As we approach 2016, technology is enabling alternatives that aim to disrupt the hospitality industry.
If these alternatives dig in and become longstanding options for travelers, hotels and travel agents will have to adopt new strategies to maintain their piece of the market pie.
The sharing economy is revolutionizing three facets of travel: accommodation, transportation, and in-destination activities.
Forbes estimates revenue generated by the sharing economy will surpass $3.5 billion this year, with growth exceeding 25%.
Technology and the internet are the key in this trend toward making the old idea of sharing new again in the digital age.
But the hospitality industry is fighting back. Through e-commerce sites and apps, businesses are seeking to harness the power of the internet to battle against sharing economy startups.
The following is a glimpse inside the battle—a look at websites on either side who want to innovate with their online approaches.
Sharing Economy Sites and Apps
Sites like VaycayHero are basically like an app for vacation rentals—an Uber for rooms. Formerly Zaranga, VaycayHero claims you can “book like a hotel, stay like you’re at home.”
This emphasis on customer service and taking the guess-work out of a rental is a brazen attempt at disrupting the hotel niche.
It’s an attempt to straddle the we’ll share our home with you (for a price) side of the rental fence, and the you’ll know exactly what you’re getting side of the fence, typically dominated by the hotel industry.
However, houses are only available in a limited number of locations—and there’s no room-service. In 2014, VaycayHero secured $2.8 million in seed funding.
Couchsurfing.com wants you to “stay with locals instead of at hotels.” Founded in 2003 as a non-profit, 2011 saw Couchsurfing become a for-profit site that simply connects users around the world, for the sole purpose of providing a couch to crash on.
Couchsurfing helped pioneer the tech-friendly sharing economy. Its interface works a lot like a social network. Users have profiles and can connect via existing Facebook friendships.
Crashing on a stranger’s couch can be dangerous, prompting the site to devote a page to safety. But safety concerns keep popping up, and it’s not clear exactly how the site’s business model will make money.
Couchsurfing raised $22 million in venture capital funding with its startup.
Just like the name says, Homeexchange’s contribution to the share economy is a reciprocal model.
This is yet another old idea now made easy by the internet. The site has 55,000 members who pay $9.95 a month to list their homes, and they complete around 120,000 exchanges a year.
Members see offers for various opportunities pop into their email. Choose an offer, and be prepared to swap your house with a stranger’s house in a distant location.
But if you’re worried about someone snooping around your house and making suppositions about your life (see article: Home Exhange 101), be prepared for that possibility, too.
Hotel-based Sites and Apps
Brewster is an example of a site where you can book every part of your vacation: accommodations, activities, and transportation—as long as you stay within the Brewster sphere.
That sphere centers on the Canadian Rockies, but you can customize your trip to include almost anywhere in Canada.
Brewster claims to be staffed by Canadian locals who can give you the local experience, and they’re an old hand in the hotel industry, with their own chain.
They’ve been around since 1892. The Brewster model is similar to building your own pizza and ordering online.
The company’s newest and loudest attraction, the Glacier Skywalk at Jasper Park, sparked controversy due to potential environmental threats.
Hipmunk is a travel site and app that wants to multi-task its way into your next trip. Hipmunk aims at allowing you to compare a vast variety of options from across the web, including travel and accommodations—all narrowing down to a hotel stay.
While a sharing economy site like VaycayHero will only allow you to stay so many places, Hipmunk is quite the opposite—it’s a concierge of worldwide travel.
Its Trip Planning feature allows you to save your search trail and share with fellow travelers.
In 2014, the site raised $20 million in venture capital to bring its total outside backing to $40 million.
Hotel giant Hilton is now partnering with Uber in a move to incorporate the sharing economy with their traditional hotel service.
Hilton’s HHonors App includes automated reminders to request Uber rides to and from the hotel, with the destination preset.
It also lets users peruse restaurant and night-life destinations based on their popularity with Uber customers. Along with booking, this app features Digital Key, which lets users bypass check-in to get straight to their room.
Hilton’s new partner, Uber, has faced controversy over its treatment of drivers as contractors without benefits. Critics charge that Uber drivers do indeed qualify as employees who should get benefits, including insurance.
As the sharing economy continues to pick up momentum, more hotels will make like Hilton to include peer-to-peer businesses. You can never rule out the big boys and their hospitality experience, and their ability to adapt.
The sharing economy is valuable for the options it brings, and hotels will need to keep adapting as the sharing possibilities keep multiplying.
Author bio: Daniel Matthews is a Content Creator and musician from Boise, Idaho. He likes to write in the broad field of topics relating to business, including startups, entrepreneurs, social media, and marketing. He’s written for Social Media Today, YFS Magazine, and Triple Pundit. You can find him on Twitter @danielmatthews0