Airbnb, VRBO, Uber and Lyft — companies at the forefront of the “sharing economy,” from home rentals to ridesharing — have been getting more than their own fair share of attention lately. These new companies threaten the viability of traditional tourism industry players. Each room booked outside a hotel means lost revenue for meeting planners, event holders, and hotels. Each rideshare trip is revenue lost, not only to a taxi, but also to a limo or tour bus driver. But the reality is these companies are here to stay, and if we take a step back, we may see that they, and the collaborative economy as a whole, present significant opportunities for the tourism and meetings industries.
What exactly is the collaborative economy? It’s been around for years; home sharing started with the Dutch in 1953 when they wanted a more affordable way to vacation. In 1995 we saw the start of VRBO and Craigslist. The collaborative economy is the peer to peer sharing of goods and services, typically coordinated through online websites. It covers all sectors of the economy, from buying and selling items and services – think eBay and Fiverr – to crowdfunding and shared work space. It is the most disruptive innovation impacting our industry today, and with a current value of $26 billion, which is expected to grow to $335 billion in the next decade, it’s imperative to find ways to embrace it.
Outsource Tasks: We’ve all been there: working tirelessly to create awe-inspiring welcome packages, updating registration badges the night before the event, and picking up last minute décor. The sharing economy makes it easy to outsource tasks without having to pay for additional employees. Hire out routine tasks or schedule pickup and deliveries through personal service websites, like TaskRabbit.
Creative: Event branding and collateral can add up very quickly. Sites such as Fiverr offer logo design and video creation, with gigs starting from as little as $5 USD.
Transportation: Encourage attendees to use local ride sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. Wait times are usually much shorter than taxi lineups, plus they can ask local drivers the best places to visit while in town. South By Southwest® organizers in Austin, Texas, have said that before the arrival of Uber and Lyft, transportation was among the chief complaints of event attendees. People were waiting hours for taxis that never came and event staff labored over complex shuttle schedules to move guests around town. After the arrival of ridesharing, transportation didn’t even rank among the top six complaints.
Venues: Whether you need to rent a conference room to host a meeting with all of your vendors prior to the event, or you want to source a unique venue space for your next conference, there are many sharing sites that showcase unique venues for hourly or daily rentals.
Local Goods: Typically attendees seek souvenirs to bring home with them. Partner with local artisans and allow them to sell goods during breaks in your event. This allows you to give back to the local community and support the local economy, while your attendees can find authentic, unique gifts.
Accommodations: During city-wide events, alternative lodging – like Airbnb – accommodates more event attendees and can create downward pressure on hotel room rates during peak times. Airbnb guests – who have been shown to spend more money, stay longer, stay outside hotel districts and visit establishments that don’t usually see tourist traffic — can extend and distribute the economic benefit associated with events.
Despite the pushback in many markets, these players are here to stay. The competition will keep us on our toes. They will improve the experience for guests and add capacity to meet the traffic spikes inherent in our business.