JUST as Airbnb has started to take on hotels at their own game, the tables seem to be turning. The short-term lodging rental site was once known for its un-hotel-like offerings. Hosts lived alongside their guests, who were often put up in quirkily decorated spare rooms. Nowadays it offers “business travel ready” listings, for properties that have Wi-Fi, 24-hour check-in and other basic amenities. Entire houses can now be rented, not only box bedrooms. And as cities crack down on illegal Airbnb listings, it has even starting to play by the rules. As a result, the number of business bookings through the site has rocketed.
Unsurprising, then, that some hotels are returning the favour and becoming a bit more like Airbnb. At a recent conference in Los Angeles, Marriott International unveiled a concept for a hotel room that could take on short-term rental firms. Under a row of tents on a city street, the hotel chain displayed models of some ideas it is considering. The most noteworthy was a new kind of suite with four bedrooms, a living room, dining-room furniture and a full kitchen. In other words, a four-bedroom apartment (see picture).
Most hotels have emphasised convenience and comfort over home-style living. But Airbnb and its ilk have shown travellers that there is a virtue to the latter. First of all, it can be much more economical, and sometimes even fun, to buy groceries and cook than to eat out three times a day. So can communal living—something that, until the new home-sharing sites came along, many travellers hadn’t experienced since college. Now many of those visiting conferences, weddings and ski slopes prefer to stay with a few friends, cook big meals together, and save on the cost of booking separate hotel rooms.
Toni Stoeckl, a Marriott vice-president, told the Los Angeles Times that the new layout could become part of its Element Hotel brand. Element, acquired in Marriott’s recent merger with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, is known for eco-friendly extended-stay properties. The brand is expanding greatly, with 3,367 rooms open now and 10,776 more in the pipeline. The experiment is starting small: a Marriott executive envisions one of these apartment-style suites on each floor in Element hotels, with the rest of the rooms sticking to the traditional format.
Marriott is also testing out new features at its boutique Aloft brand, including customisable healthy meals that can be ordered and paid for at digital kiosks. In an apparent attempt to woo young guests, “The pots will have time-stamped personalised labels with their chef’s emoji,” according to USA Today. Fun though they are, these types of gimmicks are unlikely to change the fundamental calculus made by travellers choosing where to stay. Apartment-style living, on the other hand, might.