The International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) kicked off in Berlin on 3 March, with Mintel in attendance keeping an eye on the latest global hotel trends. This year sees the burgeoning peer-to-peer rental market feature at IHIF for the first time. Here, Macy Marvel looks at what’s going on in the sector.

Even as recently as a year ago, peer-to-peer (P-2-P) apartment rental websites, such as Airbnb, were not on the radar screen of traditional hotel industry players. However, in 2013, the sector generated some US$26 billion in turnover, according to Frank Croston, partner at Hamilton Hotel Partners, who interviewed Arnaud Bertrand, founder of Housetrip, one of the major P-2-P apartment rental websites in Europe, on the opening day of IHIF. Founded in 2010, Housetrip, which already has some 300,000 listings and is adding about 8,000 new properties per week, according to Bertrand. With 93% of its listings concentrated in Europe, the site targets prime urban destinations like Paris (6,000) and Berlin (500).

In contrast to Airbnb, which offers rooms within owner-occupied apartments, Housetrip lists only whole apartments which can be occupied by guests. This is proving especially attractive to families who constitute 60% of the company’s client base. For instance, an average apartment listed in Paris, that could accommodate a family of four, rents for €120 per night, which is cheaper than a 2-star hotel.

Perceptions of inconsistency of quality of the accommodation, as compared to staying in hotels, can be a barrier to consumers choosing to stay in rental property, as shown in Mintel’s recent Holiday Rental Property UK 2014 report, which finds that 20% of consumers feel that “compared to hotels, the quality of properties can be very inconsistent between one stay and another”. Housetrip takes steps to address this issue by screening all apartments prior to the guests’ stay. Potential concerns about the security of payments are addressed by payment being collected from the guest in full prior to his or her stay and only remitted to the property owner once the guest has stayed two days in the property, giving guests the chance to lodge complaints if there are problems with the accommodation. Bertrand claims that only 0.1% of guests express dissatisfaction with their accommodation. Meanwhile, there are no charges for guest to book, but property owners pay a 15% commission on bookings, which is on the low side of OTA (online travel agent) charges.

Bertand says he is confident that, in ten years’ time, short term apartment rentals will be the most important component of the transient accommodation (ie hotels, guesthouses, BnB’s & apartment rentals) sector. The sector faces challenges, however, as municipalities tighten regulations, often under pressure from lobbying by the hotel industry, who complain that apartment renters are not subject to the same taxation and regulatory requirements as hotels. Also, there is concern in some cities about depriving the local population of available accommodation, which is being increasingly diverted to short term rentals. Bertand says he has no problem with regulation so long as the rules are clear, as for example in Amsterdam, where apartment renters must have a permit issued by the municipality.

In spite of increasing regulatory restraints, the P-2-P rental sector will continue to grow as it offers family groups and young people an inexpensive way to travel. In addition, this type of accommodation offers tourists the possibility of ‘living like locals’ during their stay and thus appeals to the quest for authenticity often associated with young millennial travellers. From the point of view of both the P-2-P websites and the traditional lodging sector, a standardisation of regulatory practice internationally would do much to clear up the present state of ambiguity that exists in many destinations.

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