Airbnb was a good idea when it started, said Cessy Meacham, owner of Anytime Travel Solutions in Melbourne, Florida, but the long-term effects and the evolution of an innovation are sometimes hard to see at the outset. As a travel agent, Meacham will not book her clients’ accommodations through Airbnb.
“As travel professionals, we have the responsibility to our customers for the outcome of their trip,” Meacham told Travel Market Report. “We are responsible. The reason I banned Airbnb from my advice and from my usage is because of too many variables.”
For Meacham, accommodations are too important a part of the travel experience to take chances.
Good quality is in question
“Lodging is such an important part of the planning of a vacation,” said Meacham. “Most clients, when we start talking hotels, say, ‘I don’t really care too much about the hotel, it’s just a place to sleep, I’m there for the destination.’”
But once Meacham discusses accommodations with them in more depth and learns about their budget and lifestyle, she begins to envision what she can offer them and tries to impress upon them what is at stake.
“Most of them don’t understand,” she said, “that there is nothing worse than coming back from a day at a beautiful destination and having a weak shower where you don’t have pressure, where you can barely get water, or the linen or the towels are not really impeccable. Hotels have their levels of cleanliness, but imagine Airbnb. I don’t even want to think about it. Hotels have a reputation to protect. To me, all those details are important because lodging is huge in a trip.”
Security is not at the ready
The use of Airbnb also raises issues of security. “Safety concerns are bigger in Airbnb,” said Meacham. “You are in someone else’s house. You can call 911 if something happens, but you don’t have the security at the door as in a hotel to help you. So, security is another concern I have with Airbnb.”
Is it responsible tourism?
And then there are the broader responsibilities of travel professionals to not only their clients, but to the destinations they sell for vacations. It falls into the larger category of responsible tourism.
“The other issue concerns the responsibility for the community that we are displaying as destination,” said Meacham. “It is already known, there have been articles for years about how Airbnb disrupts real estate markets. People are willing to pay more for real estate because they know they can rent the apartments and make four or five thousand a month extra. Therefore, real estate prices are higher. Then the locals can’t afford to live there anymore. So, if the point of a traveler is to live like a local, what is the point if the local cannot live there?”
Affecting the local community
The long-term and peripheral effects of an innovation such as Airbnb are usually not evident at first. “I believe that Airbnb was created as a great concept,” said Meacham. “The founders were creating a solution in California where a conference had sold out and there were no more hotels for the day, so they started to rent air beds in their apartment. That’s how the idea started. They called it bnb because they offered cereal for breakfast. That idea of a win-win, I applaud. There was a shortage of capacity. It was innovative.”
Then, Airbnb became a disruptive innovation. “Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry in a way,” said Meacham. “There are so many factors. But it also comes to the community, the fact that they don’t pay the same taxes as a hotel would have to pay. Government officials, mayors and so forth are doing their part to charge them, to ban them, to rule them, and I don’t care about that because that’s all politics. My main concern is the experience of my traveler. But, if I am disrupting a city, I’m not going to contribute to that.”
Airbnb is not the first thing to come along to shake up the hotel industry. It is one thing after another. “The lodging industry is always having to change,” said Meacham. “It’s always being disrupted. At one time, there were just big luxury chains, and then came all these small new brands. They were more economical. Then there were all these inns. It is always evolving. There is nothing wrong with that. And then, there is timesharing. But, I don’t think timeshare disrupts a community. I don’t think it is hurting the lifestyle of other people. If somebody in Lisbon or Amsterdam can’t afford to live in the city and they have to travel two hours to go to work, that’s awful and I wouldn’t do that to anybody.”