The sharing economy, specifically alternative accommodations, and travelers' perceptions of their safety will continue to affect the travel industry going into 2017, according to a webinar hosted by MMGY Wednesday


Jennifer Andre, senior director of North America for Expedia Media Solutions, moderated the webinar, which featured Steve Cohen, MMGY's vice president of insights, and Jeffrey Eslinger, DK Shifflet's senior director of client insights.

Andre asked both Cohen and Eslinger what their research showed about the sharing economy and what kind of growth it could see in the future. She noted that Expedia recently acquired HomeAway, an alternative accommodations provider, which she said was likely a longer-term play for Expedia.

Eslinger said his company's research showed traditional hotel/motel accommodations still make up 78% of the marketplace, while homes that do not belong to travelers represent about 8% of the accommodations marketplace. However, he said that category continues to grow.

In the course of DK Shifflet's research, it asked survey respondents about whether or not they have booked alternative accommodations. In 2015, 9.2% had, but that number increased to 12.1% in 2016.

The most popular provider to book with was Airbnb, followed by HomeAway, then VRBO (which is owned by HomeAway). According to Eslinger, Airbnb is more common for shorter, one- or two-night stays, while HomeAway and VRBO tend to see longer-term vacation rentals.

Eslinger said the survey respondents' top motivation for booking a short-term rental was that it was better priced than other accommodation types.

Andre said that is in contrast to some other research, like that of Phocuswright, which indicates that vacation-rental travelers tended to be more affluent.

Cohen agreed and said MMGY research found that those who are likely to seek a vacation rental have an average household income of $140,000 and spend more than $7,000 on vacations annually, while the average traveler has a household income of $111,000 and spends just over $4,000 on annual vacations.

Those likely to book vacation rentals are not necessarily spending less on their vacation, he said, they are just looking to spend less on accommodations, not necessarily the vacation overall. Instead, they might put more money toward activities or dining.

Andre acknowledged that research showed there is more consumption of travel content going on (a recent Expedia study showed U.S. consumers are spending 8.7 billion minutes per month consuming digital travel content, up 41% from last year), more intent to travel and growth in areas such as alternative lodging.

That said, she asked about headwinds going into 2017.

"There's no doubt that safety is a massive concern among travelers," she said.

Cohen agreed.

"Safety is the one thing that we see is really causing slowing in the growth of travel," he said.

MMGY regularly polls travelers about what they're looking for on their trips.

"Beautiful scenery" is perennially the top choice, but safety of the destination has increased in the past year, he said, moving up the list to No. 2.

Cohen noted that more frequent travelers, like those who frequently travel internationally, are less concerned with safety.

"It's the one-time-a-year traveler who travels domestically who's much more concerned with safety issues than those of us who are traveling ... extensively," he said.

Eslinger agreed that frequent travelers, especially frequent business travelers, are less concerned with safety. Less frequent travelers might choose to change their destination based on safety factors, though, he said.

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