A meeting of worlds - why the sharing economy will share, not conquer

A common media narrative concerning the sharing economy is that the sector is looking to not just change how people live and work, but to flatten entire industries. It comes as a conqueror, not a competitor.

Whether it’s taxis against Uber or hotels vs Airbnb, the language is usually one of conflict. But whilst the ‘disruptive’ narrative may have been a welcome label in the sharing economy's early years, is it now perhaps time to reframe the debate?

Different routes to a good night’s sleep

One of the best examples of the ‘old versus new’ debate can be found by looking at the impact short-let rentals services such as Airbnb are having on the hospitality industry.

The hospitality industry is aggressively lobbying politicians to heavily regulate the sharing economy. From London to New York , authorities are unsure how to strike a balance between allowing private citizens the right to make use of their own assets to supporting the hospitality sector and the jobs and economic benefits it brings.

Yet behind the media narrative, the jury is still out on how much the industry is actually suffering from the sharing economy’s rise. US hotels posted record growth numbers last year against a backdrop of fervent political lobbying on the issue of regulation on flat-sharing services. Additionally, a dramatic boom in tourist numbers from countries like China, has given hotels a fresh and lucrative target market that are unlikely to have much appetite for flat sharing.

So whilst the sharing economy may well continue to nibble at hotels’ profits, it’s wrong to think of it as devouring an entire industry. It’s far more sensible for the sharing economy to focus instead on what it can learn from the old guard and concentrate on using that knowledge to cement its own part of market share.

Master and pupils should teach each other

In response to the sharing economy’s threat, many hotel chains are rightly looking to accelerate how they use tech to augment what makes them different. The Hilton Group has spoken of how it wants to improve ‘personalisation’ through ‘digital connectivity'.

By building on the manpower and resources they possess, hotels can record guests’ data to build a far more personal experience than a flatshare can and help it build loyalty in the future. Guests could potentially walk into any hotel in the world and have their favorite drink already waiting for them and their pillows fluffed exactly how they like.

Meanwhile, sharing economy platforms can offer a different type of customer an authentic experience that hotels can’t possibly hope to match. By placing its users in the heart of real neighbourhoods away from gentrified tourist spots or by making it easier for travellers to emerge themselves in a local community. Flat sharing services should focus on developing what PWC refers to as the sharing economy’s ‘uniqueness and authenticity’.

If the two sectors spend too long trying to steal each other’s moves or lobbying for regulation, they’ll lose focus on what makes them different. Which doesn’t benefit either side.

Author image
As Onfido’s cofounder and COO, Eamon runs a tight ship. He set up the company while studying at Oxford University, and has been managing the company’s international growth and expansion ever since
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