Airbnb will acquire HotelTonight, a popular platform and mobile app designed primarily for last-minute hotel bookings. The purchase will aid in Airbnb's evolution from homesharing site to "end-to-end travel platform," as Airbnb describes in a post on its website. The company says it is building a platform that "combines where you stay, what you do and how you get there, all in one place."
Particularly given the "how you get there" intentions, Airbnb appears to be indicating a transformation to more of an online travel agency than homesharing platform. We've long maintained that Airbnb would be gradually thought of more as a lodging-distribution platform than direct hotel competitor, but the company's growing focus on destination experiences and perhaps even transportation would indicate an even broader scope.
The HotelTonight purchase is a significant step toward expanding the platform's hotel inventory, particularly among independent and boutique properties. HotelTonight has developed relationships with hotels around the world, in large part by positioning itself as an OTA alternative — promising independent properties guaranteed instant payment and a lack of rate requirements as a way to move last-minute inventory. By incorporating HotelTonight into its platform, Airbnb appears to be positioning itself as a potentially friendlier hotel distribution partner than most OTAs — with an eye toward grabbing market share from such agencies more so than from the hotel properties themselves. That would be a natural evolution from Airbnb's recent efforts to increase boutique-hotel inventory on its site. In 2018, the company more than doubled the number of rooms available on its platform from boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, hostels and resorts.
Adding more hotels to its platform is likely to help bolster Airbnb's business-travel standing as well, a segment the company has been steadily cultivating. According to Airbnb, more than 400,000 companies are using their platform to help manage travel. A greater number of hotel options on the site likely will ameliorate the inherent challenges with using Airbnb for business travel, including standard and safety concerns.
"Welcoming more boutique hotels to our platform will help us deliver on our commitment to make Airbnb for everyone," noted the company in their post, "providing guests the authentic, local experience they have come to expect on every trip."
Finally, Airbnb says adding boutique hotel customers to the fold is ultimately good for its homesharing hosts as well. Nearly 90 percent of the people who first used Airbnb to book a hotel room booked a home for their second Airbnb trip, according to the company.
HotelTonight will continue to operate as it does currently. When the acquisition closes, HotelTonight co-founder and CEO Sam Shank will lead Airbnb's boutique hotel category and report to Greg Greeley, Airbnb's president of homes. Airbnb did not respond to a question regarding the transaction amount or closing timeline.