Hotels perceived safer, more secure than Airbnb lodging

Study by two IFTM scholars says Airbnb property owners should consider improving safety and security measures

Research Corner | A partnership between Macau Business and the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM)

A research paper involving two scholars from the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) says travellers perceive licensed accommodation – namely hotels – to offer better security and safety than accommodation available via the online platform Airbnb. According to IFTM lecturer Don Wu and instructor Alan Cheng, Airbnb accommodation providers should take that into consideration and review their safety and security measures, to improve service quality.

Offering improved safety and security could be good for business for lodging providers using Airbnb, as it also could be used for marketing purposes, the two scholars suggested. That was because all travellers – regardless of the type of accommodation they used – rated highly safety and security during any stay.

The comments were featured in the paper “Differences in perception on safety and security by travellers of Airbnb and licensed properties”, published last year in the scholarly journal Current Issues in Tourism.

The paper was based on an online questionnaire answered by 252 people who had travelled at least once, using booked accommodation, over the previous 12 months. The questionnaire covered a number of areas linked to accommodation safety and security management.

The study results indicated there were “differences in perception” among respondents regarding accommodation safety and security for stays via Airbnb and for those in licensed properties. Hotels obtained significantly “higher mean scores” based on responses of those surveyed, than Airbnb accommodation. Such difference applied across a range of 23 topics covered by the survey. They included: property design and layout; furniture and fittings; availability of safety and security equipment; the existence or otherwise of safety and security policies and procedures; and staff-related matters.

For the traditional stars-rated hotel sector, the results from this research could become their strong argument that Airbnb operators – “who are supposed to be normal and responsible hospitality business operators” – should “pursue better internal governance and social responsibility for the sake of their guests as well as their employees,” said Messrs. Wu and Cheng.

The IFTM scholars nonetheless noted that, were Airbnb providers to offer “a similarly-high level of safety and security as starred hotels,” those providing accommodation via Airbnb “might need to involve themselves in investing many more resources” which “will in turn increase their business operating costs.” That could undermine the business proposition behind this type of accommodation, they noted.

An Airbnb accommodation provider’s “smaller capital and revenue expenditures as compared with those incurred by starred hotels”, allowing them to offer competitive pricing strategies, “is the prime motivation behind the popularity of this type of accommodation nowadays,” the IFTM researchers pointed out.

Airbnb is a popular global online marketplace that lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms to third parties. It is widely used by tourists around the world for booking short-term stays.

Messrs. Wu and Cheng highlighted in their paper the role played by the platform when it was launched in 2008. “Bearing the motivation of ‘earning money from hosting’, [Airbnb] was viewed by the hotel industry as targeting the market segment of young travellers.” The IFTM scholars noted that many individual property owners have “since taken advantage of the opportunity” offered by Airbnb “to rent their homes on a temporary basis so as to make a little extra money for themselves.”

The business proposition offered by Airbnb faces opposition in some markets. “Various governments are grappling with how to [regulate] Airbnb” stays, the IFTM researchers said.

In Macau, local authorities have expressed opposition to the use by locals of online platforms to rent out spare rooms or apartments to tourists.

According to the IFTM scholars, “lately there are broad discussions” around the world about whether Airbnb has become a “hotbed of danger” for guests and host communities, as well as on “how different stakeholders can take prevention measures to lessen the negative image of Airbnb-type accommodation” in relation to safety and security.

– The researchers

Don Wu is a lecturer at the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). He holds a master’s degree in statistics from the City University of Hong Kong. Prior to joining IFTM, Mr. Wu taught at the University of Macau and the City University of Hong Kong. He has extensive experience in planning and executing large-scale opinion polls, having participated in more than 40 types of research projects.

Alan Cheng is an instructor at IFTM. He has a master’s degree in accountancy from Charles Sturt University, in Australia. His professional experience includes stints in the hospitality industry in Australia, and in higher education in Hong Kong, namely at the Hong Kong Baptist University and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

– The paper

Don Wu Chi Wai and Alan Cheng Wan Lok: “Differences in perception on safety and security by travellers of Airbnb and licensed properties”, Current Issues in Tourism, 2019.