Surviving the sharing economy trend: Strategic moves for the hospitality industry

The sharing economy in travel has seen remarkable growth, reaching a market size of $10.7 billion in the GCC alone by 2024
Surviving the sharing economy trend: Strategic moves for the hospitality industry
A notable 70 percent of peer-to-peer platform users in MENA prefer Airbnb for the authentic experiences it offers

The rise of the sharing economy in the hospitality sector is reshaping the travel industry globally, and the Middle East is no exception. The sharing economy, which refers to the peer-to-peer exchange of accommodations and travel experiences through platforms such as Airbnb and Dubizzle, presents both challenges and opportunities for traditional hospitality players. This article explores key trends fueling the growth of the sharing economy, its impact on the hospitality industry, and strategic ways for industry players to adapt and benefit.

Rise of the sharing economy and peer-to-peer platforms in travel

The sharing economy in travel has seen remarkable growth, reaching a market size of $10.7 billion in the GCC alone by 2024. Airbnb, for instance, boasts over 7 million listings worldwide and sees a substantial portion of its bookings from the Middle East. Local alternatives like Dubizzle in the UAE and Gathern in Saudi Arabia are also rapidly gaining traction. They are providing travelers with unique stays and personalized travel experiences that cater to various preferences and budgets.

Impact on consumer behavior and preferences

One of the most significant impacts of the sharing economy is the shift in consumer behavior towards unique and local experiences. A notable 70 percent of peer-to-peer platform users in MENA prefer Airbnb for the authentic experiences it offers. This change reflects a broader trend where travelers seek personalized stays that connect them with local cultures and communities. Traditional hotels, which often focus on standardized services, now face the challenge of adapting to these evolving preferences.

Economic impact on traditional hospitality

The economic impact on traditional hospitality businesses has been substantial. In cities with a high density of Airbnb listings in the MENA region, hotels have reported significant declines in revenue. For instance, hotels in Dubai have experienced annual losses of up to $250 million due to competition from Airbnb, Dubizzle, and other local alternatives. This financial strain underscores the need for traditional hotels to innovate and find new ways to compete in an increasingly crowded market.

Regulatory challenges and responses

The rapid growth of the sharing economy has also prompted significant regulatory responses. Over 100 major cities worldwide have implemented strict regulations on short-term rentals to address concerns about housing shortages, noise, and community disruption. In the Middle East, countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia are also introducing regulations to manage the impact of peer-to-peer accommodations. This reflects the need to balance innovation with local norms and existing infrastructure. The evolving regulatory landscape highlights the tension between fostering innovation and ensuring compliance with local norms and safety standards.

Flexibility and scalability of accommodation supply

One of the advantages of the sharing economy is the flexibility and scalability it offers. Platforms like Airbnb can quickly add new listings to meet demand, especially during peak travel times or major events. This flexibility helps alleviate accommodation shortages and provides travelers with more options. However, it also poses challenges for traditional hotels that cannot as easily adjust their capacity, potentially leading to an imbalance in supply and demand.

Strategic approaches for the hospitality industry

To navigate the challenges and leverage the opportunities presented by the sharing economy, traditional hospitality businesses can adopt several strategic approaches:

Focus on value beyond accommodation

While peer-to-peer platforms often provide cheaper options, hotels can differentiate themselves by offering additional value. This could include high-quality amenities, exceptional service, or exclusive access to experiences or events. Therefore, by focusing on delivering superior value, hotels can attract guests who are willing to pay a premium for a more comprehensive and enriching experience.

Embrace technological advancements

Leveraging technology is crucial for traditional hospitality businesses to enhance guest experiences and operational efficiency. Investments in user-friendly booking platforms, mobile check-in services, smart room features, and personalized recommendations. For example, incorporating AI-driven personalized recommendations for travel activities and dining can enhance the overall guest experience. These technological enhancements can also help hotels stay competitive and meet the evolving expectations of modern travelers.

Strategic partnerships and collaborations

Collaboration with sharing economy platforms or developing similar peer-to-peer rental models within the hospitality sector can provide strategic advantages. Hotels can explore partnerships for shared services, cross-promotions, or even hosting unique experiences on these platforms. Such collaborations can help traditional hospitality businesses tap into new customer segments and offer more diverse and appealing options to travelers. Simon-Kucher global experience reveals that traditional hotels see typically a 15 percent increase in short-term revenue after listing on AirBnB.

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Prioritize sustainability and responsible tourism

With the rise of conscious consumerism in the Middle East, the hospitality industry should prioritize sustainability practices and responsible tourism initiatives. Eco-friendly accommodations, efforts to reduce carbon footprints, and support for local communities can attract travelers who value environmental and social responsibility. For example, to attract GenZ travelers, hotels can partner with local farms to supply organic produce and implement the trending “farm-to-table” dining concept. By aligning with these values, hotels can enhance their brand reputation and appeal to a growing segment of eco-conscious travelers. Simon-Kucher’s market recent studies suggest the potential of up to 11 percent sustainability-based revenue premium for hospitality players.

In conclusion, the sharing economy has brought significant changes to the travel and hospitality industry. While it presents challenges, it also offers opportunities for traditional businesses to innovate and adapt. By focusing on value, embracing technology, forming strategic partnerships, and embracing sustainability, the hospitality industry can thrive in this evolving landscape.

Lovrenc Kessler is managing partner, Middle East and Mohit Agrawal is director, Dubai office at Simon-Kucher.

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