Mixed results on forays into home rental partnerships

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When it comes to competing with homesharing sites like Airbnb, the big hotel players have focused heavily on the luxury rental arena.

AccorHotels went big with the acquisition of Onefinestay, Squarebreak and Travel Keys. Earlier this year, Hyatt teamed up with serviced-home provider Oasis to enable World of Hyatt loyalty members earn and redeem points on Oasis stays.

Whether it was truly strategic or the result of being more focused on its merger with Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Marriott International came later and went much smaller, announcing in April a six-month trial in the luxury home rental space with just 200 rentals in one city, London.

Marriott teamed up with U.K.-based Hostmaker to launch what it calls Tribute Portfolio Homes, a nod to one of its soft brands. Unlike Accor and Hyatt, which in Q2 both took a write-off on their home-rental investments, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said this week that its experiment has "so far gone great.  Our loyalty customers seem to like it."

Indeed, offering loyalty members as diverse a range of product as possible is a top priority for hotel companies these days. But as hospitality consultant Bjorn Hanson recently noted, issues of integrating already established nontraditional businesses can be risky.

Both Hyatt and Accor pointed to such problems in reporting the "underperformance" in their home-rental segments. Marriott, on the other hand, seems to be looking to build it more slowly. And in true Marriott fashion, the company is focused on ensuring the quality and consistency long associated with its brand.

With Tribute Homes, Sorenson said, the company offers larger, "whole home" products that also have consistent and predictable hotel services, such as housekeeping.

"These are bigger than studio apartments," he said. "We think this allows us to distinguish ourselves in size and quality from homesharing."

So far, he said, the program has drawn predominantly leisure travelers who are staying close to five nights on average, a "bit longer than we anticipated."

He declined to speculate on the future of the brand, although early indications are promising.

"There's nothing to announce yet in terms of other markets," he said, "but it's certainly something we'll take a look at."

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