The idea behind the sharing economy is that individual consumers share under-utilized resources with their peers. The sharing nature of such a business promotes interactions between the service provider and the customer(s).
One selling point of a home-sharing service, for example, is that it gives travelers unique social interactions with the host, which is usually not found in hotels. Early literature about home-sharing services also confirms that travelers appreciate the interactions with the local hosts.
An argument, however, arises that the “sharing” economy is actually an “access” economy. Some travelers only pay for permission to use someone else’s facility with no interest in social interactions. If travelers merely want to “access” a home-sharing facility, the differences between a home-sharing stay and a regular hotel stay become nebulous.
Today, more hotel chains and entrepreneurs are getting into the home-sharing business. It becomes crucial for relevant stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of such a social-interaction phenomenon in the sharing economy.
For example, marketers may be able to promote state-of-the-art facilities, convenient locations, and differences in prices to travelers who tend to access a lodging facility. Meanwhile, they may also be able to highlight the public space for socialization for travelers who value social interactions.
The research study and the research questions
With that in mind, I worked with three researchers, Drs. Karen Xie, Chih-Chien Chen, and Jiang Wu, on a research project. We aimed to use consumers’ real booking data on a home-sharing website to answer two research questions in this study:
1. Do travelers tend to choose the same type of home-sharing facilities for the next trip as what they stayed in the past? (There are three types of home-sharing facilities identified in this study: to share with a host, to share with other travelers, or to access a facility.)
2. Do travelers’ frequency of visits to a destination affect their choice on the types of home-sharing services for the next trip? That is, if travelers visit a destination more often, will they become more independent and hence choose to access a home-sharing facility?
The research setting, the data, and the analysis
We collected the consumer data from Xiaozhu.com, which is also known as “the Airbnb of China.” The website allowed us to obtain individual travelers’ travel history as well as a broad measure of the home-sharing services in which they stayed. Different from Airbnb, Xiaozhu chronologically archives the travel history of individual travelers.
Our sample includes 1,005 home-sharing facilities that were actively operated by 261 hosts in Beijing, China, from July 31, 2012, to April 27, 2016.
We built two datasets. One comprises the information on travelers’ past stays of home-sharing facilities from their travel history. The other one includes the characteristics of the home-sharing facilities, as well as the host information of the facilities.
The dependent variable is a traveler’s choice on the type of a home-sharing facility in a given visit (i.e., to share with a host, to share with other travelers, and to access the facility). The independent variables include the traveler’s cumulative number of past stays in each type of the home-sharing facilities as well as the traveler’s frequency of past visits to Beijing, plus a series of controlled variables about the host who runs the facility and the facility itself.
We performed a series of analyses using econometric models of multinomial logistic regressions. The results were published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
1. Close to 70% of travelers choose to access a home-sharing facility (to share with no others), whereas 20.9% and 10.45% of travelers choose to share the facility with a host or with other travelers, respectively.
2. Travelers tend to choose the same type of home-sharing facilities that they have used in the past.
3. Regardless of how many times the travelers have visited a destination, those who stayed with either a host or other travelers in the past would very likely choose the same type of home-sharing facility for their next stay.
4. Travelers who merely accessed the home-sharing facilities in the past, however, would become more likely to choose to stay with a host as they visited a destination more often.
The above findings add empirical evidence to the debate of whether sharing economy in the lodging sector mainly for “sharing” or for “access.” Practically, we recommend:
- Policymakers and hoteliers must pay significant attention to the home-sharing facilities in the market, because close to 70% of travelers chose to access home-sharing facilities over the other two types.
- When travelers search for a home-sharing stay, home-sharing websites and OTAs (online travel agents) should encourage the same type of accommodation options as what they chose in the past.
- For the travelers who visited a destination often in the past, home-sharing websites and OTAs may also consider promoting facilities with shared spaces with the host.
- Hotels and OTAs should promote the functional space for social interactions to the travelers who usually share with a host or with other travelers in a home-sharing facility.
- Hotels and OTAs should promote the physical environments and the upkeep of the facilities to the travelers who usually access a home-sharing facility.
- On one hand, hosts managing a facility with shared space with the travelers may want to highlight their friendliness and the friendships that they built with the past customers in their profile descriptions.
- On the other hand, hosts managing a facility with no shared space with the travelers may want to focus their marketing messages on how nice the place looks.
Do you notice people tend to stick to the same type of home-sharing facilities when they travel?
Recalling your previous stays in a home-sharing facility, did you stay in a place where you will share some space with a host, with other travelers, or with nobody? For what reasons?