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Hyatt CEO sees no serious threat from fast-growing Airbnb

Michael Santoli
·Michael Santoli

Editor’s Note: Yahoo Global Anchor Katie Couric recently sat down with Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky to discuss Airbnb’s plans to take over the travel industry, the lessons he’s learned along the way and tips on how to create the perfect listing. You can find the full interview here. In the accompanying video, Yahoo Finance senior writer Michael Santoli talks Airbnb with Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, part 1 of a series with the hotel executive.

Airbnb, the apartment-sharing website founded in 2008, has a private-market valuation of $10 billion. Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H), a 50-year-old brand boasting a global network of 550 properties, is valued at $9.5 billion in the stock market.

This sort of math, and plenty of utopian rhetoric about the disruptive force of the “sharing economy,” has encouraged the popular notion that Airbnb and the hotel business are on a collision course.

Yet even as hotel trade groups in New York and San Francisco push to have Airbnb hosts adhere to stricter regulation, leaders of the lodging industry profess to see little imminent threat from the online room-rental service.

In the course of a longer interview about Hyatt and its growth strategy at the soon-to-open Park Hyatt New York, Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian said he sees no need for a direct business response to Airbnb, in part because it is offering a fundamentally different product than do his branded hotels.

He points out that there has long been an industry that matched travelers with resident-hosted accommodations such as vacation homes. Airbnb has simply built an effective interface to make the process easier for a broader number of customers and hosts.

Airbnb “has taken an entirely digital approach to creating the experience and creating the platform,” he says in the attached video. “That’s very different than focusing on the product and then backward-integrating into the distribution.”

In other words, the real product of Airbnb is the technology to create a marketplace for peer-to-peer services – one that will likely have applications beyond overnight room rentals.

(At some point, this could very well include larger businesses with room inventories to offer through an Airbnb-type channel. Auctions on eBay Inc. (EBAY) and ticket sales on eBay’s StubHub followed a similar path, rooted in peer-to-peer aftermarket commerce and later utilized in a sanctioned way by corporate sellers themselves.)

The Hyatt product, at its core, is not simply a place to sleep at the lowest price, but conveniently located properties that come with a long-earned reputation for good service, a convenient site for business conferences and perhaps a trendy restaurant in the lobby.

In an exclusive interview with Katie Couric on Yahoo News, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky essentially agreed with this view of his company’s relationship with the established lodging industry.

“I never really liked the term disruptor because it suggests that for us to win, the hotels have to lose,” Chesky said. “A lot of hotels think I'm competing with them, but I actually don't think that's the case. People in Airbnb stay twice as long as in hotels. Half the people, like, going to New York, for example, stay in Brooklyn and Queens. They don't even stay in Manhattan. They're looking for a different kind of experience. I think it's not a zero sum game. I really don't believe that.”

Airbnb has agreed to provide the New York State Attorney General with data on hosts, in order for the office to identify hosts violating laws by renting out large blocks of rooms, and the like. And there have been persistent disputes over efforts to have hosts charge sales-and-lodging taxes.

“We want to be able to do things like pay taxes,” says Chesky. “But we also know that there's a generation of people that want to stay in a home when they travel. Maybe not all the time. We're never going to be hotels. We're never going to provide that perfect, consistent experience, you know exactly what you're going to get.”

Hoplamazian adds that he believes Airbnb and similar services will find a way to navigate the regulatory challenges, and their “very deft and powerful interfaces” will be a feature of the travel business for good.

Yet he feels that, for customers, there must be “clarity around what you’re getting, what it includes and what it doesn’t include. I don’t mean services either. I’m just talking about safety, security  those kinds of things.

“And, by the way, I’m not making a declaration that therefore you shouldn’t use it. That’s not what I’m saying. I just think consciousness, awareness, transparency, those kinds of things are all going to be important.”

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