I think there is an opportunity in the travel (accommodations) industry to utilize crowds to differentiate and enhance platforms. Accommodations platforms such as Airbnb, Homeaway, and Booking.com serve to connect those with housing needs to suitable places. As I reviewed each of these sites to understand all offerings and to think about how they might leverage crowds, I was surprised to find that they each perform other functions dedicated to driving traffic on their sites and subsequent bookings where they can realize value.
For example, Airbnb has an “experiences” and a “places” tab (see image below) where you can book events such as hiking or horseback riding advertised by experience providers or simply see “get together” events taking place for Airbnb community members in certain cities.
Booking.com has a “Destination Inspiration!” (see image below) tab where you can prioritize what’s important for your trip and then see recommended destinations.
However, all of these functions require users to spend time selecting and sorting options. While these offerings may work for most people, I think it may be beneficial for at least some to minimize their search time and maximize targeted results. Crowds could be a solution for this.
One idea would be to allow users (potential travelers) to enter whatever criteria is important to them (as much or as little as they want) as a trip request and have accommodation suppliers respond to these individual requests. The platform could act as an intermediary filtering the best options given the provided information (this would require additional personnel/operations of course) and present these options back to the searcher. The searcher could go with one of these or search via the self-discovery method already in place.
The incentive for searchers to use this feature would be in saved time. To incentivize the suppliers, platforms could reduce the take rate by an appropriate amount (1-4%) for those who respond to individual requests and close a booking. This could particularly be helpful to those suppliers without a proven track record who are new at listing/advertising – provide them an avenue to work a bit harder to gain customers. The benefit to the platform would be a stronger and more trustworthy community that could drive more volume.
Additionally, platforms could use crowds to develop travel recommendations/knowledge to ultimately drive more traffic. When I go to plan a trip, I find myself visiting various sites, platforms, and travel books to find accommodations and plan my itinerary. It would be helpful to have this information available in an integrated way on the same site. For platforms such as Airbnb, Homeaway, and Booking.com, offering a page with itinerary/travel recommendations could be very helpful to its users provided they are quality recommendations. In order to ensure quality, Airbnb could solicit its community (suppliers/customers) to produce travel itineraries and/or recommendations for locations and award the creators of the top products (judged by platform employees) incremental credit for booking on their site (1st place: $200, 2nd place: $100, 3rd place: $50 as an example). The platform could attach the creators’ names to the products so that interested travelers could reach out with specific questions in regards to the itinerary/travel recommendations. Additional awards could be given for itineraries after being used and voted on by travelers. This would provide more quality travel information on the site, potentially increase traffic, and enable more interaction and communication amongst community members.
As the travel and accommodations industry becomes more competitive, using crowds to differentiate products and services and strengthen communities could be key in an industry with relatively low barriers to entry.
Harvard Business School Case: Home Away: Organizing the Vacation Rental Industry