Online home rental site Airbnb has changed the experience for both short-term renters and travelers by allowing hosts to open their homes to guests who can stay at places at a fraction of the cost of a hotel. While its success has upset the hospitality industry in many cities, the local sector has used the booking engine to market their accomodations.
The San Francisco-based company has rocked the hospitality industry since its inception in 2007, offering temporary resting spots ranging from shared houses, entire apartments, villas, yachts or even castles that can be rented from a day to many months.
This summer, the Airbnb linked nearly 17 million total guests with hosts around the world, 353 times more compared to the 47,000 people during same period in 2010.
Its uncontested popularity has drawn concern from the hospitality industry in many cities, including its largest market in Paris, where there have been calls to implement a tourist tax. But, here in Cambodia, Airbnb has been embraced as a marketing tool.
Travelers can find more than 270 different rentals in Phnom Penh on the website hosted by both individuals and hotels.
With the growing enthusiasm for a ‘realer’ traveling experience, individual hosts like Yuma Nagata, believes he has an edge over hotels.
Having worked in Phnom Penh for more than one year, the 23-year-old Japanese rents a local apartment for $250 a month. Through Airbnb, he then sublets it out to travelers.
Just a stone’s throw away from The Independent Monument, his fully furnished apartment fetches $27 a night. Besides the draw of reasonably priced accommodation, Nagata provides the knowledge of being an expat – something that has worked in his marketing favor.
“[Travelers] need ‘real’ information, but usually they can only get information about tourism,” said Nagata, saying he shares info on the best hangouts and local favorites.
Nagata said it took a month to book his first guest through Airbnb, in less than three months he has hosted 13 tourists from various countries. This, he said, added an extra $300 to $500 to his monthly income.
While Airbnb has provided Nagata with chance to earn more cash, the site also promotes accommodation at the Anise Hotel and Restaurant at $45 a night. Typically, hotels have shied away from the service claiming that traditional booking provides guaranteed accommodation.
“I don’t worry that the cheaper listings of other houses would affect our business,” said Duy Sophal, general manger of Anise Hotel and Restaurant. “People have different needs for their accommodation. Some like five stars hotels, some like boutique hotels, while some like to share room with people.”
Nevertheless, with the traditional hotel services that include breakfast and laundry service, Anise Hotel and Restaurant joined the short-term rental market six months ago, offering four types of stay in the hotel and villa from daily stay to monthly stay.
The hotel also lists its hotel rooms on traditional online traveling agencies (OTA), which account for 40 per cent of their customers. But Duy sees a difference between guests from Airbnb and other OTAs.
“Guests from Airbnb want a cheaper place, as some of them stay longer from one to three months and want to enjoy the hotel facilities at the same time; while guests from other OTAs are mostly tourists and businessmen who do not have much time to look for a place,” said Duy.
Although the hotel has only hosted two customers from Airbnb since listing, Duy said he received a lot of enquires about the hotel. “[Listing on Airbnb] is new but it is good marketing.”
Online marketing has always been an affordable way to advertise any company in the hospitality sector – whether that be home rentals, guest houses, or hotels, and Airbnb has expanded the marketing battlefield to include serviced apartments.
Other than through real estate agencies, Sokha Hotels & Resorts joined Airbnb weeks ago to promote Sokha Phnom Penh Residence – the serviced apartment arm of the hotel on Chroy Changvar peninsula that launched in March.
Sales executive residence Thorn Sophanytil said while property agents target local customers, listing on Airbnb helps their residences reach international customers accustomed to online platforms.
With a one-bedroom apartment priced at $136 a night, much higher than the average listing price on Airbnb of $37, the residence still managed to host one guest after the first week of listing.
While people may be held back because of the price, assistant marketing manager Hui Chhin believes this at least helps promote the new residences.
“Most of the time, travelers visit Airbnb for their accommodation, but they eventually choose a cheaper one instead of our hotel,” said Hui. “Still, they learn about our hotel when reading our description or reviews from our customers, which may ring the bell of our hotel one day when they have the budget.”