The “Sharing Economy” has clearly impacted traditional business models by resonating with consumers of all ages. Companies like Uber and Lyft have disrupted the transportation business in the same manner rental sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway have transformed travel. In fact, a study from Boston University has shown that the presence of Airbnb in Texas has brought down prices in traditional hotels and made it hard for them to raise prices during peak times.
Over the last few years, the growth of rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO provides stark contrast to the steady traffic decline of hotel websites and hotel aggregators (e.g. Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia.com). Taking a look at data complied by Hitwise’s AudienceView we can delve into search and web traffic to mine valuable insights into the shifting landscape of the travel booking market.
The number of monthly web visits to sharing economy sites has grown 59% from August 2013 to August 2016. Overall, monthly visits to rental sites have grown an astounding 70.3% during the last three years. Meanwhile, hotel aggregators took a hit as their site visits have decreased 7.9% and direct hotel site visits have dropped by 3.6%.
Hotel aggregators still hold a commanding share of monthly visits visits at 66% on August 2016, but this has dropped from 71% three years prior. Visits directly to hotel sites follows a similar pattern with 19% of visit share in August 2016, down a point over the three-year period. Rental sites are at 15.5% of visit share, but have gone up from 9% since 2013. If these trends continue, visits to rental sites will likely overtake direct to hotel within the next 12 months — as you can see, rental sites and hotel sites actually experienced equal visit share for the first time in January of 2016.
To understand why these changes are taking place we must take a deeper look at what consumers are searching for before they arrive on these travel sub-industries. Rental sites garner the highest share of searches mentioning “beach” and “lake” vacations, and searches looking for a “house” or “home”.
In direct contrast, searches leading to hotel sites are more focused on “clubs”, “packages”, and “resorts”. Hotel aggregators get a bit of a mix, which is not surprising considering they get two-third of the visits. Interestingly, hotel aggregator searchers focus on the term “all-inclusive” more than the other two types of sites.
Taking a step back to look at these terms, some clear patterns emerge. The searches that drive visits to the rental sites are more focused on a natural, water-side vacation in a local home. These are not consumers looking for all-inclusive resorts or club vacations sold in packages. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It reflects the “organic travel” feel of Airbnb’s website redesign and new ad campaign, whose tagline is “Don’t Go There, Live There”.