Home Stay or Hotel Room? Airbnb's Impact on Hotel Design

By David Ashen Principal and Founder, dash design | August 19, 2018

One of my clients who owns about 80 hotels prefers to stay in an Airbnb when he's in New York City.

With leanings like that, it's no wonder that big hotel chains are starting to sweat. What is it about Airbnbs-those randomly available, short-term rented rooms, cottages, apartments or homes-that has even a successful hotelier, never mind the average business or luxury traveler, forgoing overnights in a full-service hotel for a paid room in a stranger's home or a space in a multi-unit residence absent of an onsite owner?

Blame the shift in many of today's business and recreation travelers' preferences-especially those of the influential millennial crowd-for intimate lodgings that reflect and even embrace the local vibe, which is just what so many Airbnb properties do. No longer satisfied with standard, neutral overnight rooms, a reported 2 million people around the world stay in an Airbnb-hosted rental on a given night. Of Airbnb's overnighters, 88 percent consist of groups of two to four people, while 7 percent are of solo guests. Moreover, Airbnb guests stayed longer in their rental than the average hotel guest did in his room/suite, with roughly half of Airbnb room-nights coming from trips of seven days or longer. 

Granted, that falls considerably short of the hotel industry's demand, which in October 2017 surpassed the 5.8 million U.S. hotel rooms already in service or under construction according to Statistica: The Statistics Portal. Then again, year-over revenue generated by Airbnb hosts almost doubled in 2016, making the interest in them not just a noticeable trend, but also one that has hoteliers on alert. Smart ones aren't just concerned. They're also taking steps to compete with the properties through small and sweeping changes to their brands' design and amenities. 

For one, the era of grand public spaces is gone. As modern hotel designs move their attention from expansive, impersonal spaces to the micro-scale, today's focus on meeting areas centers on more informal spaces that heighten familiarity, closeness and conversation. While there are some hotels that continue to offer large conference facilities for their clientele that need them, for the most part, as guests turn away from large, culturally devoid rooms dressed in neutral furnishings, the convention of the sterile hotel meeting room is over.

Consider the two Arlo Hotels in New York City, which have moved away from traditional meeting rooms to less typical environments. There, the public spaces are much more residential and private club-like than what's been available, conventionally. For instance, there are second-level public spaces that are divided into living room- and library-like areas which are rented as meeting spaces to corporate clients. There are no meeting rooms in the traditional ways we have come to know them; that is, big boxes devoid of personality, culture and warmth. Instead, there are a number of furnished spaces to choose from where one can have a private or not-so-private meeting.

Lounge at Ground Level
Lounge & Bar at Ground Level
The Secret Garden at Ground Level
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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.