NEW YORK (MainStreet) —The Priceline.com revolution that began in the late-1990s was a consumer’s dream come true: name your own price. Beggars could be choosers (for once), as hotels weren’t about to balk at filling otherwise empty rooms.
Did it kill the hotel industry? No, but Priceline wrested a lot of control of room inventory away from hotel operators. Not to mention the fact that hotels were paying 20 to 25% commission to Priceline and other online travel agents like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity.
Consumers loved it. A good value meant a good price, but it also meant that great feeling of having gamed the system by unearthing the lost hotel codex. As a result, online bookings reached $162 billion in the U.S. last year, up from $105 billion just five years ago.
Airbnb.com has the potential to disrupt all that, not because it’s usually cheaper than a hotel (by 75% sometimes), but because its 250,000 listings constitute the anti-hotel.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb.com.com bills itself a community marketplace where you can rent someone’s house or apartment in another city and hosts can rent out their own place to inbound vacationers. It’s a young company and it’s a pervasive company, with listings in 33,000 cities and towns in 192 countries. It’s also a well-liked company, which reports a 97% customer satisfaction rating based, in large part, on staying out of the way of its customers. There’s a range of policies for cancellations and refunds, but on par, renters and hosts are encouraged to use a series of company guidelines to conduct their own transactions. In fact, at the end of 2012, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky claimed his company would be filling more room nights than Hilton Hotels.
The listings are comprehensive, often with professional photography. The listings are also incredibly personal. Renters not only know what they’re getting, in terms of amenities, but they get to know an awful lot about the host—maybe too much sometimes. In the end, though, many renters leave with the vague feeling that they had a good time at an absent friend’s apartment, and hosts walk away with the vague feeling that their wallets just got a little fatter.