home-sharing space

[dropcap size=small]I[/dropcap]n February this year, Airbnb launched Airbnb Plus, a higher-tier platform offering travellers accommodation in upscale homes, with the benefit of hotel-style conveniences such as quality toiletries and easy check-in – all verified in person, according to a 100-point checklist.

“Since the launch, there have been around 2,000 homes available to book across 13 cities, with plans to expand into 50 cities by the end of the year,” says an Airbnb spokesperson. Industry watchers and market analysts are confident that this new platform will hold sway with luxury travellers.

“We expect millionaires in the Asia-Pacific to list Airbnb among the top 10 hotel brands in the next five years,” notes the Asian Millionaire Travel Report 2018, a paper by Agility Research & Strategy.

Major hotel groups are not going down without a fight. In fact, they are fighting fire with fire, with some now offering private home rentals as a complement to their suite stays. Javier Cedillo-Espin, CEO of Onefinestay, offers insight into why hotels are jumping on the luxury home-sharing bandwagon. “The luxury private home-rental industry is growing alongside shifting travel consumer behaviour. Mass adoption of technology led to increased appetite for authentic experiences, provided by companies that put travellers into the heart of a culture, and let them live like locals.”

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Accorhotels – which counts the Banyan Tree, Fairmont, Raffles and Sofitel brands in its portfolio – acquired Cedillo-Espin’s company in 2016. The move added 10,000 vetted homes, all with hotel-style amenities, to its room inventory. And, thanks to Accorhotels’ hospitality prowess, its checklist has 300 points – three times as many as Airbnb Plus’.

“As of April 2018, Onefinestay enabled members of Le Club Accorhotels (LCAH) to spend their points on its portfolio of residences. The 42 million LCAH cardholders can now discover, book and enjoy 10,000 villas, chalets and historic homes in 200 destinations around the world,” adds Cedillo-Espin.

Last month, the company announced additions to its portfolio, including 22 luxury homes in Sydney and a clutch of 10 villas on the Greek island of Mykonos. The homes there are equipped with infinity pools, private docks and helipads, as well as Onefinestay’s signature service – concierge available on-site 24/7.

Not to be outdone, Marriott, the world’s largest hotelier with 6,500 hotels and 110 million loyalty cardholders, teamed up with UK- based firm Hostmaker in February this year, adding 200 London homes to its catalogue. The pilot scheme, known as Tribute Portfolio Homes, will run for six months.

(RELATED: Marriott enters luxury home-sharing market for the wealthy with Tribute Portfolio Homes)

“Guests will not need to sift through thousands of listings to find the one that works – we’ve done the work for them, in partnership with Hostmaker, (by) curating an exceptional portfolio of properties,” explains Adam Malamut, Marriott International’s chief customer experience officer.

Although currently limited to homes in London, what sets Tribute Portfolio Homes apart – at least from Airbnb Plus – is the availability of 24-hour in-person check-in, as well as 24/7 support for in-stay issues such as lost keys or faulty home appliances.

But hospitality, like technology, is a game of leapfrog. By the time you read this, Airbnb would likely have rolled out its latest trump card: Beyond by Airbnb, a collection of luxury homes for the discerning traveller.

The move comes hot on the heels of its 2017 purchase of home rental firm Luxury Retreats.

As is often the case when consumer-centric companies slug it out, it is the consumers that ultimately benefit. In this case, from sheer choice. Time to pack your bags.