Customer Service is dead: How Airbnb is [still] disrupting the Vacation Rental Industry.

Customer Service is dead: How Airbnb is [still] disrupting the Vacation Rental Industry.

This morning, as I was sitting across the table from my friend Mike, sipping coffee and engaging in a conversation about our business goals,  I had one of those moments where someone says something that seems perfectly normal but then huge light bulbs start going off.

For me this morning it was when he looked at me and said, “When I think about my goals for the business, Wes, I really only have one simple goal in mind.”

He continued,  “I want the next 30 to 60 seconds following someone walking out the door of my retail store to be filled with conversation about how enjoyable the time spent with me and my staff was.”

He went on to tell me about how much time he spends training all of the staff to always be intentionally creating personal experiences that are not rehearsed, but that are warm, inviting, friendly, and that make each individual customer feel like they’re receiving an experience that’s unique to them.

He of course needs and wants people to buy product, but also understands that in the uber-competitive niche of paper book sales, just having a product to sell isn’t enough. That’s also why other book stores are shutting their doors but his store has been growing in sales for many years now.

Commodity Vacation Rentals

It got me thinking about the Vacation Rental industry and how quickly the industry is exploding, the hotel space is converging with it, and how commoditized most vacation rental properties will be in the next 5-7 years.

Once the industry has mostly reached maturation, I believe most vacation rentals will offer a similar (and sometimes identical) set of amenities, experiences, and meet a common baseline set of expectations – similar to what happened in the hotel industry during yester-year.

Once that  happens, it will no longer be about who has the best product, or the most product – the ability of the end customer to accurately perceive the difference in value between two mostly identical units will be close to nil. In the coming years, the winners will thrive by the customer experiences they create from start to finish.

Every communication. Every interaction. The unexpected moments that “wow”.

Simply providing a service to a customer won’t be enough; customer service is dead.

We have to look to the future where Customer Experience will be absolutely everything.


It’s no revelation that most property managers really bemoan the idea of marketing their properties on Airbnb. It’s not because the brand has any shortage of bookings that it’s generating, or that it wouldn’t be a valuable lead source.

It’s because Airbnb controls the customer experience from start to finish.

All communications go across their platform. They don’t share customer data. And at any point in the process they’re ready and willing to step in and advocate for a customer that is having a less than thrilling experience.

I think this is largely where Airbnb has been criticized in the past, but also why I think they’re still positioned to not only continue succeeding, but to continue to take huge bites of market share from the other players.

And this is their genius: Airbnb has ensured that travelers who stay at properties listed with them don’t get hooked on the properties themselves, but on the experience of traveling and staying in a vacation rental on their platform.

It’s clean. It’s predictable. It’s even ‘fun’ with their approachable and laid back designs and user interfaces.

Airbnb has created an automated experience that you can’t get anywhere else – from form to function – it’s all uniquely Airbnb.

This is precisely why the huge corporate vacation rental conglomerates should shake in their boots when they hear that Google invested $500 Million in Airbnb for them to start building ‘hybrid hotels’, or when the news broke last week that Airbnb was buying a fleet of luxury vacation rentals.

Airbnb is no longer just a listing site (not that they ever were just a listing site) – they’re seeking to disrupt the hotel and vacation rental industry by building and providing the same unique, special, exceptional customer experiences that you will only be able to get with them.

Don’t believe me? Airbnb has so infectiously entered the minds of consumers that they have single handedly made their brand so synonymous  with the term ‘vacation rentals’ that more people search ‘airbnb’ than ‘vacation rentals’ (or any derivative thereof) by an exponential margin. See chart:


While other brands were worried about ranking for ‘vacation rentals in florida’, Airbnb was hyper-focused on creating a brand experience that was second to none (again, see chart).

The future

With big corporate dollars and venture capital flooding the vacation rental niche, I think we’re about to see a bloodbath of big corp vs independent vacation rental owners.

While there will be some who “get” the need to create incredible, unique customer experiences that truly cannot be replicated by Big Corp, many will fall to the wayside as Airbnb continues to blaze the trail ahead of creating customer experiences that are difficult and expensive to replicate.

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