When Airbnb’s chief marketing officer, Jonathan Mildenhall, took the stage at The Gathering, a meeting for more than 600 marketing and brand managers at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Banff, Alberta, on Feb. 3–4, he gave attendees the inside scoop on some of the company’s most successful marketing campaigns. Mildenhall’s focus in his tenure at the sharing-economy giant has been to showcase spectacular properties and build community among Airbnb users.
I attended The Gathering courtesy of Travel Alberta, and was lucky enough to interview Mildenhall just after his rousing session — “Airbnb – Building A 21st Century Community-Driven SuperBrand.” He explained how Airbnb increasingly is courting business travelers and meetings business. “We observed that people can now travel for business and meet in a more interesting way,” Mildenhall said. “People want to feel they’re living when they’re working.”
Attendees who use Airbnb for leisure travel are beginning to book homestays for business travel as well. What does this mean for the traditional room block? “If businesses don’t listen to the consumer need, they’ll lose out in the long term,” Mildenhall said. “The consumer mindset around meetings is changing, and the industry needs to stay relevant.”
In the past, Airbnb has partnered with big-box events like SXSW in Austin and the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and the company is now targeting smaller markets as well. A new portal for corporate travel managers offers up-to-the-minute reports on booking, spend, and even the average daily rate attendees will pay for their Airbnb rentals. The tool also offers some of the comforts of traditional room blocks: centralized billing and an at-a-glance map so planners can see who’s staying where.
While the room-block model is likely to predominate for a number of years, offering attendees the choice between a hotel and a home rental upfront could help planners keep tabs on sharing-economy devotees who likely would book outside the block regardless. “People get used to not owning things,” Mildenhall said. “They change their perception of value, and that’s going to continue to influence where they choose to stay.”