Heads Explode as Marriott Adds Private Homes to its Inventory

Remember when you first learned that Airbnb was enabling hotels to list their inventory on the home-sharing platform? To me, it felt like worlds were colliding and lines were blurring. I had the same feeling when I heard, today, that Marriott will now enable its loyalty members to earn and redeem Marriott Bonvoy points when they book and stay in 2,000-plus private homes that the chain is adding to its booking platform.

Let that news settle in. Marriott, which has 7,000 hotel properties, is now allowing its customers to choose from hotels or private homes, professionally managed by partner vacation management companies.

On the one hand, this move sends a clear message that the hotel company is listening to its customers, innovating and adapting to the way some guests prefer to travel. On the other hand, it is blurring the lines between hotel and home, adding competition for its owners, and potentially setting a dangerous precedent which might hurt its reputation.

Hotels run on standards and consistency. Maintaining high standards is certainly more difficult when multiple vacation management companies and individually owned homes are involved. While all homes must meet certain standards, assets can age quickly with wear and tear and ensuring high standards are more difficult when management is remote, versus under the same roof.

When it comes to service recovery, hotels are prepared to act. A quick call downstairs might resolve an overflowing toilet in a hotel, but homes don’t come with 24/7 engineering departments to take care of issues as they arise. Guests that book on the Marriott platform might feel the extra assurance of a brand when booking a home and be disappointed when there is an issue that can’t be resolved immediately.

When it comes to its owners, Marriott will certainly make ripples with this move. The brand is already adding sizable inventory this year with new hotels and with the addition of private homes, its owners must be wondering whether the brand has their back. If anyone loses in this move, it’s the owners that rely on Marriott to promote the brand and help drive bookings. Next week, when private inventory is added to the booking engine, a search for a room in Lake Tahoe might result in 11 hotels and 30 private homes.

Marriott isn’t the first brand to dip its toe into the private home market. As the New York Times notes, ‘In 2017, Hyatt invested in Oasis Collections, offering homes with high-end linens and concierge assistance, but sold it a year later. AccorHotels has the similarly serviced collection of homes called OneFineStay, though its year-end 2018 financial report indicated the investment had yet to pay off.’ Will Marriott be the first to make it work? Undoubtedly many other brands will be watching closely for signs of success.

Despite the click-baity titles like, ‘A New Marriott Division Goes Head-to-Head With Airbnb’ and ‘Marriott is coming for Airbnb with a fancypants version of homeshare rentals,’ I don’t think Airbnb is too concerned, at least not yet. Marriott is adding 2,000 homes to its network. Airbnb has more than 4 million listings worldwide, more than the top five major hotel brands combined. While the company will certainly will take notice, I don’t think they will lose sleep.

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