Airbnb vs. Hotels: New iModerate Study Reveals Key Purchase Drivers

Qualitative study finds boutique properties could help hotel chains bridge the gap with Airbnb


Jun 22, 2016

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Airbnb is growing at an explosive rate and gunning to become a full-blown hospitality brand, putting even more pressure on large hotel chains to hold onto their customer base. A new research study by iModerate, a progressive insights firm, reveals the consumer preferences behind this growth and details the personas and different expectations of guests who stay at each type of property.

Airbnb Guests Seen as Risk-Taking Extroverts, Hotel Guests as Conservative Introverts: iModerate asked 1,500 consumers nationwide to describe their preferences for staying at an Airbnb rental versus a hotel, their expectations of both experiences and the types of people who prefer to stay at each.

Airbnb patrons were described as adventurous, open and often younger travelers who are willing to take a risk booking a place in the hopes of having a unique, localized experience for a reasonably low price. Location is paramount for these visitors who like to stay in the heart of neighborhoods that often don’t have commercial lodging options and get a “locals” experience. In terms of amenities, WiFi is a must-have, kitchens are a nice bonus and hosts who are helpful, but otherwise leave them alone, are appreciated.

By stark contrast, hotel guests are described as conservative, private and introverted. They value predictable processes and consistent amenities over location, and seek the trust that comes with staying with an organization rather than an individual. They also still appreciate an experience, but instead of venturing out, they consider the hotel itself as a destination and seek relaxation and pampering on property, as well as a set of amenities that meets the brand standard. Hotel guests are also mildly obsessed with towels, linens and, in particular, pillows – an item that wasn’t called out when discussing Airbnb stays.

“While there is considerable contrast between the personas and preferences of Airbnb and hotel guests, it’s a gap that’s getting smaller by the day,” said iModerate CEO Jen Drolet. “There’s an opportunity for Airbnb to lure more traditional hotel guests by focusing on the trust factor, and hotels can compete by adding more localized and distinctive experiences.”

Major hotel chains have expanded to include smaller, boutique brands with the potential to compete more directly with Airbnb by offering localized experiences and personal touches that break the mold of traditional hotel stays. iModerate found consumers expect boutique hotels to deliver a smaller footprint with unique, local flair and a sense of luxury, which are similar to the characteristics they seek from Airbnbs.

“These chains not only have the potential to succeed, but could have a very strong foothold in the travel industry, as they offer the best of both worlds by uniting the more localized aspect of Airbnb with the trust and security that comes with staying at a hotel chain,” said Drolet.

iModerate’s full report is now available and contains detailed consumer insights and instructive tips that all competitors can leverage to retain or grow market share.


The qualitative study was conducted in May 2016. iModerate used ThoughtPath, its proprietary framework that’s rooted in elements of cognitive psychology, to formulate a set of open-ended questions that were posed to 1,500 consumers who ranged in age from 15 to over 65. iModerate’s team of qualitative experts then used its (iM)merge Analytics approach to cull through the data, tease apart the nuance, and gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ viewpoints.

About iModerate

iModerate is a progressive insights agency that empowers clients to take decisive, proof-based action that evolves businesses and transforms brands. The company pairs powerful cognitive techniques with the latest research methods to help brands identify nuanced intelligence that revolutionizes their thinking and gives them an edge. In 12 years, iModerate has conducted over 200,000 conversations, analyzed vast amounts of consumer commentary, and helped over one-third of the Fortune 500 discover how consumers think about, characterize, experience, and discuss their brand.

The insights I received from iModerate really brought our NPS program to life. While it was always highly-visible and important to key stakeholders it did not resonate as well with the majority of employees. The iModerate piece rounded out the NPS program and brought it to a place where it is now more valued, transparent and salient across the organization. Having the consumer’s voice and that context has helped us build business cases and impact operations in a way that has led to great success.

Adriana Smith, Manager, Brand Strategy, NRG Energy