• Airbnb bolsters business offering

Airbnb has acquired Gaest.com, an online marketplace focused on “inspiring meeting spaces” for short-term rentals.

The deal was the latest in a series of moves by Airbnb to strengthen its business offering, as it targeted the corporate market.

Gaest, which was founded four years ago in Denmark, offers spaces for interviews, meetings, workshops, team building events, and photoshoots.

Airbnb said: “In recent years, companies have come to demand more flexible spaces as their team’s needs change. Improved access to spaces for meetings, events, and other gatherings is great for employees, for companies, and for efficient urban real estate utilisation.”

David Holyoke, global head of Airbnb for Work, added: “We imagine a world where anyone can share their space for professional events and, in the longer term, for celebrations. Bringing in a leadership team with strong domain knowledge allows us to accelerate our work in this area, and more importantly Gaest.com and Airbnb share a vision of helping every space owner become entrepreneurs through sharing their spaces with those who need it.”

Gaest CEO Anders Boelskifte Mogensen becomes Airbnb’s lead for meetings and events in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa following the transaction.

Last year saw Airbnb extend its Airbnb for Work offering to include experiences, such as team-building activities, which it said would allow it to reach employees which did not travel for work.

The company said: “We know there are a number of unique ways Airbnb can help companies and professionals keep up with the changing ways we work. Starting today, Airbnb for Work will roll out a new strategic direction to bring the best of Airbnb to the professional world, and help foster a sense of belonging – even at work.

“We’re expanding into three new areas to help companies attract, retain, and motivate talent: experiences on Airbnb for team-building, Airbnb Homes for offsites and meetings, and new options for people relocating for work.

“Unorthodox perks are an essential way to attract, retain and motivate top talent. Experiences, not cash, are the new corporate bonus. In today’s hyper-competitive talent environment, once you’ve recruited great employees, you want to keep them. Journeys of self-fulfilment and discovery can produce the kind of creative sparks and life-clarifying moments that seldom come when staring dead-eyed at another PowerPoint.”

The company said that Airbnb group experiences, from sailing lessons to pastry-making classes with a Michelin chef, would help teams bond “and form meaningful connections”.

Airbnb has also turned its focus to employees who were not travelling, providing spaces for meetings and offsite activities. It said: “Providing individuals and teams with the freedom they need to grow and collaborate is top of mind for many companies. Whether that’s the freedom to work remotely or collaborate outside of the office, Gallup reports workers who spent 60% to 80% of their time away from the office had the highest rates of engagement.

“The spaces where people spend time away from the office make a big difference. Sterile conference rooms aren’t motivating and don’t foster creativity. However, relaxing and productive environments help people open up to connect and contribute; they help teams achieve their shared goals more effectively.

“Knowing this, Airbnb for Work is now showcasing homes where teams can create and collaborate. These are homes where hosts indicate their unique spaces are suitable for events, and many have work-friendly amenities like wifi, self check-in, etc.”

The company has also added a relocation service, “to help more professionals instantly feel like they belong in their new communities. Finding a temporary home that actually feels like a home provides a much-needed sense of familiarity that can help people cope with the chaos of a relocation”.

In September Airbnb said that the prior year had seen the number of companies signed up to use Airbnb for Work more than double, to 700,000. Airbnb said that, to date, nearly 700,000 companies have had employees sign up and book with Airbnb for Work. Of all those companies, more than 275,000 of them were directly engaged with Airbnb to help manage their travel.

Airbnb announced a new feature, allowing a customisable search that can account for specific company policies and use cases, including setting property types, nightly rate caps, and amenities that fit the company’s travel policy.

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: Airbnb has been eager to steal the business guest cheese from the hotel sector for some time, recently reporting that the length of stay for corporate guests was dropping all the time, presenting a challenge to the lucrative road warrior business. Now it is seeking to offer everything businesses want on the side, with no stay required.

Much as Airbnb has provided a low-commission route to market for spare rooms and, as of last year, some hotels, so Gaest offered hotels a low commission to bring their meetings space to a fresh market – charging, we understand, around 10%. The company also has partnerships with caterers and restaurants, meaning not only exciting variety for guests, but also the potential to turn almost any area into a meeting space, kitchen not required.

Airbnb is rapidly becoming not a platform for bedrooms, but one for space in general. If you can fit a person into an area and think of something they might to do in it, Airbnb will offer a broad choice – and catered too. With the meetings offering this has moved on from being rented every 24 hours, down to hour by hour. Your flexible, space-optimising friend.

Additional comment [by Andrew Sangster]: It is becoming increasingly clear that Airbnb is getting into the intermediary space currently dominated by Booking Holdings and Expedia.

But Airbnb has a critical advantage over these rivals. Whereas Booking and Expedia aggregate demand, Airbnb aggregates supply and this is much cheaper. Airbnb is the next generation aggregator, Aggregation 2.0.

Booking and Expedia spend USD10bn a year on marketing, mostly with Google. Airbnb spends a fraction of this. The main customers for Booking and Expedia are its industry partners – the hotels and other accommodation providers. For Airbnb, the customers – the source of the profits – are the guests booking on its website.

Of course, Booking and Expedia have to be “guest focused” and be able to sell effectively to consumers but the fees they charge come from property operators. The Airbnb model flips this around, with just a small amount coming from the property operators.

Will this change? Already, Airbnb says that property operators can list properties without charging guests a fee, provided of course the property operator picks up the tab. And this may well develop as the preferred choice for guests.

But even so, property operators will face a significantly lower fee given that Airbnb does not have to pay for such huge marketing costs as the Aggregators 1.0 (Booking and Expedia).

So, this is all rosy for property operators? Yes, as far as the costs of distribution go. The challenge is that the volume of accommodation property that property operators are competing against has risen hugely. Costs are lower but the top line is much more challenging. Only by offering something meaningfully distinctive will property owners be able to effectively compete and maintain margin. Welcome to the experience economy.

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