these spending levels in near/mid term future with an IPO standing at the door.

In Airbnb´s 10 years’ history, the company has proven to be a phenomenal competitor that has profoundly disrupted the global accommodation market. Their ambition to keep reshaping the travel industry in the coming years seems to be limitless.

Nevertheless, in a private accomodation space increasingly commoditized, Airbnb competitive advantages will dilute over time and will face stronger competition. Make no mistake, Airbnb is here to stay and their competitive nature will no doubt allow them to adapt and keep thriving in the coming years, but expecting a change of Kings in the online accommodation space seems an unrealistic scenario.

Booking.com will dominate this industry for many years to come.

Mario Gavira

Mario Gavira

Managing Director at liligo.com

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THE ART OF SABERING A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE 0 449

Have you ever given thought of opening a bottle with a sword that adds drama to an occasion? Well, in Mauritius, that has become a trend, or rather has a seriouspurpose in promoting the enjoyment of Champagne, the lifestyle of fine diningand as they call it ‘The art of Sabering’. The Confrérie du Sabre d’Or in Mauritius has made it more memorable recently, during an annual initiation night that was hosted on October 9 at the Château Labourdonnais, by Mr Ravin Untiah, Ambassador of the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or in Mauritius where the association shared insights on ‘Sabrage’, which is a technique for opening a champagne bottle with a sword, mainly used in ceremonial occasions.

To begin with, The Confrérie du Sabre d’Or is devoted to promoting the act of Sabrage and the enjoyment of Cham- pagne. It can seem challenging when one is initially handed a sword and a chilled bottle of Champagne with the expectation that you will open the bottle with the blade of a sword. The Confrérie du Sabre d’Or was created in Senlis in France in 1986 by Jean Claude Jalloux the Grand Master, with the aim of sharing the expertise of opening a champagne bottle with a sword, a no- ble product that is celebrated around gourmet dinners. However, it should be noted that the actual tradition of Sabrage dates back to Napoleonic days (the Regency period here in Great Britain). Although the custom continued for some time in British Cavalry Regiments, it is now encouraged across the world by a society of like-minded Sabreurs – the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or.In the United Kingdom, it was first setup in 1999 by UK Ambassadeur Emeritus, Julian White. Jean Claude has helped in setting up this prestigious Confrerie in Mauritius since 1996. It’s been 22 years since its launch, and they are among the oldest and one of the first outside Europe.

Well, it can seem frightening when you are initially handed a ‘sabre’ (a Champagne tool: sword) and a chilled bottle of Cham- pagne with the expectation that you will open the bottle with the sword’s blade. Do not be discouraged! The technique goes like this: Take a chilled bottle of champagne, not ice cold but suitable for drinking. The ideal temperature is around 37°F or 3°C. Carefully remove the wire around the cork. Find one of the two seams along the side of the bottle. At the same time, you can remove the foil which will impede the sliding movement of the sabre. With your arm extended, hold the bottle firmly by placing the thumb inside the punt at the base. Make sure the neck is pointing up – around 30 degrees from horizontal. Calmly lay the sword flat along the seam of the bottle with the sharp edge ready to slide firmly against the glass annulus, or ring, at the top of the bottle. With a firm sweep, slide the sword along the seam to meet the ring at the top. Your firm sliding of the sword against this ring is aided by the internal pressure of the bottle, so that the cork flies dramatically away. This leaves a neat cut on the neck of the bottle and the champagne is ready to be enjoyed. Not as easy as we think, but all it needs is a firm wrist and you’ll be telling tales of how easy it really was! Furthermore, as one gets well versed and experienced with this art, there are different titles you can associate yourself to depending on the years of experience, such as, “Chevalier Sabreur”, “Officier Sabreur” and “Commandeur” which can become official after five years of being an Officier and by opening a Jeroboam (4 bottles/ 3 Liters).

Since its creation, the Confrérie du Sabre d’Or has acquired worldwide fame bringing together lovers and enthusiasts of Cham- pagne. In Mauritius, Mr Untiah together with the support of the Confrérie du Sabre d’or, have so far launched 12 champagne vaults which means that 10 percent of the resort and hotels here are already practicing the art of Sabrage. It should be high- lighted that this percentage is much more than the number of hotels recognized by La Confrerie in France. With the success and interest for this art, the association has recently opened a cellar in Madagascar and at the beginning of this year, at LUX Resort, Ile de La Reunion.

Having said that, as some might consider the art of Sabrage a theatrical alternative for the unknowingly clumsy twisting and explosion of the cork, or as some say, weapons and alcohol don’t mix; This French tradition is being given a new lease of life in Mauritius and is definitely being appreciated as a very spectacular way of celebrating Champagne!

CHEF JORDI – “THE CHEF’S JOURNEY NEVER ENDS” 0 758

“Jordi Vila describes his journey from helping out in family restau- rants in Barcelona to becoming Executive Chef at Constance Le- muria, on the island of Praslin, Seychelles, where he has the free- dom to bring forth his experience and creativity to create unique dishes to tantalise the taste buds of the clientele.”

