Marriott International Inc. is expanding its home-sharing business to the United States, becoming the latest hotel operator to challenge Airbnb at its own game and blurring the distinction between home sharing and the traditional hospitality companies.
Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company, plans to expand the home-sharing pilot it launched in Europe last year, adding 2,000 home rentals in U.S. vacation destinations such as Lake Tahoe and Bar Harbor, Maine. The initiative is small — the company has 1.3 million hotel rooms around the world — but important for Marriott, because the people who stay at its hotels on business might want a rental house for a bachelor party or family vacation.
“For younger generations booking group travel, it’s not ‘Who’s in charge of the hotel?’ It’s ‘Who’s in charge of the Airbnb?’” said Michael Bellisario, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. “Home sharing is here to stay. The best thing hotel companies can do is embrace it.”
Established lodging companies have increasingly sought a response to Airbnb as the app-driven service has grown from scrappy upstart to a global giant with a private market valuation of $31 billion, which is bigger than most publicly traded hotel companies. Hyatt Hotels Corp. made a strategic investment in home-sharing startup Oasis Collections in 2017, a year after Accor acquired luxury-rental company Onefinestay.
In some corners of the industry, Airbnb is viewed as a fearsome competitor with a large, diverse array of offerings — and a reputation for flouting hotel taxes and local regulations. Other hospitality executives, including Marriott Chief Executive Arne Sorenson, have taken a more neutral attitude, arguing that home sharing generally attracts a different type of traveler than traditional hotels.
“Many of their customers are choosing to stay with them for one reason only, and that’s because they’re cheap,” Sorenson said in a recent interview for Bloomberg Television. “We’re not really in the bottom part of the market — our business is never going to be to provide the cheapest stay.”
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said Monday on CNBC that his company will be ready to sell shares to the public this year. Lately, the company has used its heft to expand into new parts of the hospitality business. On Monday it announced a partnership with New York-based developer RXR Realty to open luxury lodgings in iconic buildings, including 75 Rockefeller Plaza, and in March it agreed to buy hotel-listing startup HotelTonight.
Marriott took an early step into the home-sharing business last May, when it launched the pilot program in London that Sorenson said would offer a “better product” than existing options. The company expanded to a handful of other cities in a bid to combine the home-sharing format with its loyalty program and expertise in managing hotels.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we welcome them to the party and wish them bon voyage,” Airbnb spokesman Chris Lehane said.