Leading Hotel Marketers Claim They Aren’t Worried About Airbnb

Despite an obvious threat, execs are optimistic

If there's one thing rarer than getting the marketing chiefs of the world's big three hotel chains on the same stage, it's having each of them deny that Airbnb concerns them. But that was the upshot earlier today at Advertising Week, as Hyatt's svp of global brands Sandra Micek, Hilton's CMO Geraldine Calpin and Marriott's global marketing officer Karin Timpone took turns explaining why Airbnb fails to keep them awake at night.

"We don't spend a lot of time worrying about them, but instead focus on making the guest experience better," Calpin said.

"There's not much crossover," added Micek, explaining that "Hyatt provides relevance so guests can choose what's right for them."

"There's a lot we can learn from the sharing economy," Timpone said, though she added that communal spaces—one of the many features that Airbnb rentals have proven can be popular with guests, especially younger ones—are "a good thing to keep an eye on." (Marriott's Residence Inn brand has, she added, had some success in experimenting with communal areas.)

But left unsaid in the session was the fact that, whether these executives are fretting or not, Airbnb continues to be the 800-pound gorilla of hospitality that cannot be ignored. Last year, the Hotel Association of New York City commissioned HVS to report on the impact that Airbnb was having on the lodging sector of just New York, and the results were enough to send a hotel executive straight to the lobby bar.

According to the report, Airbnb-induced losses to New York's hotels from September 2014 to August 2015 were north of $451 million. There was plenty of bad news for other industries, too. Factoring in tax losses to the construction industry, and the money that Airbnb customers won't spend on food and beverage, AVS estimated Airbnb's total economic impact at $2.1 billion for the period.

"Airbnb has quickly become a threat to hotels as travelers choose to book with independent hosts … rather than traditional hotels," Revenueyourhotel.com founder Ahmed Mahmoud said earlier this year, explaining that hotels in regions where Airbnb is established have lowered prices in response, which hurts both them and their competitors.

Despite the evident threat, however, Micek, Calpin and Timpone's optimism isn't necessarily misplaced. The U.S. hotel industry continues to expand, according to the 2015 trends report released by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The American hotel industry grew from 52,000 to 53,432 properties last year, and added nearly 179,000 rooms.

Founded in San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb now does business in over 34,000 cities and claims to have booked over 60 million total guests.