Marriott Aims to Beat Home-Sharing Upstarts at Their Own Game

(Bloomberg) -- Home-sharing websites like Airbnb Inc. and HomeAway Inc. are often seen as stealing customers from traditional lodging businesses. Now the world’s largest hotel company thinks it can disrupt the disruptors.

Marriott International Inc. started offering short-term home rentals in London on its website last month through a partnership with a local company called Hostmaker. If the test goes well, Marriott will expand its offerings to other cities, leveraging its loyalty program and expertise in branding to stand out in a crowded field, Chief Executive Officer Arne Sorenson said on an earnings call Wednesday.

“As some of these platforms have grown into millions and millions of units, there is almost a paralyzing array of choices and a lack of branding,” Sorenson said. “We think we can bring our brands, we can bring our service and product focus, and deliver something which is simply a better product than much of what is out there.”

The home-sharing pilot, which Marriott calls Tribute Portfolio Homes, is integrated into its loyalty program, according to a website for the service, and is currently limited to about 200 residences. Marriott studied the business for some time and is testing it only after determining that the company can run it in full compliance with the law, Sorenson said. There are restrictions on short-term rentals in many cities.

Marriott isn’t the first hotel company to dabble in home-sharing. Accor SA owns the luxury home-sharing website Onefinestay. Hyatt Hotels Corp. has invested in another home-sharing startup, Oasis, and recently incorporated its offerings into the Hyatt loyalty program.

Marriott’s largest competitor is staying out of the fray, at least for now.

“We believe it is enough of a different business that it is not something that we need to or should focus on,” Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Christopher Nassetta said on his company’s earnings call last month.

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