The failure of hotel loyalty programs to defend against Airbnb, quantified

Something to be smug about.
Something to be smug about.
Image: AP Photo/Willy Sanjuan
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If hotels are counting on loyalty programs to keep their best customers away from Airbnb, they might want to come up with a Plan B.

Members of hotel loyalty programs are more likely than other travelers to have booked a stay in Airbnb. Thirty-six percent of travelers enrolled in a hotel loyalty program say they’ve tried Airbnb, compared to 15% of non-loyalty travelers, according to a Dec. 22 report from Morgan Stanley Research.

You might argue that’s not terribly surprising. Guests of hotel loyalty programs probably travel more, after all, so it makes sense that they would have experimented with Airbnb at some point. Per Morgan Stanley’s report, however, the odds of having used Airbnb remain considerably higher among hotel loyalty guests than other travelers even when trip frequency is taken into account.

Airbnb, the hospitality startup valued at $30 billion, built its business by turning shared rooms and home rentals into a mainstream lodging option for casual travelers and vacationers. But earlier this year Airbnb turned its focus to corporate travelers. The shift alarmed hotels, for whom corporate clients have always been the core consumers. Business travelers tend to be more predictable than the typical vacationer and also less price sensitive (as their company is usually paying). In July, Airbnb announced partnerships with three major travel-management companies designed to funnel customers to its corporate listings.

With competition from Airbnb and other online travel firms increasing, hotels have pondered how to keep those all-important business travelers coming back. Many have placed their faith in loyalty programs. When Marriott acquired Starwood in March to create the world’s largest hotel chain, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson cited Starwood’s popular Preferred Guest rewards program and its “strong group of elite loyalists” among his reasons for pursuing the deal.

Per Morgan Stanley, loyalty programs still provide several benefits to hotels. Over 50% of rewards members worldwide are loyal to a single brand. Loyalty members also are more likely than other travelers to book directly with hotels, which usually gets them a discount and helps the hotel avoid paying a fee to an online travel agency like Kayak or Expedia. But discourage guests from trying Airbnb? That, apparently, these hotel programs do not.