Big Ideas

The Sharing Economy Is Meetings

A new study reveals that Airbnb — at least when it comes to leisure-travel accommodations — is more about convenience than anything else, even for Millennials.


According to Resonance Report: 2015 Portrait of the U.S. Millennial Traveler, while 40 percent of Millennial travelers use owner-direct services like Airbnb on a regular or occasional basis, it’s often their last choice for vacation accommodations. The study draws the conclusion that Millennials choose owner-direct lodgings at least in part because they are cost-effective, not necessarily because they seek the experience of living like — or with — a local.

In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article makes the point that “the sharing economy” may be a misnomer — it’s more accurate to call it “an access economy.” In its truest sense, the article says, sharing is a form of social exchange. With Airbnb, consumers are paying to access someone else’s goods or services for a particular period of time, making it an economic exchange. And that makes Airbnb’s rebranding last year (see logo above) “a misstep,” according to the article, because the value most consumers find with Airbnb is monetary, not social.

By this logic, face-to-face events should be defined as the sharing economy, not Airbnb. It’s not just the sharing of knowledge that brings attendees to meetings, it’s the social exchange among peers. While that may be more of a philosophical distinction, there are practical ramifications. Attendees will certainly get less of that socialization by staying at off-site apartments and homes than by mingling with fellow attendees at the host hotel.

One of the HBR article’s takeaways is that organizations that emphasize convenience and price will have a competitive advantage over those who try to play up a sense of community. Meetings already have the community value-proposition down pat. And while negotiating low room rates in this economy is a tall order, at least seamlessly linking event registration with housing could deter convenience-seeking attendees from searching sites like Airbnb for other options.



Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.