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Three digital marketing strategies that hotels can learn from Airbnb

Airbnb’s recent rebranding campaign has certainly made headlines (and not necessarily in a good way), but questionable logo aside, the company continues to be a major disrupting force the hospitality industry, especially now that it has begun to expand into the business travel market. While some in the hotel industry have been crying foul of Airbnb’s lack of regulation, other hoteliers seem indifferent to their presence. However, with revenues reaching $250 million in 2013 and a current company valuation of $10 billion, it’s time that hotels take a few pages from Airbnb’s success.

With no real room inventory, Airbnb has become masters of digital marketing, creating a powerful combination of earned, owned, and paid media to sell the brand. In particular, the company’s “owned media” strategy — its approach to its website, social media, and blog — offers valuable lessons for hotel marketers. Here are three things that hotels can learn from Airbnb:

1. Understanding—and communicating—the uniqueness of places to experience-driven travelers

In touting the thousands of “unique” and “amazing” places available to book online, Airbnb is especially attuned to the growing segment of travelers who crave authentic, experiential travel that allows them to experience the city more from a local resident’s perspective. One of the ways they emphasize this is through their Neighborhood Guides, which highlight the nuances and characteristics of specific neighborhoods that comprise a larger city.

Kensington neighborhood guide on Airbnb Shoreditch neighborhood guide on Airbnb

With travelers making booking decisions on such a granular level, hotels should find ways of communicating to potential guests what’s unique and special about the destination and the local neighborhood. This goes beyond the usual listing of major attractions and sights on a hotel website — instead, hotels should provide dynamic content on where locals are eating, shopping, and going out.  One good example is Hersha Independent Collection, which recently launched a new set of websites for their boutique properties. Their online Neighborhood Guides, like this one for NU Hotel in downtown Brooklyn, showcase local favorites on an interactive map, while a blog and events calendar highlight the activities and places unique to Brooklyn and the local area.

2. Storytelling through real guest experiences

Airbnb loves telling a good story, whether it’s through a movie completely made of crowdsourced Vine videos or an ad featuring birdhouse replicas of its most intriguing properties. Now it has given a platform for its users to do the same thing through “Stories from the Airbnb Community,” which shares the real-life experiences of hosts and guests and how their lives have been positively changed or impacted by Airbnb.


Hotels should find ways to tell their guests’ stories and experiences in a way that goes beyond reviews and testimonials and focuses instead on the emotional and personal connection of a guest stay. The Ritz-Carlton recently developed an online platform called “Memories by the Ritz-Carlton,” a collection of memorable travel stories told by guests. From that they’ve built a social media campaign called “Six Word Wows,” which retells select guest stories in six words, a technique inspired by author Ernest Hemingway, who allegedly wrote a short story in just six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

3. Crowdsourcing content from fans while maintaining control over the brand message

When it comes to social media campaigns, crowdsourcing content from fans can be tricky to manage without a solid strategic plan — without proper curation and channel management, even a well-intentioned hashtag can go horribly awry if left to the masses. In their latest social campaign, Airbnb created a platform that allows users to create a personalized version of their new logo. After selecting colors and patterns, users can then share their customized logo along with a photo and favorite Airbnb memory via social media. The posts are tagged with #BelongAnywhere.

This platform not only allows Airbnb to add their logo to all the content that their fans produce, but it also allows for better curation. Airbnb can select and promote the content that best fits their brand message via their own social channels.

Though building a custom content creation platform may be out of budget for most hotels, it is still possible to leverage crowdsourcing effectively with a good campaign strategy. Finding ways to incorporate the brand into the content that is created is especially effective. Consider Tourisme Montreal, which found big success in its #MTLMOMENTS campaign with the creation of a branded photo frame that they placed around the city to inspire visitors to take photos for Instagram and Twitter.


With hotel lobbies and governments from New York to Spain putting tighter regulations on Airbnb, it remains to be seen how the company will evolve. But one thing is for sure — the company will go down in history as one of the great travel brands of the digital age. And that’s something hotels shouldn’t ignore.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

2 thoughts on “Three digital marketing strategies that hotels can learn from Airbnb

  1. A great article here and found me soul-searching my own consumer behaviour the last time I occasioned to get lodging.

    Where once sophisticated data-rich sites were looked at favourably, the simplicity of AirBnB brings the early days of Google to mind. It may be cheesy, but that motion picture right there on the home page of AirBnB does make it feel familiar.

    “Hotels should provide dynamic content on where locals are eating, shopping, and going out” courts participation in curating the brand. It doesn’t come easily to a brand of any stature to relinquish some control here. Drawing from AirBnB’s mot du jour ‘neighbourhood’ might see hotels forging links into the suburbs readily accessibly by let’s say light rail?

    I am curious here in Sydney Australia to see how IHG gets on in the suburb of Double Bay. AirBnB has signed up not a few hosts in that suburb and others near it.

    Thanks to the writer for bringing me AirBnB stories although I see that AirBnB ‘teams up with local directors and photographers to bring these stories to life.

    The heavy vetting of reviews is legendary at AirBnB.

    The cumulative stays of guests produce the property as we know it today

    The ’Six Word Wows’ approach is a great technique and brings to mind Japan’s haiku. Haiku enjoys a strong following worldwide and could realistically be used as a basis for such a crowdsourced storytelling exercise.

    1. Hi Robert, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful commentary. We are definitely not paid by Airbnb for our comments, in fact, many of the hotels that are our customers might consider Airbnb competition! Our goal is to provide informative and useful content that can help hotels better understand trends in digital marketing and distribution — even if that means highlighting rivals who are doing it well 🙂

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