A member of my team has been contacted this week by someone on the front line, who is dealing daily with the effects of bad actors in the sharing economy, and negative treatment from some of the giant OTAs.
I won’t mislead you – this is someone we’re hoping to bring on board as an ASAP Member, and it was in this context that we first got in contact. And it was while we were outlining what we stand for, how we’re setting standards of behaviour and duty of care in our sector, that her impassioned plea was prompted.
And make no mistake. This woman is desperate! She’s really struggling with the effect on her own business, and on her clients, of accommodation that’s constantly being misrepresented by the likes of Airbnb and Booking.com, that’s double-booked, or where they get bumped out of in favour of someone costing them less in commission – or that doesn’t even exist, in some cases.
She says she’s never seen as much damage to the London market as she has this summer – especially to the previously strong visitor flow from the Middle East which has all-but dried up as reputation spreads.
She talks about guests turning up at her residence in tears, because they feel robbed by arriving at the accommodation they’d booked, which turns out to be council flats on residential estates, or is on streets that don’t even exist. She says that the internet has opened up the market to a lot of potential fraud, to unlicensed operators who hijack legitimate websites, then use them to represent one kind of guest stay but actually offer something completely different.
And that it’s giving the whole sector a bad name.
Worryingly, she also says that she’s tried working with local councils and tourism bodies to stop this happening, but they don’t seem able to help. Or they might be willing to act on specific information about individual properties operating illegally, but can’t do anything about the wider situation.
And she begs us to help – to bring licensed, accredited, safe, quality accommodation to the forefront, and to force the bad actors out.
As I said last week, we’re not really in a position as a not-for-profit membership association, with limited resource, to take on the might of giant OTAs or homestay platforms. All we can do is make sure our own Members are represented everywhere we can, that we start rattling on the doors of influential people who will listen, and that the message gets out that theirs should be the accommodation of first choice for anyone looking for secure, quality, professionally-run hospitality offerings, where someone is always available to answer a query or put right any issues.
And by association, that the other operators, the OTAs and aggregators, should being some order to their platforms, and start taking some responsibility for guest happiness – not just pile up the profits at a human cost.
So, we have a call to the hospitality industry, whether that’s bookers, operators or agents.
However much we ‘get it’ academically, and write about it, and discuss how terrible it can be, we must never forget that everything about our sector and the wider industry is about PEOPLE, their businesses, individuals, heads on pillows – and the security of knowing that you’re staying somewhere that exists, that’s above board and legal, and where someone gives a damn about your safety.
I’m going to go back to that poor woman and see what we can do for her own business, and give her back some faith in our great industry. I hope I speak for all of us in that!