Business: Hospitality Stay with me
As online rivals whizz ahead, hotels try to be both big and nimble.HOTEL companies check out well just now.On May 3rd Hyatt became the latest chain to report sunny results—profits were up by 55% over the same quarter in 2015.In America RevPAR (revenue divided by rooms available in a given period) has risen for the past six years, according to STR, a data outfit.
Analysts debate when fortunes will change.America’s market has been buoyed by a temporary mismatch of slow-growing supply and robust demand.In the long term, however, the greatest uncertainty is not cyclical, but structural, as online firms change the industry’s shape.Neither Airbnb, a room-sharing site, nor online travel agents are hotels’ obvious adversaries.
Big hotel chains subsist on weary business travellers; Airbnb does not.Yet the growing popularity of the platform, now valued at around $25 billion, means it may siphon more guests from hotels in future.Booking sites help hotels but chomp into their margins with fees of up to 25%.Last year they accounted for nearly one in five bookings in America, up from one in ten in 2006, according to Phocuswright, a research firm.
In Europe, where the hotel market is more fragmented, online agents account for one in four.For hotel firms, one solution is to get bigger.After a bidding war with Anbang, a Chinese insurer, Marriott agreed to buy Starwood for more than $13 billion last month.The result will be a 1.1m room behemoth. Other firms are bulking up, too.Last year saw $67 billion of hotel mergers, according to Dealogic, a research firm—the highest level since 2007.
Scale will help hotels battle their main competitors: other hotels.But the recent spate of deals is also a response to challengers online.A bigger hotel firm can seek lower fees from online travel agents.Investments in technology can be deployed across more rooms.And the more hotels a firm manages, the more credibly it can urge travellers to bypass third parties and look for rooms on its own site, as Hilton, InterContinental Hotels and others are doing.
Hotels are also finding new partners or acquiring firms outright.On April 5th AccorHotels, a French firm, said it would buy onefinestay, an upscale rival to Airbnb.InterContinental, which was due to hold its annual meeting on May 6th, is partnering with a company called Amadeus to launch a new, cloud-based reservation system that gives more personalised service.Despite such efforts, it will be difficult for hotel firms to keep up.They cannot beat online firms’ reach.Airbnb has more rooms than even the combined Marriott and Starwood; online travel agents’ inventory is broader still.Expedia’s scale is particularly worrisome for hotel companies.Its sites include not just Expedia. com but Travelocity, Hotwire, Hotels. com and Orbitz—an acquisition regulators declined to challenge in September to the dismay of hotel chains.Less than two months later, Expedia said it would pay $3.9 billion to buy HomeAway, which helps property owners rent their houses to those who want them for a holiday.
Matching online firms’ agility will be equally challenging.Airbnb is trying to attract business types by helping them find homes with wireless internet, 24-hour access and a desk.Expedia plans to offer more listings that show hotel rooms beside houses and flats.Such a move could make both Airbnb and hoteliers bristle.