The New York Times published a great piece about the hotel industry’s plan to combat Airbnb. The writer, Katie Benner, exposes the not-so-surprising truth that the largest hotel industry association’s ace in the hole is going after state and local legislators to restrict Airbnb’s operations and hopefully slow them down.

Airbnb might be the biggest threat to the massive industry. Why is Airbnb growing so fast? (Airbnb’s grown to a $30B value in less than ten years. By contrast, Marriott, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, was founded in 1927 and is worth $35B.) What causes people to choose an Airbnb over a hotel?

The answer isn’t cost, convenience or location. Those things are easy for hotels to compete on. The answer is guest experience.

How mobile gives homestays a leg up over hotels

In our mobile era, we’re more disconnected from each other than any other point in history. So there’s great appeal to staying in what feels like a home, feeling connected to the person who owns it. Perhaps even being treated to insider info about a true local experience so you may have one for yourself.

Contrast this to the impersonal, often cold experience of staying in a hotel. In a hotel, you can be basically invisible. You interact with a human upon check in but after that you’re on your own.

Airbnb understands this fundamental strength and plays to it exceptionally well. Everything from the user interface that shows a smiling photo of the owner, referring to that person as your host and now most recently, the introduction of Airbnb Experiences. They match travelers with locals to experience something that’s true to that place. Truffle hunting in Tuscany, surfing in LA, learning an ancient pottery technique in Tokyo. These experiences make the already cozy experiences of staying in a homestay even more immersive, more special, more memorable.

So what can hotels do to compete with Airbnb?

As evidenced by Airbnb’s monumental growth, hotels should acknowledge the desire travelers have to be connected, be seen and feel a sense of place. But how can they provide the same?

Imagine for a second you’ve booked a stay with a large, international hotel chain. The hotel prompts you to download their app as a way to access hotel services during you stay, and soon you get a push notification letting you know you’ve received a message from the hotel’s “host.” She introduces herself by name, and her message is warm and personable.

Here’s what that the hotel host’s view of that exchange might look like using Layer, below. Note the detailed overview of the stay and relationship history on the right – this easy access to information enables the host to be informed and offer more personalized service to you, the traveler. And also note the view of several other guests on the left that the host is interacting with simultaneously. Each hotel host can work efficiently, while making each guest feel like a VIP.

Just like that, the large, faceless hotel has a face. As a traveler, you feel seen and welcomed, and you feel you have direct access to a human at the hotel, whose job is to host you and make sure your stay is comfortable.

Now imagine getting a message from the host later in the day with some restaurant suggestions for dinner, and details about various things happening in the hotel. The host is adding value to the traveler, and also delivering it a far more personal way than a canned email or some literature in the hotel room. For that reason, it appears more genuine and tailored to you.

Last, imagine you have a request or an issue with your room. Rather than fumbling with the phone and calling the front desk, being passed from person to person and growing increasingly frustrated, you open the app and quickly message your host.


Hotels should engage in conversation with their guests

The recommending of events and restaurants, organizing of happy hours, providing beach cruiser bicycles to guests to peruse the neighborhood, strategically placing board games in the lobby to encourage comingling — these are all easy tasks. And many large hotels already provide these things, even if their guests don’t know it.

It’s the conversation with the host that ties it all together and makes the guest feel hosted. Airbnb has this down. In fact, an Airbnb exec once told me that the quality of the conversation between the host and guest is the number one contributing factor to a highly rated stay.

By simply establishing a direct line of communication with a human by creating a conversation, hotels can accomplish much of what Airbnb hosts offer to their guests. The hotel guest feels taken care of and treated to a more personalized experience. Perhaps most important, the interaction is happening in the most convenient, effective and non-invasive way for the traveler – through messaging. Assuming the hotel has an app, they can do this without making any staffing changes.

We at Layer have helped many hospitality organizations build delightful, differentiated user experiences. Crafting a mobile messaging-based experience that makes your customers feel valued and seen is a wonderful first step toward competing with Airbnb.