Pando

Actually, Four Seasons might be one of the few hotel brands not gutted by Airbnb

By Sarah Lacy , written on March 28, 2016

From The Sharing Economy Desk

There’s a big difference between Starwood dissing Airbnb and the Four Seasons dissing Airbnb.

I’ve had plenty of great experiences in Westins and W Hotels around the world. They are reliably and predictably “nice” and “safely edgy” respectively, with consistent service at a good value. Not cheap, but, well, they’re like the Starbucks Latte of hotels. More than you could pay for coffee elsewhere, but also an affordable consistent luxury.

But I don’t dream of one day vacationing at a W. The Four Seasons is different. Even when you aren’t a guest, the Four Seasons takes service to another level. In the rare times I’ve stayed at a Four Seasons I feel like I could request a multi-colored pony and they’d say “very good, Miss Lacy, We’ll have that up to you soon.”

So when Starwood blithely predicts it won’t be meaningfully affected by Aibnbn, it sounds like their head is in the sand. When the Four Seasons does, well, I think they probably know their clientele pretty well.

This morning in CB Insights newsletter, they cited a year old Fast Company interview where a VP of the FourSeasons said said customers wanted a “level of service that is different, more sophisticated, detailed and skillful.” It was quoted as something that might come back to haunt them as the decacorn continues to become a larger fixture in the hospitality world. But while it does sound snobby, it’s also probably absolutely right.

I stay in Airbnbs roughly half the time I travel for work or business. It’s a brilliant replacement for when I might stay at a Starwood. But if someone else were paying, I’d take a Four Seasons anyway. If I were traveling pregnant and wanted to make sure I had everything I needed to make me comfortable, I’d prefer a Four Seasons. If I were in a country I’d never traveled to where I didn’t speak the language, I’d rather stay at a Four Seasons. If I were rich, I’d likely spend more time in Four Seasons Hotels over Airbnbs.

This isn’t a diss against Airbnb. It’s a sign that I’m old and I want comfort; that I’m a mother who spend my time taking care of people, and I like getting taken care of from time to time. As distinctive of an experience as the Four Seasons is, so too is Airbnb. On the flip side if you want to have an authentic location, a feeling of being at home, more space, a kitchen, feel what it’s like to be a local, an extended stay somewhere, a Four Seasons can’t compete with an Airbnb. There’s serendipity, risk, upside or potential devastating disappointment in an Airbnb. No one wonders what a FourSeasons will look like or be like or how comfortable the bed will be. And that’s the point. They are exactly orthogonal in the part of the brain they satisfy.

This is not to say Starwood is screwed by any stretch. But Starwood has to think about an Airbnb future and whether it might cause meaningful canibalization.

But to pretend everyone will want (or be able to afford) either experience is overstates the impact of disruption and that’s hard to do if you look at the recent past of Silicon Valley. The Four Seasons doesn’t have a business model predicted on everyone wanting to stay at its hotels. It just needs to make sure it continues to be distinctive for those who do. The worst thing the Four Seasons could do is let Airbnb get in its head.

As last week’s RIAA numbers show, vinyl sales are still a part of the music business. In fact, they contribute more in revenue than YouTube for all of it’s “ears.” (Music equivalent of meaningless “eyeballs” stats?)

If vinyl has a place in a Spotify and iTunes world, sure the Four Season has a place in Airbnb’s world.