The growing number and diversity of websites designed to bring together travellers and local people is shaking up the traditional tourism sector.
The peer-to-peer movement, originally best-known for its activities in the music sphere, is the
result of a general desire among people to bypass traditional businesses. One sector where
this trend has now caught on in a big way is tourism. The P2P – or ‘sharing’ – approach is much
appreciated as it provides cheaper alternatives with a really local, more ‘human’ feel. P2P has
recently made incursions into four key areas of the tourism ecosystem. Firstly, private transport,
with websites offering car-pooling and car-lending, plus also solutions for parking your car at
private addresses, such as parkatmyhouse. A second major area is overnight accommodation,
where sites such as AirBnB and Couchsurfing provide solutions for staying the night at a private
house, exchanging your apartment, or sub-letting a place to stay. In the third sphere, eating out,
there are platforms such as KitchenSurfing that offer opportunities to go and share a meal with
people you do not know, and social review site Yelp, which provides tips on restaurants in the
area. In addition, there are sites like GetYourGuide, designed to replace the standard tourist
guidebook and find you the best deals, and Vayable, which can put you in touch with local
people to take you on unique trips and outings.
A sizeable market
So how great is the impact of these new ‘sharing economy’ players on the tourism market?
Market research firm Euromonitor International reckons for example that 10 million overnight
stays were sold on the lodging site Airbnb between 2007, when the firm was created, and
2012. To put this in context, in 2012 a total of over a billion overnight stays were sold in the
United States by all types of tourism businesses taken together. Nor is Airbnb, with its 300,000
subscribers, the biggest of the Vacation Rentals by Owners (VRBO) players as homeaway
claims to have over 500,000 registered users. If we then add sites such as InterHome, which
has over 260,000 subscribers, and FlipKey with more than 170,000, this gives us a better feel
for the size of the market.
Hotels need to adapt
However, the weight of the sharing economy in the tourism sphere needs to be put into
perspective. It has been estimated that just 28% of all those registered to provide services on
this type of site are private individuals, the remainder being professionals, who usually sign
up to a number of sites. Frédéric Gonzalo, a consultant with Socialmedia Today, believes
however that traditional tourism as represented by hotels is becoming less and less attractive.
For instance, the cost of local phone calls, meals and drinks at the bar is often prohibitive
and access to wifi can be rather irregular, even when hotels charge for the service. Gonzalo
argues that the hotel business ought to be adapting to current needs and expectations, perhaps
along the lines of the Kimpton hotels in the United States, which offer a very attractive loyalty
programme. However these three- or four-star hotels are certainly not within reach of every