Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Oct. 21, 2020

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Marriott to expand home-sharing business

Company seeks to lure travelers to luxury properties

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The living room of a flat that will be available for short-term rent in London.
The living room of a flat that will be available for short-term rent in London. Associated Press files Photo Gallery

Marriott is pushing more heavily into home-sharing, confident that its combination of luxury properties and loyalty points can lure travelers away from rivals like Airbnb.

The world’s biggest hotel company will start taking reservations this week for 2,000 homes in 100 markets in the U.S., Europe and Latin America. It plans to expand its Homes and Villas program to other locations.

For its part, Airbnb is encroaching further into hotels. On Monday, the San Francisco-based company said it’s working with a New York real estate developer to establish a 10-story hotel with 200 suites in Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. The suites will only be available through Airbnb’s web site.

Airbnb, which plans to go public but hasn’t made clear when, also acquired Hotel Tonight, a last-minute booking service, in March.

Hospitality is one of several industries that’s seeing traditional players and startups take tentative steps into each other’s turf. Automakers are exploring ride-hailing. Ride-hailing companies are developing self-driving cars. Amazon is opening physical stores. Physical stores like Starbucks are experimenting with delivery.

Airbnb and Marriott will always have separate core strengths, but the convergence will continue, predicts Daniel Guttentag, an assistant professor of hospitality management at the College of Charleston School of Business

“Each of them wants to borrow some of the best elements of the other one’s business,” he said.

Marriott is targeting families and groups, and the homes skew toward luxury, with prices ranging from $200 per night for a one-bedroom apartment to $10,000 for a full Scottish castle. Nearly 40 of the markets are in places where Marriott doesn’t currently have hotels, like Bar Harbor, Maine and Bordeaux, France.

Marriott is a long way from matching home-sharing behemoths like Airbnb, which boasts 6 million listings worldwide, or Booking.com, which has listings in 220 countries. The homes in its program aren’t even exclusive Marriott properties. Marriott is partnering with rental management companies to handle the maintenance and cleaning.

But Marriott believes it has advantages. Unlike its home-sharing rivals, it has a loyalty program that lets travelers earn and use points on its hotels and homes. Business travelers can accumulate points at Courtyard hotels, for example, and use them for a week at a beach house. Airbnb is working on a loyalty program of its own, but the rollout has been delayed.

Marriott says it also guarantees hotel-like standards that are often missing in home-sharing, such as Wi-Fi, crisp white sheets, bath amenities, baby cribs and smoke alarms. Airbnb has tried to tackle that problem with user reviews and its Plus program, which highlights rentals that meet higher quality standards. But the sheer volume of properties makes it difficult to police them all.

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