Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Research into Collaborative Marketplaces in The Travel Sector

I have spent the last few months (alongside my day job at EFT), researching the space of collaborative marketplaces and peer2peer websites. Essentially, this means the selling of a product from one consumer to another (using a platform or website) to exchange or buy direct without a business driving the transaction. The emphasis of these brands are that they are “green,” and “eco” and induce a sharing type attitude. 

As a brief introduction to the topic, you don’t need to look far to see examples of the p2p model, simply because these companies are not new. Ebay and Amazon are prime time early adopters of the p2p model, and are now two of the biggest retail outlets on earth.

So, what does the travel industry have to offer in this space?  At first thought, some of us might not think of any. But the truth is that the travel sector has one of the most rapidly expanding p2p networks in the world under the name Airbnb. The ethos is very much the opposite to hotels- it’s about sharing, caring and meeting new people in exciting places. Yes, Airbnb does take a hefty cut from both those listing and those receiving, which means there is a business driver behind the model. However, all in all, it works a little like Ebay, where by you reach to someone about their property and then liaise and work out the logistics. It just so happens that Airbnb has a great interface to facilitate easy transactions between two individuals.

Besides Airbnb, who else is experimenting in p2p? Most travel industry professionals will be familiar with car-share websites like Zipcar or even City Car Club. These models (whilst not exactly p2p) have a great ethic when it comes to greener car usage too. New kid on the block Whipcar takes the borrowing to another level, whereby you can borrow a car from your neighbour or someone in the local vicinity. You’ll be fully insured against damages and theft in the same way as you are with a mainstream organisation. So what’s the catch? Well, there isn’t one besides you generally won’t get the same quality of vehicle and it may well smell of stale smoke. You also don’t necessarily get a cheaper price than via the likes of Avis, Sixt or Europcar for example.

So why have we been looking into the p2p space? Well, many travel brands have indicated a concern over the growing market share of collaborative networks and websites. In fact, Avis bought Zipcar earlier this year for a reported $491.9 million.  BMW has also stepped into the space with its “BMW Drive Now” efforts. But what will happen in the hotel space? And is there room for p2p flying networks? Who knows!

We are keeping a close eye on this area with a view to commissioning a report about peer to peer marketplaces.  We’d love your feedback and thoughts on this, so please post them below or send me a tweet to @rosieakenhead