Thursday, June 21, 2018

Taking another look at Airbnb’s advertising

I have to hand it to the folks running Airbnb. Their brilliance in communicating their message makes all of us in the hotel business look a bit amateurish. And incredibly for that matter, Airbnb’s latest TV missive has nothing to do with travel or even accommodations.

For those who have restricted their television viewing to Netflix or other streaming services and have missed the advertisement, here’s a short synopsis. The ad depicts an retired couple talking about how renting out a room in their home helps them keep up with payments. It goes on to suggest that Airbnb is helping thousands of friendly folks just like them make ends meet. Moreover, the ads are geotargeted. The one I saw focused on Toronto – my home city – with classically iconic CN Tower photography thrown in for good measure. My sister reported similarly bespoke cutaway stock shots adapted for the New York City market.

Clearly, these ads are not directly targeting the traveler looking for a stay for the weekend, even though they can work subliminally simply by throwing the company logo up on the screen. One might naively believe that they are primarily aimed at cash-strapped, middle class homeowners with the hidden objective of building rooms inventory in a given market. Hardly, though, as the real audience for these ads is elected officials – anyone who has the responsibility of passing legislation that would limit Airbnb from operating in their jurisdictions.

First, note that the advertising does not lie. The claims they make are factual, as an individual renting out a spare bedroom can indeed net a few extra dollars. And from a hotelier’s perspective, I don’t think any of us would object to Uncle Max and Aunt Mary renting out their extra room to a few twentysomething backpackers. Sure, Max and Mary need the companionship and they’re eager to make them breakfast, too!

But Airbnb didn’t grow into a multi-billion-dollar empire solely from folks on social security finding new short-term friends. What the ads do not show are those who rent their entire apartment unit or the landlords who deal in scores of units, even entire buildings, with the end result being that these places are removed of the long-term rental market. The travesty is presenting a good deed – that is, helping Max and Mary – as a red herring for the underground economy of acting as hotels without owning the real estate or paying the proper taxes.

Let’s hope the town councillors and mayors of the world aren’t sufficiently gullible to be taken by some 30-second TV spots of slick creative.

As it concerns you, what should hoteliers do about this? There’s nothing illegal here. The ads just aren’t telling the full story. But a response from our industry would be fully justified. Instead of presenting the case for helping a few pensioners, sheer the conversation towards jobs. The hotel industry is a big employer; Airbnb is not. People with jobs pay taxes and help communities grow. And hint-hint, employed folks also help candidates get re-elected, too.

No advertising campaign of this nature can be undertaken by an individual property or even by a single big brand. Hoteliers need to band together, ideally through a revitalised not-for-profit hotel association. This requires serious lobbing efforts including advertising to tell our story to the wider public. But it has to be initiated now before voter sentiment shifts irreversibly away from our camp. So, what are we waiting for?

About Larry Mogelonsky

Larry Mogelonsky
Larry Mogelonsky is the founder of Toronto-based hospitality consulting agency LMA Communications Inc.

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  1. That’s a brilliant piece and Larry is exactly right. They are incredibly disciplined at sticking to message, concentrating on the tiny minority of Aunt Dorothy listings, while ignoring the commercial property operators who may have taken 2, 3 or even 10 units off the long-term rental market to let out on short-term platforms without meeting any of the obligations required of B&B, motel and hotel operators. They just have to be called out. Every legitimate operator needs to put this case to their local council, State MP and even federal MP. Allowing unregulated operators to flout the system can cost small businesses their livelihood and restricts a destination’s ability to create jobs and fund community programs.

  2. I wonder if Max & Mary are subject to regular health inspections? Do they hold a food handling qualification? If not, are they therefore, operating an illegal B&B? Do they even hold the appropriate insurance to cover the guests if they fall or have an accident or if their property is stolen from Max & Mary’s home? Staying in an Airbnb property is sometimes cheaper, but is it worth the risk?

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