by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
I think the term “Sharing Economy” to categorise the activity of the likes of Uber and Airbnb is actually a misnomer. If I “share” something the implication is that I do so without expectation of financial or other reward and this type of activity has been on-going for millennia. Collaboration, sharing of resources, exchange of skills etc all pre-exit our modern monetary systems where goods and services are predominantly transacted for cash.
In the past in Ireland, for example, rural communities pooled resources and skillsets at harvest time and worked collectively and systematically to save everybody’s hay. This practice was know as Meitheal but its incidence was certainly not restricted to Ireland or, indeed, to the past. It continues even today in many communities the world over – even the contemporary practices of car-pooling to the city centre from out of town neighbourhoods, sharing school runs or, when you’re a student, staying with friends of friends when visiting an overseas city are clear examples of a “sharing economy” in action where no money exchanges hands.
There’s something in our DNA as human persons that stimulates us to collaborate and share what we have. We instinctively understand that when 2 people co-operate the result is, in some way, better than the simple sum of the 2 parts. You have a car, I need a ride into town and the perfect match of supply and demand is fulfilling for both of us – for me because I get the ride I need and for you because you give it freely and experience the joy of giving.
Companies like Uber and Airbnb have nothing to do with “sharing” in the way outlined above. Both are multi-billion dollar global corporations that will make extraordinary profits because they have developed technology platforms that connect supply and demand in a super-efficient way. They have also provided new product definitions for private transport and for hospitality and are hugely successful because taxis and hotels have long since ceased to surprise and delight us.
Uber and Airbnb – and a host of other similarly styled companies that tend to be defined by the “sharing economy” categorisation – have been circling around the meetings industry and its traditional supply chains for the past couple of years. As their business model either displaces or dis-intermediates business for the established, cornerstone meetings industry supplier community – hotels, PCOs, DMCs, transport companies – there has been a tendency to ignore them in the hope that they might go away. Big hotel chains have publicly challenged the legal and fiscal environment in which Airbnb operates while taxi drivers have taken aggressively to the streets in European cities in protest over Uber.
Here to stay
By now, however, it’s clear that Uber and Airbnb are going nowhere. Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) are realizing, in fact, that without this dynamic duo and the dazzling parade of new entrants that are accompanying Uber and Airbnb into the “sharing” space, many cities would be unable to host large events. Thus they’ve become a key, de facto part of a destination’s hospitality inventory and will continue to do so as the months and years unfold.
Greg Oates, senior editor at Skift, to his eternal credit, has been preaching this message for some time but, until now, has been like the prophet Amos, a lone voice in the wilderness. Now, however, the topic has gone decidedly mainstream with PCMA writing extensively on the “sharing economy” in this month’s Convene. The topic is also on the docket for discussion at IMEX in April where I’ll moderate a TED-style session of thought leaders – including Greg – and sharing economy practitioners.
The PCO View
In preparation for the IMEX session we had a wonderful conference call last week and became acquainted with some new players in this “sharing” marketplace (would someone please come up with a better term?) as well as some notable developments in terms of distribution etc. Most noteworthy in this regard was the update from Gary Schirmacher, Senior Vice President, Industry Presence & Strategic Development at Experient (A Martiz Travel Company).
For the past year Experient has been engaging with Airbnb to explore how the on-line platform can bring much needed new inventory to conference and event delegates attending programmes organised by Experient. Gary didn’t share whether there was a business plan behind the discussions or whether Airbnb would share its commission with the conference planner. He make an interesting point by stating “Disrupters are good, poachers are bad” but it remains to be seen whether Airbnb is a disruptor or a poacher from the perspective of the Professional Conference Organiser (PCO).
Another relatively new market entrant on the call was Damian Jon Oracki, Co-Founder of ShowSlice, an on-line platform that facilitates the sharing of event infrastructure. Again, this is not a new concept. During our MCI and Ovation days we frequently endeavoured to “piggy-back” large production installations over more than one event and often collaborated with competitors. ShowSlice takes a common practice in the events world but takes the “luck’ element out of it by creating a platform that allows me to actively “share” my event infrastructure with others who may choose to use it before or after my show. It’s a genius idea.
Vizeat is a Paris-based “food sharing” platform that started with 30 hosts in 2014 and now has 12,000 hosts in 65 countries. Jean Michael Petit was also on the IMEX call last week and explained how the company organised a massive home dining experience for 1000 delegates at the Airbnb Annual Hosts Conference which took place in Paris recently. Jean Michael reported great interest in the platform from Destination Management Companies and organisers of incentive travel experiences. And it’s no wonder. 20 years ago one of the most popular programme inclusions for US incentive qualifiers who selected Ireland as their host destination was the “home hosted evening” when the qualifiers dined with locals. Vizeat makes this wonderful experience possible now at 65 (and counting) locations around the world.
Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique agency offering strategy, marketing and training for destinations, venues and hotels in the MICE sector.
In a future blog post I’ll be discussing Meetingrooms.com, another of our participants at the IMEX educational session.