Thoughts on Entrepreneurship & Life by Sam Huleatt

Building a Virtual Hotel Brand

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I prefer hotels over Airbnb, especially when traveling for business — but this could change…

I posit that I (and many other mid to high-end business travelers) could be swayed to choose an Airbnb over a hotel with the advent of a “virtual hotel brand” built on top of the Airbnb platform.

Several recent trips to San Francisco and Austin have left me sticker shocked by hotel prices. A nice hotel in either city, can be $400+ mid-week. It seems sort of crazy and yet I have still paid the hotel rates. Why? I prefer hotels because: I know what I’m going to get, logistic simplicity and amenities. For me, Airbnb also still has a bit of an image problem: I tend to think of it as a “budget option” where I need to sacrifice all the aforementioned. This is where a virtual hotel comes into play — provide curation/standardization, logistics and amenities surpassing old-school hotels while leveraging Airbnb.

When you’re on a tight travel schedule, knowing what you will get is super important. People will pay sky high prices at say, the Four Seasons, because they know the property, experience and service will consistently be first-class. To help standardize business travel on Airbnb, I could see someone effectively curating a number of properties in different cities with great locations, near areas people typically conduct business. I’d come to trust this new hotel brand to book me a property sight unseen, without my needing to look at maps and read reviews and go back and fourth with the owner. This new hotel would make getting the key a breeze — perhaps they would have an Uber pick me up at the airport, and the driver would hand me the key prior to dropping me off at the front door.

Next, the virtual hotel would layer on value added services mimicking (or exceeding) a hotel. Rather than the host’s potentially crappy towels, the virtual hotel would have arrived in advance, checked out the apartment and equipped it with high-end towels, soaps, etc, and maybe added a few local beers to the fridge. It would also provide a daily maid service (optional) and contract with great neighborhood gyms and / or yoga studios, baking these amenities into the price or charging me on demand through an app. The virtual chain might even move beyond typical hotel perks to offer say booking meeting spaces (WeWork or Breather), or potentially providing a curated dinning experience I’d otherwise not be able to find on my own. Some of these demand amenities, I can obviously already book on my own, but making the experience simple, curated and frictionless on the payment side would be great.

A virtual hotel chain like this could easily win my business travel loyalty. I think at scale, the margins would still back out with lower price points than a typical higher-end hotel.


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