The position of Executive Chef at Constance Lemuria, on the north-western side of Praslin island, Seychelles, is one which Jordi Vila truly relishes. Constance Lemu- ria is one of two Constance Group luxury hotels in the Seychelles, which opened inDecember 1999. The five-star eco-friendly hotel is one of the Leading Hotels in theWorld, and it has five restaurants offering a range of different cuisines.

So what is it like working at the heart of the culinary operations of the hotel?

Jordi explains that “at Constance Lemuria the concept of “cooking” is about perfection and precise timing – everything has to be on time! Operating the timing of the restaurants, the time service of our restaurant and kitchen team, the timing of the dishes, how long does it take to prepare a dish and the pace of the guests according to their needs, therefore during the day I am busy with many timings! It is difficult to balance home and work as a Chef, considering as well that it is not easy in a small island like Praslin and I can say that my “normal” working day reflects many timings, many meetings and of course the passion for food.

PLANNING THE DAY

The life of an Executive Chef is certainly a busy one with many meetings and activities over the course of the day. “Every day I wake up at 7am! At 8am I have my first meeting over a coffee with my Executive Sous Chef, and at 8.30am I have my second meeting with all the heads of the departments where we all discuss the daily operations. At 11am, I have my third meeting with all the chefs de cuisine in my office and my last meeting is at 1pm, with the team from the ‘Diva’ restaurant where we always brainstorm new menus, new concepts and trends,” Jordi explains.

In terms of his evening routine, “at 6 pm I start to supervise all the restaurants: our main buffet restaurant ‘Legend’, our Creole restaurant ‘The Nest’, private and exclusive dinners and our fine dining ‘Diva’ restaurant, where I work until 10pm, and at 11.30pm I have my first glass of wine…”

DEVELOPING CREATIVE SKILLS

Jordi has been working for Constance Group for the last four years and at Lemuria since January 2018. Describing his move to the company, Jordi comments that “what attracted me mostly was the freedom that was given to me to run the culinary team. It has been a good opportunity for me as well because Constance Group is well known and popular for its passion for wine and culinary experience. I just knew, from the beginning, that the Constance Group was giving me the chance to develop my creative skills with high quality products. For a Chef it is priceless to work with the best products in the world! I can surely say that Constance Lemuria is an essential port of call for lovers of rejuvenated traditional gastronomy,” he adds.

He also highlights that Constance Lemuria has a focus on local products. “At ‘The Legend’ and ‘The Nest’ restaurants we offer a big variety of local cuisine using local products such as rice, fish, pork, pineapple, mango, okra, breadfruit, pumpkin, eggplant, cabbage, exotic fruits, watermelon, chili, curry leaves and, of course, a lot of coconut,” he says.

“The sea is a real source of inspiration which provides me power and creativity”

ROAD FROM BARCELONA

So how did Jordi end up as Executive Chef at Constance Lemuria? “Well, throughout my childhood and my teenage years, my family ran a few restaurants in Barcelona. I have always been very enthusiastic about the culinary arts, hence when I turned 15, I started helping out my family at the restaurants,” he explains.

From his early days, doing odd jobs around the kitchen, Jordi’s interest in the culinary field and Chefs continued to grow, which led him to undertake a traineeship as a pastry Chef. “However, with more maturity, I chose to develop my knowledge and get closer to the business area. Hence, I have diverted my skills from pastry to the hot kitchen side,” he comments.

At the age of 20, Jordi started travelling around the world as his ultimate goal was to attempt to learn more and broaden his horizons in this field, and finally he has worked all over the world.

PROJECTS IN THE PIPELINE

While Jordi has already come a long way from his starting point, he has a number of new projects in the pipeline. “I have in mind a first project at Constance Lemuria with our Sushi Bar. I am planning to elab- orate a very personal tasting menu called “By the Sea”. The idea is to combine Japanese and Spanish products and maximize the umami’s flavours by using only seasonal products. The concept is to create a different menu each morning which will be served at dinner time. Therefore, we will offer new dishes on the menu on a daily basis which means a lot of creativity, and there will be only 15 seats available,” he elaborates.
He has a second project in the offing which is to implement a special menu called “The Raw” which will be served at the counter of ‘Diva’ restaurant, which is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. “This menu will be tailor-made with the best products and the concept will be simply based on applying less heat to the ingredients. By using this method, it will allow the product to be served in its purest form and to be the centre of the nutritious natural flavor,” he enthuses, with the seating capacity to be around 10 seats for this special experience.

SOURCES OF INSPIRATION

To sum up, what are the key sources of in- spiration for Jordi as he seeks to improve the experience for his customers? First of all, Jordi highlights that “the sea is a real source of inspiration which provides me power and creativity”.

Secondly, and more directly, Jordi ex-plains that his customers give him the drive towards constant improvement of his creativity, day by day. “I must admit that my way to cook is a real personal interpretation,” he admits. “Hence, with any comment or criticism a customer might mention to me, I usually take it to heart but always in a positive way. My only goal is their satisfaction and to make them happy with the dishes I create. When I receive any comment or encourage- ment from them, it provides me with the strength to do even better and try to go always higher.”