Airbnb vs Housetrip – A tale of two sites

16 September 2015

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What the Dickens is going on? Who’s having the best of times…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years you can’t fail to have noticed the massive rise of airbnb and the nervous looking hoteliers who quite frankly didn’t see that one coming.

However, whilst airbnb were building ground (or should that be inflating beds?) across America, the Swiss based HouseTrip were doing the same in Europe. With the race for acquiring hosts and travellers integral to the success of these models it was inevitable the two would cross paths and fight for your dollar – but who would win this digital turf war?

As the figures suggest, rather unsurprisingly, airbnb has and it now has the largest share of the vacation rental market after overtaking HomeAway. So given airbnb and HouseTrip started at the roughly the same time around the same idea, how come one is leading the pack while the other is lagging behind?

For me, as a user and host on both, it comes down this: understanding your customer – or should that be in this case customers?

Understand your customer(s)

Airbnb gets it. They understand they have two customers, their hosts, and their travellers. Both are treated equally, both are charged a small fee and both have the opportunity to provide reviews on their experience to create a truly open sharing economy. HouseTrip on the other hand do not. Only travellers can post reviews and hosts are not charged to receive a booking, only the travellers. Now surely this is great if you are a host thinking in pound signs, no fees – sign me up!

However, the basis of these sites is letting people use your home and not a purpose bought holiday let. Therefore the purchase/service is emotional and not transactional. Airbnb’s open review system ensures hosts are in control over who they let stay in their home and that, for most, is the most important factor in using these sites. Unfortunately every interaction via HouseTrip feels heavily biased in favour of the travellers’ needs and relative anonymity.

Now maybe it’s to do with the origins of the company as to why this has happened. HouseTrip was formed when the founders were trying to find accommodation (travellers perspective) while airbnb came about when the founders acted as impromptu hosts (hosting perspective). Despite this, I can’t help but feel HouseTrip is being very shortsighted in not treating their hosts as important as their customers as without properties they have no product to offer their ‘preferred’ customers.

So the first lesson here is to understand all of your customers and their underlying motivations. The second lesson is to listen when they have something to say…

Listen to feedback

Now I want young companies to succeed and to do that you have to provide the feedback and insights to help them along the way. What they need to do is listen.

Unfortunately HouseTrip doesn’t appear to be doing this which is why of the 30 bookings I’ve had this year, 29 have come from Airbnb and just 1 from HouseTrip. Kind of speaks for itself and I know I’m not the only host seeing this shift.

Now I didn’t just turn my back on HouseTrip, I really wanted it to work out (remember they don’t charge me fees!) but quite frankly I needed them to act more like airbnb. So I told them that and quite a few times actually. I was constructive in my feedback pointing out what motivates me as a customer and which aspects of airbnb’s functionality really worked for me and the reasons why HouseTrips didn’t. As I write this nothing has changed.

Maybe I was a lone voice and others didn’t have the inclination to offer any feedback but the fact that airbnb is absolutely killing it in terms of users and bookings should be the wake up call needed. If they connect the dots and listen to the feedback maybe there is still time to change.  Don’t ignore your customers – they are your future, and don’t ignore your competition – they can be your greatest source of information.

And a final lesson? Take every step you can to avoid ending up in Bing’s shoes where a little piece of their soul must die every time someone types ‘google’. Ouch. I don’t think you can get much clearer feedback than that.

By Nicola Bull, Informatics Ventures

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